Village Voice Media’s general counsel Liz McDougall sent a statement to The Politicker today calling the effort by City Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Brad Lander to shut the controversial “adult” section of their classified ad site Backpage.com “misguided.” Ms. Mark-Viverito and Mr. Lander announced a resolution yesterday calling for the site to be closed because it “serves as a platform to traffic minors for sex.” Ms. McDougall, acknowledged children are trafficked in ads on the site, but she argued policing the traffickers will be harder if the ads move elsewhere.
“The demand to shut down this section on Backpage.com will simply drive such content to other Internet portals who will move their advertising websites into offshore entities and out of reach of US law enforcement — and the ability to trace the traffickers and the children that they are trafficking for rescue and prosecution will be lost,” Ms. McDougall said.
Ms. McDougall said Village Voice Media engages in “industry-leading site moderation” and “unparalleled cooperation with law enforcement” and argued the ads could move somewhere that doesn’t take such stringent measures if Backpage’s adult business is shut down.
“Adult services advertising existed on the Internet before Backpage.com and will continue on the Internet regardless of Backpage.com,” she said.
Village Voice Media, which owns the Village Voice in New York along with several other alt-weeklies around the country, has faced increasing calls to shut Backpage in recent months. The online classified site Craigslist closed a similar section of their site in September 2010 in response to a substantial push from the public and law enforcement officials leading to large growth of the business on Backpage. Councilwoman Mark-Viverito and Councilman Lander’s statement announcing the resolution calling for the adult section of Backpage to be closed cited a petition created by Groundswell, “a multi-faith social action network housed at Auburn Seminary,” that received over 91,000 signatures from people eager to see the site closed.
Read Ms. McDougall’s full statement below:
The Auburn Seminary’s initiative may be well-intentioned, but it is misguided. Shutting down the Backpage.com adult service section would be ineffective and a step backwards in the fight against child sex trafficking. Backpage.com operates industry-leading site moderation to assist in the prevention and rescue of victims of trafficking and in the identification and prosecution of traffickers, and provides unparalleled cooperation with law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), including creation of an “expedited” line to NCMEC to report potential child victims. And Backpage.com has remained committed to working with NCMEC, government and other willing interest groups to continue to develop and implement tools and strategies to combat child sex trafficking. Adult services advertising existed on the Internet before Backpage.com and will continue on the Internet regardless of Backpage.com. The demand to shut down this section on Backpage.com will simply drive such content to other Internet portals who will move their advertising websites into offshore entities and out of reach of US law enforcement — and the ability to trace the traffickers and the children that they are trafficking for rescue and prosecution will be lost. All forms of human trafficking are heinous. Child sex trafficking is especially abhorrent. Online and offline communities must collaborate to combat these social atrocities. But a campaign against one website, Backpage.com, is not the answer.