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Craigslist shutters 'erotic services' section

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Craigslist is shuttering its "erotic services" section after months of resisting demands by state and local law enforcement officials in the US.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan told the AP on Wednesday that the site's current erotic services section will close in seven days and be replaced with a new adult category where listings must be manually approved by Craigslist staff*. Posts to the new section will reportedly cost $10, twice as much as the current erotic services.

Craigslist hasn't given the official word yet, but said it would release a statement on its decision later today. See update below.

Several US law officials have been stepping up their demands to close Craigslist's erotic listings section, which they've long-accused of facilitating prostitution. The website claims it's been working to curb illicit listings, but critics say the changes haven't done enough.

In November 2008, Craigslist and the attorney generals of over 40 US states entered a pact to implement new screening policies such as requiring telephone and credit card verification before users are allowed to post erotic services listings. Those changes were rolled out over the course of several months, leading Craigslist to boast a "spectacular" 95 per cent reduction in the volume of erotic services listings this March.

The figures were also trotted out in response to a federal lawsuit filed by the Illinois Sheriff Department earlier that month. The suit alleges Craigslist's copious quantities of prostitution ads strains the department's ability to enforce the law.

The erotic services controversy was given a second wind in April after the sensationalized coverage of the so-called "Craigslist murder." Boston University medical student Philip Markoff is accused of murdering masseuse Julissa Brisman. Police say the killer found her through a Craigslist ad. Markoff is also charged with the armed robbery of a stripper in Rhode Island after arranging a meeting though the site.

Amongst coverage of the murder, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster sent an open letter to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster threatening to prosecute if the site didn't shut down its erotic services listings for his state within 10 days. Attorney General Madigan echoed the call to remove the section, claiming "the vast majority of ads blatantly violate even the most basic terms of use."

Craigslist boss Buckmaster has thus far defended the site's decision to keep the erotic services section, writing frequently on the Craigslist blog that those threatening legal action have no case. But apparently that stance has been reversed.

A few attorneys general are already publicly applauding the decision, including Connecticut AG, Richard Blumenthal. In a prepared statement, the prosecutor said "We will be monitoring closely to make sure that this measure is more than a name change from erotic to adult and that the manual blocking is tough and effective to scrub prostitution and pornography. Our continuing investigation will assure that these steps are substance, not just spin, and that craigslist really shuts down its open online red light district."

We'll update as soon as official word arrives from Craigslist. ®

*Worst job ever or best job ever? Hard to tell.

Update

A somewhat bitter-sounding Buckmaster has acknowledged change on a blog post, adding a few more details as well.

"As of today for all US craigslist sites, postings to the 'erotic services' category will no longer be accepted, and in 7 days the category will be removed," he wrote.

Buckmaster said that effective today for all US sites, the new "adult services" category has been added for "legal adult services providers." Each posting will be manually reviewed before appearing on the site and will cost $10. Once approved, the posts are eligible for reposting at $5.

"Unsurprisingly, but completely contrary to some of the sensationalistic journalism we’ve seen these past few weeks, the record is clear that use of craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds, let alone rates of violent crime pertaining to American society as a whole," Buckmaster wrote.

He continued that the site's ability to let users flag inappropriate activities is "arguable the most successful system ever conceived for eliminating inappropriate activity from a massive internet community."

"However, with respect to this new paid category for advertising by legal businesses, we will experiment with some of the methods traditionally employed in paid print classifieds," he said.

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