Craigslist closes personal ads over trafficking bill

Craigslist has unexpectedly closed its personal ads sections, after the US Senators passed H.R. 1865, the sex trafficking bill. The bill introduces new penalties – including fines and prison terms of up to ten years – for websites which "unlawfully promote and facilitate" sex work, in addition to "unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims."

As Craigslist points out, the bill has serious implications for websites that offer online personals ads. "Any tool or service can be misused," it said in an update. "We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day."

Multiple sections have now been shuttered on the site as a result. Craigslist's "strictly platonic," "misc romance," and "casual encounters" boards have all been removed. However, the popular "missed connections" board remains online.

While Craigslist may be notorious for its simplistic – some would say dated – design, it has been instrumental in changing the fortunes of traditional classified advertising. Newspapers, particularly local papers, which would once have made a significant portion of their income from private adverts, including personal ads, found the bulk of their audience shifted online when Craigslist launched. For users, it became a far easier way to locate nearby deals – or, indeed, find love or a missed connection.

"To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!" the site said.

It's unclear exactly what sort of exposure to risk Craigslist faced if it continued operating its personals section with H.R. 1865 "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017" in effect. One strict interpretation of the bill, for instance, could see sites like Craigslist run into even stricter penalties, should an incident with the trafficking of multiple people be discovered. That can lead to an even bigger fine, or a prison term of up to 25 years, or indeed both. The bill also singles out any site which "acts with reckless disregard that such conduct contributes to sex trafficking" for the same penalties.

Without stringent – and arguably near-impossible, at least on a reasonable budget – moderation of any new classified advert placed, it's unclear how Craigslist could safely navigate through the new rules. As a result, it seems those looking for love will have to search elsewhere.