craigslist (Photo credit: Chika)

UPDATE: Craigslist kills “erotic services” section, adds oversight. CNN reports that the classified Web giant will assign live staff to vet every “adult services” ad.

70-something Dave Newton and 20-something Matt Keeley struggle with Web ethics via e-mail.

—- On April 27 at 10:23 AM Dave Newton wrote —
I’m really disturbed at the Craigslist killer story. There’s nothing new about murderous predators, but we’ve built a whole new way for them to stalk and kill. It’s called Craigslist, and in a broader sense, the Internet itself. It’s fast and easy, and people seem to expect it to be safe. Why is Craigslist being so resistant to doing the obvious — deleting the erotic services section? What do you think?

—- On April 27 at 5:44 PM Matt Keeley wrote —

Hm; I’m not sure if it’s really Craigslist at fault here — I think that this sort of thing has always and will always be around. For me — the main issue is that the victims (sadly) didn’t use proper safety precautions, the same thing they would always say when Internet dating first took off. Meet in a well-lit public area, speak on the phone first, trust your gut. (Dan Savage did a good piece on Craigslist in this Savage Love column shortly after George Weber was murdered in a similar situation.)

I’m not sure if deleting the Erotic Services section is necessarily the answer — while I’ve never been a patron, it seems that to cut it down would just cause imitators to spring up elsewhere. The cat’s out of the bag, and I think the best thing Craigslist could do is find a way to moderate it to lessen the likelyhood of this type of thing happening again. How — admittedly, I don’t know. What would you do?

—- On April 27 at 7:31 PM Dave Newton wrote —

What would I do? First let me tell you where I’m coming from: my original career was radio, and I started it in the early 1960s. Which was, of course, the end of the buttoned-up 1950s. You couldn’t say “damn” on the radio, people of the opposite sex were just beginning to appear in bed together in movies, and some of those movies couldn’t be advertised, even on radio. Same-sex anything and everything else off-norm was unmentionable.

I’m open-minded about what consenting adults do and I believe the opening up of our society has been mostly a good thing, but I think like a 1950s radio guy raised under FCC controls — if I owned Craigslist, we’d never have started “erotic services” listings. I was taught to be responsible for what might happen as a result of my business practices. If something awful happened as a result of people meeting on my site, I’d want to shut down the place where they met. Don’t you young people feel a twinge of conscience or disgust and want to do something about yawning gaps in media businesses that put people at greater, more rapid risk?

—- On April 27 at 9:55 PM Matt Keeley wrote —

I can see your point — and I do share some of the same taboos (some parts of me may even be quite prudish!). And we both agree about the conscience twinge that Craigslist SHOULD be feeling, or at least feel responsible.

I think our solutions are different, though. I’m not sure if I would have put it up in the first place, though I can see why they would; CL is basically a newspaper classifieds section, and part of those have traditionally been personals — and as we all know (I can’t be the only person who browses the personals for laughs), there’s some weird — mostly safe, but weird — folks out there. And, as we both also know, sex sells — I’m guessing the Craigslist folks are hoping people will think of that site where they troll for kink as also a place to sell their stationary bike. (I’m not sure if that DOES happen, but, hey.)

At any rate, the cat’s out of the bag, and my conscience/responsibility would say that to shut it down completely would just drive it to another place, perhaps somewhere less ethical, so the best thing to do would be to keep it, but try to put more safety controls on it. It might be unsavory, but if we can — pardon the metaphor — put a condom on it, it’d be better in the long run. Admittedly, I’m not sure HOW or WHAT controls would be best, but luckily, I’m not on the CL board of directors! I guess I see it as akin to the needle exchange programs; I’m VERY anti-drug-use, but I know people ARE going to do it, so they may as well do it safely — for them AND for the rest of society, as things have a tendency to spiral out of cliques into the mainstream. Or am I just talking crazy?

—- On April 28 at 9:32 AM Dave Newton wrote —

No, this isn’t crazy talk. In fact, you sound quite sensible and mature. How old are you, really? But seriously, I can’t find much wrong with your reasoning. I just feel icky about the whole thing. Technology, as usual, has evolved much faster than human beings can. I wonder, what if these people, criminal and victim, had been closer to their parents? Would the elders have kept them from doing stupid, awful, lethal things? Who knows? Thanks for the discussion.

— Matt Keeley is Editor of; Dave Newton edits

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