I spent the last few days in my mountain redoubt and so had limited connections with the outside world (apart from the Weird Al concert – go figure) but I did hear (over and over again) on the satellite radio of the wonderful and amazing job journalists and various attorney generals did in eliminating prostitution, human trafficking and child exploitation [okay, maybe too strong...how about] making prostitution, human trafficking and child exploitation more difficult, [nah...oh, wait! I got it!] making prostitution, human trafficking and child exploitation move to another website (or just a different part of the same website).
This sort of thing is a cheap publicity stunt designed to make it look like something is happening when, in fact, it isn’t. Danah Boyd makes three interesting arguments about this, two of which resonate for me.
- Visibility: This sort of action makes sex crimes less visible. After all, it’s not like people are going to say “What? I can’t place an ad on Craigslist anymore? Oh, I guess I’ll get out of the pimping business. Hmmm…how much severance pay do I pay my girls?” People will continue to exploit and abuse others. But, it does make this sort of activity a wee bit harder to find and might force it to be a bit more covert (through coded language, for example). Now, honest tax paying citizens no longer have to worry about seeing that dirty, dirty link on the Craigslist homepage anymore. Seeing it there means it’s a constant reminder that those things are going on…and is usually a reminder that nobody is doing anything about it. Make the link go away and you can pretend it never happened.
- This makes real enforcement more difficult. Law enforcement has really struggled in coping with the availability of information now available on the internet. So, why in the world would you create a system which makes it harder to find people using the internet to commit crimes? As Boyd says:
Law enforcement is always struggling to gain access to underground networks in order to go after the bastards who abuse people for profit. Underground enforcement is really difficult and it takes a lot of time to invade a community and build enough trust to get access to information that will hopefully lead to the dens of sin. …It’s far too easy to mistake more data for more crime and too many Aspiring Governors use the increase of data to spin the public into a frenzy about the dangers of the Internet. The increased availability of data is not the problem; it’s a godsend for getting at the root of the problem and actually helping people.
While Boyd sees this as a reluctance to fund law enforcement properly I’m not quite so sure. After all, how many police departments or Attorneys General argued against this action? While I have no doubt that there are a whole bunch of investigators who would like the time and resources to do investigations on crimes like this but where does it fit in the priority scale of law enforcement? Too often law enforcement’s priorities are guided by what’s in the headlines and not the result of any sort of threat/harm assessment and that’s what makes this Craigslist move so damaging. It pushes the issue of human exploitation a bit further out of the limelight…a bit further from the headlines…and a bit further down everyone’s priority list.