The dead-end politics of the internet

For those who don’t know of it, Craigslist is the de facto online classifieds system in the United States. It’s huge and just about anything that anyone does here seems to revolve around it. That even includes adult advertisements. While services for massage and escorts are legal, prostitution is not and underage prostitution even more so. Unfortunately as time has gone on, the section has moved more to being flat-out ads for sex services, which are illegal in all but one state in the US.

Due to the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Craigslist can’t technically be charge with offering up prostitution, although many in law enforcement have thought otherwise. Starting in 2008, a number of them decided to make names for themselves by taking on this unjust practice using the typical battle cries of “Think of the children!” and the like. So far, Craigslist has managed to deal with all of this as well as they can and set up things such as mandatory payment for adult listings (in order to have credit card information on file) and then donating that money to non-profits who deal with the trafficking of women and children as sexual slaves.

Well, as it turns out, here we are again in another election year and now 18 attorneys general have decided to chase after the Craigslist boogieman yet again which has resulted in the shutting of the Adult section yesterday. The CEO of Craigslist, Jim Buckmaster has argued repeatedly on their blog that if you block the Adult section, then it will just drift to another section or even another site. Some would claim that his argument is based on a slippery slope fallacy along the likes of why the US justified invading Korea and Vietnam, but when it comes to the criminal behavior, especially towards the internet, it’s actually quite sound.

Say you have a bank. One day, armed thugs come in and rob your bank. Okay, fine, damn the inconvenience to customers, you’re going to screen everyone who comes in and put up bulletproof glass that the customers have to scream through to do transactions. That’s all well and good, but then the criminals dig a tunnel under your bank and rob you that way. Okay, then, somehow you build a tunnel-proof bank. Then the criminals then figure out a way to blow off the roof with a bomb and rob you that way and so on and so forth.

Now apply this to the internet. You’re an online credit card processor that rhymes with SchmaySchmal who decides that all cyber crime comes from Nigeria. Fine, you’ll just blog those Nigerian IP internet addresses from using your system. Then, the criminals use the fiber channel through neighboring Benin and come out that way. So then you block all traffic from Benin. Oh yeah, that’ll get them because there’s no way you can spoof and IP address and relay your traffic through some “safe” part of the world. Oh wait, there is, ah, never mind. You’re still going to block Nigeria though, just because.

My point being in this is that Buckmaster is right. Blocking one section of one site just shifts the illicit behavior to another one and what it really all comes down to with this is populism. Everyone going after Craigslist is trying to make a name for themselves. The attorneys general are the worst, but also heaped on to the lot is Amber Lyon of CNN who, as craftily as some vapid blonde from CNN can be, cornered Craig Newmark and made him look like an ass. As Jim pointed out, brilliant work, Amber. Craig doesn’t run Craigslist, despite his name being in the name of it.

Having met Craig, he is a quiet, nice guy, which is why Craigslist took off as people trusted him and his “list”. He’s also smart which is why a decade ago he turned over the running of Craigslist to people who know how to run a business. Craig is a geek and confesses to all of this. Amber on the other hand is undoubtedly making a play to being Fox New’s newest hussy and she probably stands a good chance to get that job. If she somehow manages to stay on at CNN, it means that we should respect it even less than we do now.

But, back to the issue of online prostitution ads. There are only two actual solutions. The first is a change in behavior. Given that prostitution has been with us since Biblical times, we all know that this isn’t going to happen, although no one in the far Christian right wants to admit this. The second option is better enforcement of the penalties for these crimes, ie building a better social mousetrap. Instead of being reelected, every single attorney general and every single person in charge of law enforcement who is going after Craigslist should be fired. Now.

The reason this mass firing is that these guys are squandering a massive opportunity. Right now, in the Craigslist Adult section (were it still up), there exists an endless amount of people who are ready to be caught offering up underage/trafficked women as well as those looking for the services. It’s this attitude that shutting down one avenue of activity will simply hide it, when in reality, policing what is there will make it diminish massively. It will never go away completely as somewhere around 1-3% of our population will always engage in deviant behavior and there is little we can do to stop that. The rest go along simply because there are no penalties. But, if there was a one in five chance of getting caught, they would stop. Look at it this way, if there was a 20% chance you’d go to jail for five years for downloading a movie illegally, would you do it?

This is the solution, or at least a much, much better one than what these elected officials have offered up while playing to the conservatives in the US who don’t seem to understand anything about how the human nature works. Or maybe it’s more the fact that they do understand, but don’t want to admit it.

I only hope that common sense will prevail once November has passed, or maybe sooner…