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privacy rights blog

Staying Up to Date Federal Charges - "Knowingly" is the Key

Who is

Backpage is the world's 2nd largest classified advertising website.  They operate in 97 countries with 943 locations worldwide.  Sex traffickers have made extensive use of websites that serve as marketplaces for ordinary commercial sex and escort services.  Backpage has been involved in 73% of all child trafficking reports that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received from the general public.  They have been described as a "hub" of "human trafficking, especially the trafficking of minors" by the National Association of Attorneys General.

Backpage has long claimed that it is a mere host of content created by others and immune from liabilty under the Communications Decency Act.  They have also publicly said that they do screen for adult advertisements to protect against criminal abuse.  However, the internal company documents show that Backpage's public defense is not true.  In fact they maintained a practice of altering ads before publication by deleting words, phrases and images indicative of criminality thereby sanitizing content in order for illegal transactions to proceed unnoticed.

Knowingly Facilitating Sex Trafficking

A new law has recently been signed that punishes websites for sex trafficking called The Allow States and Victims to Fight On-Line Sex Trafficking Act.  Backpage has clearly fallen under this law.  The Backpage CEO was recently arrested and federally charged with sex trafficking crimes.

It was found that Backpage knowingly concealed evidence of criminality by editing 70-80% of "adult" ads manually or automatically.  They even reprogrammed its electronic filters to reject an ad in its entirely if it contained certain egregious words suggestive of sex trafficking. In addition, they actively coached its customers o how to post "clean" ads for illegal transactions.

Backpage also knows that it facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking.  Additional evidence showed that Backpage was aware that its website facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking.  Everyone at the company knew the adult-section ads were for prostitution and that their job was to "put lipstick on a pig" by sanitizing them.