CraigsList and the idiocy of censorship.
via Danah Boyd.
For the last 12 years, I’ve dedicated immense amounts of time, money and energy to end violence against women and children. As a victim of violence myself, I’m deeply committed to destroying any institution or individual leveraging the sex-power matrix that results in child trafficking, nonconsensual prostitution, domestic violence and other abuses. If I believed that censoring Craigslist would achieve these goals, I’d be the first in line to watch them fall. But from the bottom of my soul and the depths of my intellect, I believe that the current efforts to censor Craigslist’s “adult services” achieves the absolute opposite. Rather than helping those who are abused, it fundamentally helps pimps, human traffickers and others who profit off of abusing others.
On Friday, under tremendous pressure from US attorneys general and public advocacy groups, Craigslist shut down its “Adult Services” section. There is little doubt that this space has been used by people engaged in all sorts of illicit activities, many of which result in harmful abuses. But the debate that has ensued has centred on the wrong axis, pitting protecting the abused against freedom of speech. What’s implied in public discourse is that protecting potential victims requires censorship; thus, anti-censorship advocates are up in arms attacking regulators for trying to curtail First Amendment rights. While I am certainly a proponent of free speech online, I find it utterly depressing that these groups fail to see how this is actually an issue of transparency, not free speech. And how this does more to hurt potential victims than help.
Law enforcement is always struggling to gain access to underground networks in order to go after the bastards who abuse people for profit. Underground enforcement is really difficult, and it takes a lot of time to invade a community and build enough trust to get access to information that will hopefully lead to the dens of sin. While it always looks so easy on TV, there’s nothing easy or pretty about this kind of work. The Internet has given law enforcement more data than they even know what to do with, more information about more people engaged in more horrific abuses than they’ve ever been able to obtain through underground work. It’s far too easy to mistake more data for more crime and too many aspiring governors use the increase of data to spin the public into a frenzy about the dangers of the Internet. The increased availability of data is not the problem; it’s a godsend for getting at the root of the problem and actually helping people.
Censoring Craigslist will do absolutely nothing to help those being victimized, but it will do a lot to help those profiting off of victimization. Censoring Craigslist will also create new jobs for pimps and other corrupt intermediaries since it’ll temporarily make it a whole lot harder for individual scumbags to find clients. This will be particularly devastating for the low-end prostitutes who were using Craigslist to escape violent pimps. Keep in mind that occasionally getting beaten up by a scary john is often a whole lot more desirable for many than the regular physical, psychological, and economic abuse they receive from their pimps. So while it’ll make it temporarily harder for clients to get access to abusive services, nothing good will come out of it in the long run.
If you want to end human trafficking, if you want to combat nonconsensual prostitution, if you care about the victims of the sex-power industry, don’t cheer Craigslist’s censorship. This did nothing to combat the cycle of abuse. What we desperately need are more resources for law enforcement to leverage the visibility of the Internet to go after the scumbags who abuse. What we desperately need is for sites like Craigslist to be encouraged to work with law enforcement and help create channels to actually help victims. What we need are innovative citizens who leverage new opportunities to devise new ways of countering abusive industries. We need to take this moment of visibility and embrace it, leverage it to create change, leverage it to help those who are victimized and lack the infrastructure to get help. What you see online should haunt you. But it should drive you to address the core problem by finding and helping victims, not looking for new ways to blindfold yourself. Please, I beg you, don’t close your eyes. We need you.
Some articles are so brilliant and show such a grasp of the issues they nearly require no comment.
This whole Craigslist stupidity reminds me of the entire campaign to put children in school uniforms because it, “Ends gang violence.” At the end of the day, when others finally did the analysis, the same number of violent acts still went down in the schools — but now the teachers couldn’t identify the perpetrators as gang members (As they were no longer wearing their colours) so they just reported violent acts. Hence, the problem of gang violence in schools was fixed by uniforms.
The censoring of Craigslist by the Evangelical Right and the myopic blindness of the bleeding-heart Left will result in nothing more then the same illusion of safety through denial and sweeping the problem into someone else’s back-yard.