New York Times on prostitution ads appearing on Craigslist

Perhaps you read Bruce Lambert’s “Prostitution Targeted on Craigslist” piece in this morning’s New York Times. The title more or less tells the story, but one statement caught my attention.

The article states that “[e]xperts say that under the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996, the ads are legal and Web site owners are exempt from responsibility for content posted by users.” I generally agree with that statement, except, of course, that the folks who actually write and post the subject ads receive no protection from Section 230, and (separate issue) likely violated one or more state criminal statutes prohibiting the promotion and/or offer of prostitution.

But as to Craigslist’s potential liability, I would note that the experts mentioned in the article are apparently assuming that there are no federal criminal statutes (see Section 230(e)(1), which excludes such laws from Section 230 immunity) that speak to Craigslist’s role as an intermediary (accomplice?) in this particular context. I don’t know whether that is the case or not.  Also, even if the assumption is correct, we all know, as Lambert points out, that “prostitution is often linked to other crimes involving drugs, weapons, physical abuse and exploitation of minors and immigrants.” If the ads we are talking about here were to expand to promote/offer additional illicit activities (drugs, weapons, etc.), there again remains the possibility that Craigslist’s involvement – albeit as an intermediary – could trigger federal criminal liability.

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