The National Association of Attorneys General has requested that Village Voice Media respond to a series of questions about the company’s practices regarding “adult services” ads placed on the company’s Web site, Backpage.com.
The site has been the target of at least 50 cases in 22 states since 2008, the AGs said in a letter to the company, in which it called Backpage.com a sex-trafficking “hub.”
Although the site claims to have taken efforts to limit illegal advertisements, the letter, signed by 46 AGs, questions whether any changes have actually been made.
“The prominence of illegal content on Backpage.com conflicts with the company’s representations about its content policies,” the letter said. It noted recent examples like 142 advertisements “that are obviously for prostitutes” in the Seattle area, as well as advertisements for prostitutes in the Connecticut area bordered by Rhode Island and Springfield, Mass.
“We believe Backpage.com sets a minimal bar for content review in an effort to temper public condemnation, while ensuring that the revenue spigot provided by prostitution advertising remains intact,” the letter said. “Though you have stated ‘all new ads are moderated by a staff member,’ there appear to be no changes in the volume of prostitution advertisements resulting from this ‘moderation.’”
The AGs asked the company to answer detailed questions about its policies and practices, such as how it determines which ads are illegal and how many ads it has removed in the last year after an individualized or “hand” review.
The letter set a deadline of Sept. 14 for the company to substantiate its claims that it can effectively limit prostitution and sexual trafficking activity on its Web site, particularly ads that may involve minors.
To read the AGs’ letter, click here.
Why it matters: Craigslist, which faced similar scrutiny over its adult services ads, pulled the advertisements last year. Despite the negative publicity and pressure from law enforcement, the sites have successfully argued in court that they are immune from prosecution for illegal ads under the federal Communications Decency Act, because the content was created by users, not the site.