Backpage, the classified ads website known for hosting escort ads, has shut down its adult section. The company made its move on the eve of its US Senate hearing and just hours after the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations published a 53-page report of what it found out about Backpage's activities. The report accused the company of knowing that its website facilitated sex and child trafficking, as well as of concealing evidence by editing advertisements.
Its screening practice reportedly scrubs terms from ads involving minors that'll make it easier for law enforcement to spot them. Those terms include "fresh," "lolita," young," "little girl," innocent" and "school girl." Since Backpage doesn't save the original versions, the report says it wasn't able to provide the investigators a clear and honest view of its activities. In addition, the investigators discovered that founders Carl Ferrer, James Larkin and Michael Lacey (pictured above) still own and operate the website despite their claims that they're no longer involved in running it.
When you visit any locale's adult section on the website, you'll see that everything's been marked censored. The company also published a longer statement that says:
"As the direct result of unconstitutional government censorship, Backpage.com has removed its Adult content section from the highly popular classified website, effective immediately. For years, the legal system protecting freedom of speech prevailed, but new government tactics, including pressuring credit card companies to cease doing business with Backpage, have left the company with no other choice but to remove the content in the United States."
The Congress and the Senate have been investigating Backpage for a couple of years now. In October last year, its executives were arrested and charged with pimping a minor. They were cleared a couple of months later, but California Attorney General Kamala Harris quickly pursued a new set of pimping and money laundering charges. At this point, it's hard to say how pulling down the adult section will affect Backpage's Senate hearing. If the company's $150-million yearly revenue really does come from its adult section like Harris said, though, then it'll definitely affect its income.
Despite allegations that the website facilitates child trafficking, Dr. Lois Lee, founder of nonprofit Children of the Night that rescues kids from prostitution, came to the company's defense:
"It's a sad day for America's children victimized by prostitution. Backpage.com was a critical investigative tool depended on by America's vice detectives and agents in the field to locate and recover missing children and to arrest and successfully prosecute the pimps who prostitute children. The ability to search for and track potentially exploited children on a website and have the website bend over backwards to help and cooperate with police the way Backpage did was totally unique. It not only made law enforcement's job easier, it made them much more effective at rescuing kids and convicting pimps."