A Sacramento-based "high-tech pimp" who advertised sex with underage women for pay on Craigslist is now in custody. Federal investigators were able to bust 22-year old Stephen McKesson after one of the young women's friends saw her photo in Craigslist's Erotic Services section for panderers. Nobody will see the benefit to the community in this: In terms of ensuring the health and safety of teenage prostitutes, or in terms of good publicity for Craigslist. CEO Jim Buckmaster and founder Craig Newmark get all the blame for offering a space for sex trade ads, but none of the credit for the accidental public service such space offers. As if there were no unwilling minors in prostitution before abusive but charismatic hustlers got laptops?It's unlikely that Buckmaster and Newmark would ever embrace the role of sex trade stewardship in the public square. Because they don't need to in order to remain successful. But to walk the laissez-faire line towards sex work they do can only take their image as "The Good Guys" (or at least, "The Not Quite So Greedy Guys") so far. There's no denying that Erotic Services never was just an innocent home for legal, consensual fantasy-for-hire. So Craigslist collaborates with law enforcement to police the site's own users. But Craigslist users are not some special breed of "pervert" or "paedophile" preying on children — the traceability of online behavior just makes it easier to see what already took place behind closed doors. After all, McKesson also used old-timey calling cards with salacious photographs to market his services in a throwback to Storyville's heyday. This is the "saddest part" of these stories, not the laptops and the blurred-face photos the media and law enforcement trot out fetishistically. The next time Craigslist or any online service is called to task to explain what they are doing to end the exploitation of minors, they should start by explaining its ancient history, not new surveillance technology.
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