Bizarre CNN op-ed accuses Craiglist of profiting from child sex trafficking; Craigslist responds

CNN recently published a sloppy op-ed that accuses Craig Newmark and the folks at Craigslist of enabling and profiting from child sex trafficking, with much hyperbole and bombast ("Craigslist has made selling children a virtual stop-and-shop for predators"). CNN has now published a rebuttal from Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster. It's well worth a read, and sheds some light on the specific steps they've taken to combat this and other forms of illegal activity. Personal disclosure here: I've known Newmark socially for more than 10 years. He's benevolent, conscientious, and kind. Accusing him of being a child sex crime mastermind is so dissonant— it's like saying Santa Claus invented AIDS, or that kittens are serial killers. All open systems are vulnerable to some abuse. I commend the actions Craigslist has taken to remain open, while attacking crime.


  1. You lose all credibility in my eyes when you misquote your sources as egregiously as the woman interviewed for the CNN article did. Googling the claim of “300,000 children per year” turns up her original source: a study that claimed that 300,000 children total (not per year, total to date) are at risk of being forced into prostitution (not currently engaged in prostition). And even then, what’s the source behind that claim? An estimate of the total population of runaways in the US. That is to say that her claim only makes sense if you believe that every single runaway pre-teen in America is a prostitute.

    The same “study” (which engaged in no actual research, it’s merely a clippings file) also cites the FBI’s count of all known child prostitutes found since 2003: 403. Over 7 years. But you know, hey, it’s not like there’s any important difference between 60 per year and 300,000 per year, now, is there?

    Any time you see a “study” citing a number of crime victims that large, you should look very much askance at it.

    1. I figured that out around 1990 when everyone was going on about how hundreds of thousands of children were being abducted every year in the US.

    2. “You lose all credibility in my eyes”

      You have no credibility when fabrications like CNN’s are a lesser concern than BB’s misquote. CNN remains full of shit.

    3. To Whom It May Concern,

      Upon more research you would find that it is in fact claimed by the U.S Justice Department that between 100,000-300,000 children, average age 13, fall prey to Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking every year in our Nation. These children are American Children. American Children who are being bought and sold by American Men (and Women) betyween 10-20 per night. They are under the age of 18. They are runaways, foster kids, some are kidnapped and a very few are actually sold by their own families. Missing and Exploited Children can prove to you that There are currently 2 million children under the age of 18 living on our Nations city streets and sidewalks. This is not well known, because most people would like to ignore this problem and look the other way. Most of these kids are not capable of taking care of themselves and fall victim to exploitation, mostly sexual exploitation.

      Craigslist is one of the largest online superstores. We all use it. We all love it. That is why is it so easy for the pimps to hide in the depths of it. I am sure Craig is a great guy, I know it from the success of his List which I have used ever since it hit the internet. It is a fantastic resource.

      However… I work directly with the underage victims of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking/Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. These young girls, when asked how, at the age of 12 they were sold to ‘Johns’… most all of them answer ‘Craigslist’. Pimps sell children on Craigslist as easy as Johns sell used Bikes and Boats. This is really not acceptable.

      Since I have witnessed this reality…I have sat with victims and listened to their horrific stories. I have stopped using Craigslist. Which I know does not effect him any way. But by supporting his list, i am supporting an Underage Sex Trade that Craig profits from… in my mind, that is not a square guy.

      1. Would not free and easy access to welfare $$$ for those youths at risk and their families reduce this activity? Perhaps with greater effectiveness in achieving the stated goal of reducing the sexual exploitation of children, rather than a boycott of craigslist, and the loss of whatever good things it may enable?

      2. No one is disputing that heinous crimes are being committed against innocent victims. But, when a crime is committed, we ought to focus on bringing the criminals to justice, not harassing law-abiding people who are providing a perfectly legitimate service that the criminals happen to be exploiting.

        If you’re going to go after craigslist because child traffickers use it to conduct their illegal business, then you ought also to go after the ISPs they use, the phone companies they use, the taxi services they use, the hotels they use, the banks they use, etc. The only reason that craigslist is being singled out for special attention is because it’s on the internet — and a lot of people still see the internet as a cesspool of vice that needs to be cleaned up; and the governments of the world (especially the U.S. government) are just looking for a good excuse to impose strict regulatory oversight over online content.

        1. It would seem to me that Law enforcement could use this stuff posted to craigslist as a tool to know where and who to start investigating…you know, to find suspects to investigate..maybe set up stings, etc.
          But I’m no geek: maybe there are tech reasons that that info found on craigslist could not be used for enforcement.

    1. No, kittens are aspiring serial killers. Most domestic cats never truly achieve the true menace of a serial killer.

    2. IAWTSentiment that kittens are among the most adorable, cold-blooded, and difficult-to-dislodge-from-sweaters of all crazed murderers.

      also my dog just tried, unsuccessfully, to eat a toad.

      puppies are also serial killers, that partially consume and then regurgitate their victims.


  2. There is something deeply troubling about CNN getting something this wrong. Craigslist has been a true and honest harbinger of the best social media has to offer, holding to the highest standards since its inception. The balance they’ve managed to strike in a chaotic online environment has been an inspiration. Come on, CNN, show us you can make this right.

  3. “Although the government estimates hundreds of thousands of children have been sold for sex, only a few hundred of the pimps who victimize them have been prosecuted. Almost none of the “Johns” are prosecuted. ”

    She’s saying that when children are prostitutes, the “Johns” are not prosecuted? Maybe with “regular” prostitution that’s true, but when it comes to sex with underage people, I find it very hard to believe they look the other way.

  4. What?! CNN has actually filed a reactionary “report” based on shoddy facts and supposition?

    These harbingers of liberal truth?

    What’s new.

  5. The CNN report was short on context and the gotcha interview was obnoxious, but boy did Newmark blow that. All he had to do is say he “shares the interviewers concerns” and that he’d be happy to schedule an interview at a later time.

    Standing there, staring blankly, looking pissed: not good. He’s a major cultural figure and should be able to handle a situation like that.

  6. Whenever people are given the freedom to do whatever they want to do, some people are bound to abuse that freedom and do some really bad things.

    There are two basic ways of dealing with this: (A) Hold each individual accountable for his or her own behavior on a case-by-case basis; or (B) Take away everyone’s freedom so that no one can do the bad things you don’t want people to do.

    Sadly, too many people nowadays seem to favor option B.

    Even more sadly, the people who favor option B seem to want to blame the facilitators of freedom for all of the bad things that happen when others abuse that freedom. If someone posts an objectionable video on YouTube, the folks at YouTube get blamed for allowing it. If some pervert exposes himself to underage girls on ChatRoulette, the creator of ChatRoulette gets blamed for making it possible. If someone uses Craig’s List for child sex trafficking, Craig Newmark is seen as an accomplice to this heinous crime. Given how often telephones are used to facilitate the commission of crimes, torts, and other wrongful acts, I’m surprised that no one has suggested that the phone company ought to be held legally liable. In fact, I’m surprised that people aren’t condemning Alexander Graham Bell as a monster for inventing a device that can be abused in this way.

    I wish people would come to their senses and realize that freedom is a good thing, even though it sometimes has nasty side-effects. We ought to be applauding people who help facilitate individual freedom, not condemning them. If someone abuses the freedom that he or she has been given, then he or she ought to be held accountable. But we shouldn’t blame the person who gave him or her that freedom — a freedom that the rest of us also enjoy, and that most of us will never abuse.

  7. This also illustrated how out-of-touch mainstream media is and how they will say ‘anything’ to get someone to listen. The problem is that most believe what they are saying!

    1. Yeah, the mainstream media is all hype and has been since long before the Guttenberg press was invented.

  8. 100K-300K per year simply is not possible.

    There’s 8 million females in the US, roughly, between the ages of 11 and 14. Take the minimum of what “most” could mean as exactly half, then half of 100K-300K would be 50K to 150K.

    That’s one in 53 to 160 girls ages 11-14.

    I have a very hard time believing it’s that many.

  9. Attempting to justify themselves by talking about the great strides they’ve made is an admission of how far they went to the dark side. Whether they intended to or not, they became the slum lord owners of one of the internet’s largest red light districts. They still are, the streets just get hosed down a little more often. And whatever the initial intent, at this point they’ve made a deliberate, conscious decision to stay in the red light management business.

    I support legal prostitution. I support legal cigarettes and televangelism and payday loan operations too. But just because I don’t want to outlaw your business doesn’t mean you’re not a scum-sucking bottom feeder preying on the weakness and misfortune of humanity.

    Certain things come with that gig. Making nice with the cops, putting up with some sensational press. Don’t like it? Quit. Newmark and Buckmaster would have a much easier time walking away than most of the people they’re indirectly profiting from.

    1. I think you’re missing the main point of the rebuttal. It is that their current methods of tracking and reviewing ads and cooperating with authorities is the best possible means to deal with the problem. Even better than simply doing away with adult ads all together.

      There are people in the world who get off on hurting children. That is an unfortunate fact, but a fact all the same. They’re not going to stop doing it just because they can’t find child prostitutes on craigslist. The pimps who imprison these children aren’t going to just let them go if CL disappeared tomorrow. Not one single case of child abuse would be avoided if there were no adult ads on CL. They’d just find another venue.

      At least with CL doing everything it can to work with the authorities, some of these sickos are being caught. With CL working with the missing children network, some of these kids are being found. None of that would happen if all this nastiness moved underground. Sure, you wouldn’t hear about all the poor children being abused on CL, but that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be any. They’d just stop making it to the news. And even though it might make you feel better, it wouldn’t help those kids one bit.

      1. Newmark & Co. have chosen to make it their venue. That means they’re in the hot seat. And no, I do not believe for an instant that they’re being the “good pimps” out of any desire to make the world a better place. They found that their naive business model put them into that role, and that’s just the best face they can put on their refusal or inability to find a new model.

        I’m not going to give them any more credit for that than a cigarette maker who argues that at least his product is “low tar” and not adulterated with extra chemicals, and that if he didn’t provide it, customers would just go to another manufacturer with an even more dangerous product.

        That may be true, but they’re still in a nasty business of their own free choosing, and any concessions they make to quality are entirely a matter of good PR to cover the fact that they don’t want to do something else.

        1. The company that manufactures the beds that these children are chained to should be ashamed of themselves. How dare they make money by supporting child prostitution. Sure, if they went out of business, the kiddy-pimps would just buy beds somewhere else. But they’re still in a nasty business of their own free choosing.

          How is that blatantly ridiculous paragraph any different than your argument? If the cops bust a child brothel and fins them using nothing but Serta mattresses, do you think CNN would write a hit piece about it? Would people expect Serta to shut down because an infinitesimal portion of their business was tied to underage sexual slavery?

          This soft of thing has been going on since long before craigslist. It’s been going on since long before humans had evolved the moral decency to know that it is wrong. You could turn off the entire internet, and you know what? It would still go on. So if CL’s adult ads section has no overall effect on the problem of child prostitution, then how are they “wrong” for not shutting it down?

          There are over 10 thousand adult services ads posted to craigslist every day. What percentage of those do you think are forced prostitutes? I’d bet the number is so far under 1% that it’s statistically non-existent. How can you possibly consider the guys in charge to be “bad people” when this is such a tiny part of their business, and would happen with or without their service? Do you really think the bed manufacturers are bad people too? What about the makers of the disposable cell phones they use? What about the kid at the lumber store who sold them the rope? Certainly some freak couldn’t be tying down youngsters to be raped if that guy didn’t sell him the rope. Where does the list of companies that “contribute” to the exploitation of children end?

          Maybe it should end with the bastards that actually kidnap and whore out young girls.

          But hey, maybe I’m wrong and Craig Newmark is really the kid-humping devil. I guess it’s open to interpretation.

        2. I’m sorry, I just don’t see how your position is substantially different from blaming the telephone company for providing phone lines and phone book listings for escort services.

          I do not think for a second that Craigslist is responsible for the content of their listings or behavior of their users any more than the phone company is or an ISP is or … etc. You’re blaming the wrong party, frankly.

  10. Three hundred thousand? It’s actually four hundred thousand. Subscribe to my twitter to find out more.

  11. The op-ed is ridiculous because it’s hyperbolic. That most sane folks can agree on.

    But from my perspective, Craigslist’s egalitarian method of existing only was viable when few people knew of Craigslist.

    Back in 1998 I remember someone mentioning scoring an apartment via Craigslist and never heard of it before. Went on and was amazed. Tons of great/real posts by real people. You were practically guaranteed that you were not communicating with a bot or a fake.

    Between 1998 to about 2006 I’ve used Craigslist to buy and sell tons of stuff. Around 2006 that’s when any post I’d make selling something even as simple as a microwave would flood me with SPAM and scams. And flakes. Before I even put a simple toaster up and within a few hours I met someone in my neighborhood who was willing to buy my toaster! Now, if I do that I will get flooded with e-mails from loons, flakes and bots.

    What’s even worse is the place is so overrun with bots and scammers it’s discouraged real folks from even bothering. They’re scared and frustrated.

    So in 2010 what is Craigslist anymore? Maybe I get it worse since I live in NYC, but can it be much better in smaller areas? Maybe? I dunno.

    But if the good folks are discouraged by Craigslist and the bad guys have so infected the place it’s unattractive, what is the use of it anymore?

    Maybe the pay for access era has come for Craigslist?

    1. It’s not much better in rural areas. When I post to the Craigslist section for my borough in Alaska (pop. 50K across 16K sq. miles), I may receive 10 responses. Of those, 2-3 are legitimate (ie. Alaskans, but probably flakes) while the rest are scammers wanting me to send whatever I’m selling to Miami or somewhere equally ridiculous.

      Basically I just use it to find garage sales now.

    2. So in 2010 what is Craigslist anymore?

      Obviously, a market to trade in children. Didn’t you RTFM? ;)

      Also, Xeni, “benevolent, conscientious, and kind” are characteristics of the person you know, and entirely distinct from the business.

  12. “There are over 10 thousand adult services ads posted to craigslist every day. What percentage of those do you think are forced prostitutes?”

    Don’t be coy. This isn’t mattresses. They’re facilitating prostitution. While I’d like for that to be legal, it’s not. They got into the pimping business, and a certain amount of the trade is going to be not just sordid, but downright heinous. While the authorities have throughout history looked the other way as long as this trade stayed i circumspect areas, there’s a price to be paid. A certain amount of monetary and social overhead. Being held up for a scolding now and again is part of that.

    These are adults. They knew what they were getting into. And if they didn’t, they know now and have more than reaffirmed their decision. If they want to be treated like mattress salesman, there’s nothing preventing them from selling out and going into that business.

    They didn’t, so they don’t.

  13. These issues are not unique to Craigslist. One need only flip over his/her free city paper to see the blaring escort service ads on the back cover. The difference? No controversy attached!

  14. In yesterday’s Washington Post, the lower half of page 3 was an “advertisement”, that begins “Dear Craig, Although we have not met, we are certain you would not want what happened to us or to thousands of girls like us to ever happen again. Craig, I am AK. In 2009, I met a man twice my age ho pretended to be my boyfriend, and my life as an average girl – looking forward to college, doing my chores, and hanging out with my friends – ended.”

    And it goes on for 5 more paragraphs. Full text is also here:

    It was from the group “Survivors of Craigslist Sex Trafficking”, asking you to visit,,, or

    I haven’t done a review of these sites, or a critical review of the context of the letter. It’s signed by “AK & MC”, so it smacks of journalistic license.

    The reason I’m posting this is (a) I was struck that somebody paid good money for a half-page ad in a major newspaper, using dead trees for a problem that began online, and (b) the Post has a vested interest, perhaps a mandate, to bring down Craigslist, the site that is largely responsible for killing its classified ad revenue.

    The ironies are delicious.

    Full disclosure: I have lived in DC at the same house for 26 years, reading my daily morning Post over coffee.

  15. “it’s like saying Santa Claus invented AIDS”

    What?! But my parents told me Santa invented AIDS! Is it all a lie? My world is spinning!

  16. There is another explanation for the 100k to 300k children per year number. It takes only 70 to 200 children, working 300 days a year, 5 “customers” a night, to account for that “number”.

    Do the ads say “11 year old girl, $300 for sex, 1 hour, SF area”. If the ads openly says they’re selling sex from under aged kids, it’ll be easy for the police to spot them. Then all they have to do is pretend to be customers …

    If the ads does not say they’re offering under aged kids. Well, I’ve never paid for sex. But I imagine, most of the people who do might not like it very much if their prostitute turns out to be 12 years old.

  17. I wonder why they weren’t going after car manufacturers for making the cars that john use to travel to the prostitute or, say Nokia for making phones (used to make the “date”)

  18. I agree that all open systems are subject to abuse. However, I think it’s important to balance openness with compassion. Even a site like 4Chan, which is known for tolerating a lot, didn’t tolerate animal abuser Kenny Glenn. They took swift action and sent a strong message to people who think it is fun to abuse animals for entertainment.

    I don’t believe that the steps that Craigslist is taking are deterring anyone. Here’s why:

    Study conducted in fall 2009 highlights the popularity of child sex on Craigslist, but not other sites —

    Video of young girls explaining how their pimp/ traffickers get around Craigslist’s guidelines —

    Andrea Powell of Fair Fund, featured in the CNN video, also states that young victims talk about being forced onto Craigslist, but not other sites.

    I’ve never heard anyone call Craig Newmark a mastermind of child sex, but he has been accused by many of not doing enough to let pedophiles and traffickers know that their activity will not be tolerated. They continue to abuse his site without fear.

    I personally think they should delete the category. I don’t understand why a self regulated community website is in the sex industry. The pro sex work side has argued that they need Craigslist because it’s a safe place to do their work. With the proliferation of sites like Eros Guide, Sugar Daddy For Me, Sugar Momma Cupid, Adult Friend Finder, Ashley Madison and Seeking Arrangement, is there really a lack of platforms for these people? And most importantly, I’ve never heard of a young victim being trafficked on any of these sites.

    Deleting the adult services section won’t end the problem of youth sex trafficking, but it sends a message to those who are abusing the site that it won’t be tolerated.

    As human trafficking outpaces the drug trade, due to ease and profitability, we need a comprehensive approach that includes:

     sex trafficking awareness as part of sex education in public schools
     legislation that severely punishes pedophiles and traffickers
     support services for victims of trafficking

    Currently, our government is spending more money on incarcerating the victims than it is on prosecuting the pedophiles and traffickers. That needs to change.

  19. LB i couldn’t disagree more. you are making the correlation makes causation argument. Craig s list is vastly more well known… aka going to have more of the good and bad stuff.

  20. They have been pushing this story for several years now. Here is a story (also on the bbc) from 2007:

    It is interesting that there are always “ice baths and beatings” as if those are the importantly painful and visual, sorry SALIENT points of the whole tempest in a teacup. More shouting of “Fire” in a theatre. “Pornographers are coming! Help! Our Husbands are not invulnerable to soft, pillowy mounds of flesh! How are we to maintain our control over them if the internet is for porn?”

    Anyhoo, more hoopla about the hoohaw from America, land of the Puritans. Is anyone surprised?

  21. in response to “sapere_aude”

    why are underage girls going on ChatRoulette in the first place? ChatRoulette or any website that allows adults to interact freely is probably not a place for your children.

    this is just more christian craziness, trying to get everyone stirred up so that we will all become neutered, overweight imbeciles who hate mexicans and have a backyard filled with rusting munitions that we bought to protect ourselves from the muslin hoardes! “i worship our lord on my knees until he transubstantiates in my mouth!”

    dear godesses, help us!

  22. You reference to the citizenship of the victims, as if somehow relevant to this matter, deeply offends me.

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