Craigslist, the much sought after classified ads website, could face prosecution in South Carolina, US over the erotic services section.
While the people look it up largely for job and apartment listings, the so-called escort services segment has attracted a lot of criticism - sex-workers use it to solicit customers, it is alleged.
Besides, news stories about a so-called "Craigslist killer" from Boston further tarnished the site's reputation.
Attorney General Henry McMaster had given Craigslist until Friday last afternoon to remove erotically charged material from its South Carolina listings. The AG's Web site now has this statement posted:
As of 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, the Craigslist South Carolina site continues to display advertisements for prostitution and graphic pornographic material. This content was not removed as we requested. We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution.
Craigslist responded Saturday with a blog post voicing exasperation with the attorney general's statement, comparing the "adult services" listings on Craigslist with the adult section of a Greenville, S.C., Web site and others like it elsewhere in the state, along with telephone yellow page listings and print publications.
Craigslist views itself as unfairly targeted by the attorney general's office, though commentators think the Craigslist has far more provocative features than other sites.
On Wednesday though, Craigslist had bowed to pressure from authorities in a number of states and said that it would remove its "erotic services" section, replacing it with a more closely monitored "adult services" section for legal enterprises.
CEO Jim Buckmaster said at the time that Craigslist would be on the lookout for sex workers trying to outmaneuver the new restrictions. "We have blocking and filtering technologies in place site wide. And of course our flagging system remains fully in effect across all the categories, but we will be monitoring that situation," Buckmaster told CNET News.
Subsequently he lashed out in a blog post at Henry McMaster, attorney general for the state of South Carolina, for threatening to prosecute him and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark.
In his post at Craigslist.org, Buckmaster told McMaster that he was out of step 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."