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[ NNSquad ] Handcuffs and Blackmail: Craigslist and the Future of the Internet

       Handcuffs and Blackmail: Craigslist and the Future of the Internet


Greetings.  In "Crucifying Craigslist" 
( href="http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000554.html ), I expressed my
concerns over government authorities attempting to dictate the content
of Internet sites, in particular that of Craigslist.

Due to such pressures -- especially including threats from the South
Carolina attorney general Henry McMaster, Craigslist moved to replace
their "erotic services" category with a monitored "adult services"

My fear, which now appears to have been proven justified, is that by
caving in to demands that appear to be clearly not justifiable under
federal law, Craigslist was doing the functional equivalent of paying
off a blackmailer.  As is quite well known, if you pay a blackmailer
once, the odds are that you will be rewarded with an accelerating
stream of ever more outrageous demands and threats.

This is the pattern we're now seeing in the Craigslist case.

Craigslist agreed to remove its un-prescreened erotic services
category, even though their only legal requirement was to remove
already posted materials upon notification of a clear violation 
of law.

But this naturally didn't satisfy the SC AG, who is piling on more
demands, threatening lawsuits and criminal investigations against
Craigslist personnel, and in general grandstanding against "the damned
Internet" with the maximum possible bluster.

Now comes word that Craigslist's CEO has himself demanded an apology
from McMaster (probability of receiving that apology is 0%, of course)
( http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2347215,00.asp ).
It appears that the situation is rapidly spinning out of control in a
very bad way.

While I personally wouldn't have handled all this in exactly the
manner that Craigslist has chosen, I have the benefit of not being the
one threatened with shackled perp walks, either (well, at least 
so far).

But ultimately, what we're seeing in this case is a microcosm of
enormous battles to come over control over Internet content, search
engines, and virtually every aspect of the enormous communications
capabilities that the Internet has conferred on ordinary people way
beyond historical bounds.

This capability can certainly be abused, and to be sure some
governments and government officials are in an ever more desperate
tizzy looking for ways to clamp down on free speech by attacking the
messengers -- the Internet services themselves -- as a shortcut to
their real goal, controlling the speech of individuals.

That's not to say that illegal acts should not be properly prosecuted.
But in the Internet age, personal responsibility has been thrust
squarely onto the center stage.  Governmental attacks on Internet
services as the proxied surrogates of individual players -- for
example, the persons who choose to place ads on Craigslist -- are not
only inappropriate, but must be fought back with more than simple due

The current Craigslist battle is but a harbinger of the titanic
struggles to come over who controls the Internet and its content.
Even if you couldn't care less about erotic ads and have never used
Craigslist, this is still a war of importance to you -- and to your
children who will ultimately inherent the Internet and its

It is imperative that we take the strongest possible stand -- right
now -- against inappropriate governmental meddling and threats
relating to Internet content.  There are forces in play whose ultimate
goal is to twist the Internet into a prescreened,
lowest-common-denominator, governmentally-straitjacketed and impotent
shadow of its current self, and in the process eliminate untold
numbers of important future applications before they can ever be born.

Controlling communications means controlling the future.  We should
not and must not allow political grandstanding and associated threats
to undermine what we have built or snuff out the wonders still to

As Lily Tomlin used to say, "And that's the truth."

Lauren Weinstein
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR
   - People For Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Co-Founder, NNSquad
   - Network Neutrality Squad - http://www.nnsquad.org
Founder, GCTIP - Global Coalition 
   for Transparent Internet Performance - http://www.gctip.org
Founder, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurenweinstein