Is Craigslist the victim of a witch-hunt?

In the aftermath of a horrible murder by someone who is now routinely referred to as “the Craigslist killer,” the online classified site has been coming under increasing pressure from both the government — which has been waging a prostitution-related crusade for some time now — and others who see the service as somehow complicit in these kinds of crimes. Venture capitalist and blogger Jeff Nolan, for example, says in a recent post that Craigslist “has a problem” and should find some way to deal with it, and suggests that both founder Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster don’t seem to care much, or want to do anything about it.

“Instead of waiting for a community solution to a problem that will only get worse, Newmark and Buckmaster should be taking a leadership position and driving effective change to combat crime taking place on Craigslist.”

Jeff seems like a smart guy, but I couldn’t disagree more with his post. As far as I can tell, Craigslist has been doing everything it can to remove posts that are linked to criminal behaviour, whether prostitution or anything else, and they appear to have bent over backwards to co-operate with the attorneys-general from a number of states when it comes to imposing fines on wrong-doers and other strategies for limiting that kind of behaviour. What more could they possibly do — turn over their server log files to the authorities? Let Craigslist become an arm of the government?

As for the ABC News report, in which Craig and Jim are interviewed by Nightline hack Martin Bashir about the murder and the availability of prostitution ads on the service, Jeff says that CEO Jim Buckmaster comes across as “cold and unsympathetic.” I didn’t see it that way at all. While he’s not the most emotionally demonstrative man, I imagine I would react in much the same business-like way if I was asked for the 500th time why Craigslist allows such content on its service (the answer: it doesn’t, and tries hard to remove it). Bashir does his best to bait Newmark as well, using salacious ads to try and get him to admit he is aiding criminal behaviour.

As I watched the report, I tried to imagine Bashir interviewing Alexander Graham Bell and/or or an AT&T CEO about all the crimes that occur as a result of their invention — the so-called “tele-o-phone.” The reality is that Craigslist does a great job of connecting people who have things to sell with those who wish to buy, and in some cases those connections are going to go awry and a crime will be committed. Not only does Craigslist seem to be doing everything humanly possible to mitigate that (while protecting its community) but to blame the service for those crimes seems absurd. Not that long ago, a bank robber used Craigslist to hire decoys so he could evade capture; are Craig and Jim to blame for that as well?

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