Law-enforcement officials have been slamming Craigslist's prostitute ads for years. CEO Jim Buckmaster's response has been benign: We don't profit from the ads, we're very nice and friendly with the cops, etc. No more. Push Buckmaster too hard, and he will cut you, as South Carolina just learned.
After the state's attorney general publicly threatened Craigslist over its "adult services" ads, even in the face of recent restrictions on such listings, Buckmaster promptly blasted back with a well-written weblog post suggesting the state should also consider arresting the CEOs of AT&T, Microsoft, and Village Voice Media,
not to mention major newspapers and other upstanding South Carolina businesses feature more "adult services" ads than does craigslist, some of a very graphic nature. For a small sampling, look (careful NSFW) here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here... What's a crime for craigslist is clearly a crime for any company.
Then came the coup de grace: A lawsuit against the AG for restraining Craigslist's free speech — announced in a Craigslist blog post, naturally.
Rather than allow its reputation as a shady haven to fester, Craigslist is finally tackling it head-on. And not by hiding behind some spokesperson (as much as we adore Craigslist's Susan Best), but direct, straight from the CEO's mouth online, and via its lawyers in court.
The pushback came none too soon: New York's attorney general just busted a Queens-based prostitution ring that advertised exclusively on Craigslist.
Craigslist has long taken pride in the fact that its executives get their hands dirty; founder Craig Newmark famously calls himself "chief customer service representative." That's proven to be a lucrative strategy. Who's to say the company's muscular PR moves aren't an example worth following, as well?
UPDATE: South Carolina's AG has released a statement bizarrely taking credit for changes Craigslist made a week ago:
Columbia, S.C. – "The defensive legal action craigslist has taken against the solicitors and my office is good news. It shows that craigslist is taking the matter seriously for the first time.
More importantly, overnight they have removed the erotic services section from their website, as we asked them to do. And they are now taking responsibility for the content of their future advertisements. If they keep their word, this is a victory for law enforcement and for the people of South Carolina.
We'll chalk it up as a face-saving retreat.