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Backpage Shuts Down Adult Advertising Section After Allegations that Website Facilitates Sex Trafficking

Feb 20, 2017 by Mike McKneely in Sex Crimes announced in January that it will no longer have an adult advertising section. The website, which launched in 2004, hosts third-party ads, like the classified section of a newspaper or Craigslist. While Backpage provides a place for legitimate ads for open jobs, real estate, vehicles, and more, it had also greatly expanded its adult advertisements over recent years. The content and hidden meaning of these ads led to accusations that Backpage knowingly facilitated sex trafficking and sex crimes with minors. Due to these issues, the website, its owners and executives became the subject of civil suits, criminal charges, and a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigation.

The website has so far escaped civil judgments against it, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected a case involving allegations that the site facilitated sex trafficking of minors. However, the negative findings of the Senate subcommittee may change the website’s civil and criminal liability. Any individuals like the owners and executives of Backpage who have been charged with crimes related to sex trafficking should immediately contact a Fresno sex crimes attorney from Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer.

Jane Doe v.

Three victims of sex trafficking, collectively known as Jane Does, sued the website for facilitating sex trafficking of minors. They alleged that under federal law Backpage’s owners and executives knowingly benefited from human trafficking by accepting advertisements they knew were for sex trafficking of minors and receiving revenue from those ads.

The District Court of Massachusetts found that Backpage was protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). This federal law protects websites that host third-party content from civil liability based on the content. On appeal, the First Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision that Backpage was shielded from civil liability as a mere publisher of content. Jane Doe sought to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court for a decision on the issue, but their request was denied, leaving in place the decision in favor of Backpage.

While the outcome of this case was beneficial for Backpage, it is the findings of the Senate subcommittee that ultimately caused the website to shut down its adult ad section and may make future lawsuits turn out differently.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ Findings

On January 9, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released its findings from an investigation into Backpage’s adult ad section and the website’s involvement in sex trafficking. This was part of a 20-month study regarding online sex trafficking. The Senate subcommittee delved deeply into Backpage’s content screening processes for the adult ads. This process matters because of Backpage’s civil defense under the CDA. A website that simply publishes third-party ads is not liable for criminal activity related to the ads.

First, the subcommittee found through Backpage’s internal documents that the website took an active approach to the adult advertisements, including deleting words and phrases like “rape,” “young,” “little girl,” “teen,” “Lolita,” and more from ads prior to publication. The website used a Strip Term From Ad Filter initially and manually edited postings with similar words. This intentional editing was interpreted to mean that Backpage knowingly concealed evidence of criminal activity. Second, the subcommittee found that Backpage knew it facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking.

These findings mean that Backpage may not be protected by the CDA if future plaintiffs can prove the company edited the content instead of simply hosting the ad as it was received.

Backpage Shuts Down Adult Ad Section

Backpage was not ordered by a court or government body to shut down the adult ad section of its website in America. However, it did so and is claiming that the action was a result of government pressure and censorship. The most likely cause of this business move was the Senate subcommittee’s findings, which showed future plaintiffs a way to attempt to prove the website was civilly liable for child sex trafficking and the victim’s injuries. Following the committee’s report, it was less likely that the website would be protected by the CDA.

Do You Need a Fresno Sex Crimes Attorney?

If you have been accused or are being investigated for sex crimes due to your involvement with a website, you should seek the advice of an experienced Fresno criminal defense attorney from Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer. We have years of experience defending individuals against sex crime accusations and have a record of obtaining favorable results for our clients.

We will analyze your situation and build you the strongest defense possible under the law. Our main priority will be to obtain an acquittal, however, we will also strive to minimize the consequences of a conviction.

Call us today at (559) 443-7442 or online for a free and confidential consultation.

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