Craigslist CEO wants apology from South Carolina AG

Feud between Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster and attorney general over preventing prostitution ads is getting personal. Buckmaster denounces AG's threats to prosecute.

Jim Buckmaster

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster lashed out in a blog post at South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster for threatening to prosecute him and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark.

Buckmaster was responding to McMaster's accusations that Buckmaster, Newmark and Craigslist were engaging in illegal acts. This is the latest chapter in the effort by law enforcement officials from several states and cities to force Craigslist to do more to prevent ads for prostitution from appearing on the site. In an apparent move to placate attorneys general, Craigslist last week announced that it would replace the controversial "erotic section" with a new "adult section" and would not post any ad until it was reviewed by a human.

In his post at Craigslist.org, Buckmaster told McMaster that he was out of line in his claims that the changes at Craigslist didn't go far enough. Buckmaster is apparently indicating he believes the site has done enough to address the problem of prostitution .

"These very serious allegations followed the dramatic changes we implemented last week, widely applauded by other attorneys general," Buckmaster wrote. He also noted that the changes go far beyond alterations to the site that McMaster endorsed six months ago. The question is why is McMaster so outraged now?

Buckmaster noted that AT&T, Microsoft, and Village Voice Media, as well as major newspapers are posting very graphic ads in their "adult sections" and McMaster has not included them in his attacks. "What's a crime for Craigslist is clearly a crime for any company," Buckmaster wrote. "Are you really prepared to condemn the executives" ...from these "mainstream companies...Mr. McMaster, I strongly recommend you reconsider and retract your remarks."

Buckmaster said launching a criminal prosecution against Craigslist isn't warranted by the facts, and is barred by federal law.

"We're willing to accept our share of criticism," Buckmaster wrote, "but wrongfully accusing Craigslist of criminal misconduct is simply beyond the pale. We would very much appreciate an apology at your very earliest convenience."

So far, the South Carolina attorney general's office has declined to comment beyond a terse statement posted to its Web site on Friday, in which it said, "We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution."

Below is a copy of Buckmaster's blog post:

An Apology Is In Order

Dear South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster,

Two days ago you accused Craigslist, and me personally, of engaging in criminal acts, reiterating your previous threat to file unwarranted and unconstitutional charges against us that are clearly barred by federal law. As you put it, "We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution."

These very serious allegations followed the dramatic changes we implemented last week, widely applauded by other attorneys general, that go far beyond the policies and procedures you yourself personally endorsed just 6 months ago, as indicated by your signature on the joint statement.

So effective in fact, that our "adult services" and soon-to-be-retired "erotic services" sections combined, for all cities in South Carolina, currently feature a total of 40 ads, all of which comply with our terms of use. That's 40 ads out of a total of 334,180 currently listed on our SC sites. The rest comprise a thriving marketplace for South Carolinians, offering jobs, housing, for sale items, local services, and just about everything else.

Many prominent companies, including 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.

Have you fully considered the implications of your accusations against Craigslist? What's a crime for Craigslist is clearly a crime for any company. Are you really prepared to condemn the executives of each of the mainstream companies linked above, and all the others that feature such ads, as criminals? Craigslist may not matter in your world view, despite our popularity among your constituents, but mightn't you want an endorsement from any of the SC newspapers for your gubernatorial campaign, whose publishers you've just labeled as criminals? Do you really intend to launch a criminal investigation against the phone company? What about potential new jobs connected to big data center buildouts in SC by Internet companies? Are you sure you want prosecute all of their CEOs as criminals???

If you are threatening our founder Craig Newmark, a board member with no operational role at Craigslist other than as a customer service representative, then you are expanding your list of "criminal suspects" to include thousands of employees at the above-named companies, or the companies' boards of directors, or both.

Mr. McMaster, I strongly recommend you reconsider and retract your remarks, and positively affirm that you have no intention of launching criminal investigations aimed at any of these upstanding companies, because in truth none of them are deserving of such treatment. Certainly when it comes to Craiglist, by any objective standard your threats and accusations are unreasonable and unfair:

• threats of criminal prosecution are utterly unwarranted by the facts
• the charges threatened are unconstitutional and barred by federal law
• our adult ad screening regimen is stricter than the one you endorsed
• our adult services ads are fewer and tamer than other SC venues.

We're willing to accept our share of criticism, but wrongfully accusing Craigslist of criminal misconduct is simply beyond the pale. We would very much appreciate an apology at your very earliest convenience. As I'm sure would all of the other fine companies whose executives you've called out as criminals.

Sincerely yours,

Jim Buckmaster
CEO, Craigslist

 

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