Posted By Jeff on September 6, 2010
There was a time when free speech on the Internet was a cause célèbre. The year was 1997. The case was Reno v. the ACLU. The good guys, meaning the ACLU, won, with the backing of the entire unwieldy conglomeration of forces that generally support a near-absolutist vision of what the 1st Amedment to the U.S. Constitution means. Just what part of “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech” does anyone not understand?
So now, 13 years later, why isn’t there a similar hue and cry when Craigslist is getting nitpicked and harassed by a third of the attorneys general in the United States over its adult services ads, when practically everyone agrees the ads are legal under current law? Maybe because it isn’t a court case … yet … but the hullabaloo is pretty minimal, so far.
- What’s Behind Craigslist’s Self-Censorship?
- Craigslist’s ‘Adult Services’ decision a blow to free speech?
- Some See a Ploy as Craigslist Blocks Sex Ads
I don’t claim to know why Craigslist self-censored. If I were Craig, I might have done it to draw attention to the company’s position and to test public opinion. I’m not sure we’ve learned much. The various asshole attorneys general (prominent among them Dick Blumenthal of Connecticut) still want to eliminate adult service ads on craiglist. Various free speech advocates are sounding the alarm. Various journalists speculate about what it means and what craigslist will do.
But I haven’t heard anyone yet suggest what I think it may all be about, which is that craigslist, by shuttering adult services for some as-yet undetermined period of time, can accumulate evidence that the adult service ads will simply migrate to other sites — sites that are not policed or as cooperative with authorities as craigslist. And they can then demonstrate that the AGs are making things worse, not better.
And they might be able to prove just that, and the courts — both judicial and that of public opinion — like proof much more than they like abstract argument.
Pretty clever, eh? If it turns out that way, feel free to stop back and tell me what a prescient genius of the Internet I am.
Of course, they may just turn the ads back on and let the chips fall where they may.