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Backpage.com’s Founders Speak for the First Time (reason.com)
160 points by danso 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 185 comments

I understand why Reason would want to make a cause célèbre out of Backpage --- libertarian founders prosecuted for a case combining the First Amendment with hysteria over prostitution! How can they resist! But I think they've been bamboozled by their subject.

Surely, months after Lacey and Larkin's arrest, in writing a feature story built on interviews with the founders of Backpage, Elizabeth Nolan Brown would have taken the time to read the actual indictment against them. But if she has, she sure doesn't expect you to, because she doesn't expend the slightest effort in rebutting the claims it makes.

Take referrals to NCMEC, which Brown mentions 5 times in this piece. The indictment mentions it too, right before quoting an email by Backpage staff saying that referrals to NCMEC are to be capped at 500 per month or 16 per day. The obvious concern here would be that Backpage was not in fact reliably forwarding things to NCMEC; only slightly less obvious a concern is that they had so many problematic ads that they had to manage the volume of stuff they were sending to NCMEC, which takes some of the bite out of Brown's argument that child exploitation simply isn't a major problem in the adult services industry.

Rather infamously at this point, Backpage is accused not only of running ads for child sex traffickers, but of doing so knowingly: for years, under Lacey and Larkin's management, their policy --- as Brown writes --- was to check ads for suspicious keywords. What Brown doesn't tell you is that their software then stripped the keywords out of the ads and ran them anyways.

Nowhere in Brown's piece does she address or even mention the allegations that Larkin and Lacey and Backpage's whole staff took pains to conceal what they were doing, for years had a policy of denying knowledge of any prostitution on their site at all, or structured transactions and laundered money to conceal their proceeds. That doesn't fit in to her story, so you don't need to know about it.

I'm not arguing that the indictment is any more a reliable source than Brown is. I'm simply observing that there is a lot of misinformation out there about Backpage, mostly from people who have read neither side carefully, and you'd be well-served (if you care about this stuff) to read both sides.

stripped the keywords out of the ads and ran them anyways

I don't see why this is particularly damning. Visit any porn tube site right now and you will notice that "teen", "stepsister", and a few other young-sounding keywords are incredibly popular. The actresses are quite obviously NOT underage.

When I worked for kink.com a decade ago, we had a policy to avoid these words because they made our credit card processors nervous. They already had a difficult enough time with fetish content. All our content was produced in-house (with meticulous 2257 records), but if we had put user-generated content on the site, we absolutely would have stripped out keywords that were too edgy.

Sex workers and pornographers habitually sell the fantasy of barely legal. Not even the customers really believe this fantasy. I wouldn't necessarily assume a suggestive ad actually represents child abuse, and editing out misleading keyword stuffing seems pretty reasonable.

Backpage wasn’t porn, which is known to be fake on many levels selling fantasy. These ads weren’t about fantasy, they were a reality you could buy. I don’t know if you’ve even been to the site (which I checked out after the controversy recently started) — I was shocked to see what it was and that such a site could be online without being taken down.

If they really just edited out those words, then that’s pretty f’d up. The ads were very clearly for prostitutes, all with very obvious photos. If someone looks very underage, and advertises as underage, then they should do the right thing and notify the authorities themselves. To profit from that is extremely unethical.

These ads weren’t about fantasy

Have you ever talked to a sex worker or former sex worker? I know a few. Fantasy and role play is part of the job, even if it's just pretending to be someone's girlfriend for a couple hours.

I don't see anything wrong with making money off of other people's fantasies (in virtual or real life), as long as everyone is a consenting adult. The indictment doesn't establish that backpage encouraged underage prostitution.

The context, with Backpage, is that we know literal sex trafficking, include with children, happened through that site.

We are viewing the mechanisms Backpage implemented and ads placed on that site, both in the context of the adult marketing fantasy world you talk about and in the context of literal child sex slavery occurring on Backpage.

> I don't see anything wrong with making money off of other people's fantasies (in virtual or real life), as long as everyone is a consenting adult. The indictment doesn't establish that backpage encouraged underage prostitution.

Eh, what? You can't just say "as long as" first and then change the bar to "[isn't] established that they encouraged" in the next sentence. Maybe I am missing something.

> as long as everyone is a consenting adult.

We know, and Backpage don't deny this, that many of the ads were for children.

But if we restrict ourself to adults; it's a myth that women want to work in prostitution, or that it's just another job. The vast majority of women working in prostitution only do so to feed a drug addiction,or because they're in debt, or because they're being coercively controlled. Yes, I do speak to women who've been through this.

Nope, I know a lady who worked as an escort to pay for school. She enjoyed it, liked making money and ended up working as a manager booking appointments and stuff for the agency she worked for, including some fairly important government officials. She talked a lot about it to anyone that would listen and repeatedly said it was a great way to pay for school. She had zero regrets and said she would do it again if she ever needed money. I don't know for sure, but I don't think she was addicted to drugs.

A coworker of a friend of mine who works in the medical field also works as an escort on the side just for the money and fun of it. She's one of the ones that goes to parties and on dates with lonely rich people. She's been bought cars and jewelery paid vacations to tons of places.

I have suggested before that I would very much like to see a suggestion for a generic law that make prostitution illegal without using words that involve sex or proxies for it.

What about a law forbidding all work that has the work injury rates (or higher) of current legal prostitution and where the majority of employees are in debt? As a purely theoretical idea I wonder how wide of an impact that would have.

Coercion is naturally a bigger issue and reminds me of how mining and debt slavery co-evolved. Targeting the illegal behavior worked there quite effective in turning mining into a normal profession and away from a place where men in debt worked until they died at an early age.

Your statement is so misogynistic and paternalizing that I don't even know where to begin.

I'll just have to go with "what can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence". Back up your claims, and "I talked to a few women" does not count.

> The vast majority of women working in prostitution only do so to feed a drug addiction,or because they're in debt, or because they're being coercively controlled.

This is flat-out wrong.

Citation needed

> Backpage wasn’t porn, which is known to be fake on many levels selling fantasy.

No, it was prostitution, which is, however, also well-known to be fake on many levels and selling fantasy.

When the fantasy is underage girls, they’ve been acquired through human trafficking, and you can purchase sex with them, then that’s straight up illegal and immoral.

>I don't see why this is particularly damning. Visit any porn tube site right now and you will notice that "teen", "stepsister", and a few other young-sounding keywords are incredibly popular. The actresses are quite obviously NOT underage.

That's not what happened. Backpage knew children were being kidnapped, drugged, and advertised for sex on their site. They had some choices: cooperate with law enforcement to help stop it happening; do nothing; or cooperate with the kidnappers to earn more money. They chose to cooperate with the traffickers.

> At the direction of CEO Carl Ferrer, the company programmed this electronic filter to “strip” —that is, delete—hundreds of words indicative of sex trafficking ( including child sex trafficking) or prostitution from ads before their publication. The terms that Backpage has automatically deleted from ads before publication include “lolita,” “teenage,” “rape,” “young,” “amber alert,” “little girl,” “teen,” “fresh,” “innocent,” and “school girl.” When a user submitted an adult ad containing one of these “stripped” words, Backpage’s Strip Term From Ad filter would immediately delete the discrete word and the remainder of the ad would be published. While the Strip Term From Ad filter changed nothing about the true nature of the advertised transaction or the real age of the person being sold for sex, thanks to the filter, Backpage’s adult ads looked “cleaner than ever.” Manual editing entailed the deletion of language similar to the words and phrases that the Strip Term From Ad filter automatically deleted—including terms indicative of criminality

If Backpage were truly cooperating with law enforcement they would have reported these ads before stripping the wordds, rather than stripping the words and then deleting the original ad.

>cooperate with law enforcement to help stop it happening; do nothing; or cooperate with the kidnappers to earn more money. They chose to cooperate with the traffickers.

This is ludicrous on its face. Backpage obviously wasn't earning any meaningful amounts of money from child prostitution.

I too am a little mystified by why they chose to do what they did because I agree with you that there just can't be that much money in child trafficking. But the indictment has a lot of details, some of it supported by quotes in emails; it seems pretty likely that they did do stuff. Why? Maybe just ideology?

There's a lot in the indictment to suggest that they don't take child sex trafficking seriously as a problem. They joke about it ("entrapment.com"). They take meetings and disregard the information they're given. They're on the record declining to adopt things they say are "good ideas" because they don't have enough "P.R. value". I think the balance of information we have strongly suggests that Lacey and Larking just DGAF.

This is the problem I have with the Standard Internet Discussion on Backpage.com. It invariably focuses on the harm reduction argument. I'm prepared to buy the harm reduction argument! But someone responsible needs to run that site; the people who actually ran it belong in prison.

You keep asserting this, yet despite repeated requests from myself and others you still have not pointed out the parts of the indictment that are presumably so convincing.

If it's so clearcut, give us the article numbers and let's talk about specifics. The indictment is easy enough to read.

This whole subthread is starting to sound like the McMartin Preschool case.

In the McMartin Preschool case the allegations were utterly fantastic. We had a bunch of Satan worshippers abusing children in a dungeon dug beneath the school that they would have had to have dug with spoons as people would have certainly noticed a backhoe and a bunch of construction workers digging the sex dungeon.

No actual crimes were committed and there were no victims. In this case the facts are entirely pedestrian and the victims real. It seems pretty clear that people were abused. The only real question is how guilty are the people running Backpage.

Since they were running a page selling people and seemed at best disinterested in not selling children I'd say very. If you sell produce you acquire along with customers money the obligation to ensure that the produce you sell is safe and doesn't cause your customers to die of food poisoning.

If you sell sex it seems people selling children for sex is a foreseeable risk that they did at best NOTHING to mitigate.

I'm not sure why some people seem apt to defend them.

In the McMartin Preschool case, 0 children were found to be abused by the accused.

I mean, it's an indictment.

If you want some proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the proprietors of BackPage.com committed the crimes they are accused of, that's totally fair, and that's also what the criminal justice system is supposed to produce as an end result.

"Article numbers"?


Yeah that sounds super productive.

Productive or not, here’s the reference you can use the next time this comes up.


It does in fact completely validate your position, although I guess you know that.

oh my god

If you want people to take you seriously when you say "there's horrible things in the indictment", seems like it would be productive to actually be able to cite those things.

I'm pretty comfortable with who does and doesn't take me seriously. I've been dragging up details from the indictment all day on the thread. I'm not going to take the time to go tie them back to paragraph numbers for you; that seems like a colossal waste of time for both of us.

How is that obvious? I, offhand, don't know how to obtain Backpage's financial records. Can you provide evidence or a sound logical argument demonstrating that Backpage obviously didn't earn meaningful (maybe we have different meanings of this word?) amounts of money from ads for child sex slaves?


Are you guys really suggesting that open child prostitution is so prevalent in the US that it could possibly make up more than a fraction of a ‰ of backpages business? That sounds completely asinine to me.

These guys were literally drowning in money from normal escort ads, why on earth would they want underage escort ads?

In actual practice they didn't want to know or do anything about the legality or illegality of the transactions they were facilitating because a large portion of their draw is the the hands off nature. Its likely that a good chunk of the ads were in fact for over 18 individuals but neither we nor backpage probably know how much was illegal.

That is neither a sound logical argument, nor is it evidence towards your point.

And to answer your question, Yes. Do you have much familiarity with the various systems in which child sex trafficking happens in the US? If not, that ignorance may be a huge factor towards the dissonance you're displaying.

The part you quoted doesn't seem to contradict the other posters claim at all.

You say "that's not what happened" then propose what did happen... Is there proof of these things or is it how you are choosing to interpret some of info?

Surely att, sprint and others know that their lines are used for kidnapping, drugging and advertising sex, I don't think that makes them or backpage part of those ills. You propose they chose to cooperate with traffickers and make it sound like it was an A or B choice. I propose it is possible to cooperate with hookers and law enforcement at the same time, and from what I have seen, maybe that is what happened, not at all what you are implying.

Do you claim to know how much Backpage was "truly cooperating with LE" ?

As someone who has reported internet postings to LE and spent hundreds of hours trying to push similar info to various agencies, let me assure you that what many might imagine could happen when a site reports bad postings to whatever agencies, not many of them get a warrant and swat team to swoop in the next day. In fact they often don't do shit about it.

I this comment you post quotes about "Backpage has automatically deleted from ads before publication include... ... “amber alert,”" and in another comment on this page you state "Backpage were telling advertisers to use phrases like "amber alert"."

You seem to be very confused on these particular issues.

A system Backpage claims to have put in place to suppress child sex trafficking was actually used to groom child sex trafficking ads (and, presumably, others) for mainstream acceptance.

That's absurdly vague.

You build a form that allows ads to be submitted. It refuses to allow certain illicit keywords. People resubmit a few times until they get the form to accept the ad.

Prosecution: You built a tool to help child sex traffickers groom their ads!

1) Backpage were telling advertisers what language to use. Backpage were telling advertisers to use phrases like "amber alert".

2) Backpage claimed to be helping law enforcement.

If that were true when someone submits an ad for "15 year old lolita" the form would keep the details, ask the submitter to change the words, and then Backpage could either submit those details to law enforcement or wait for LE to turn up with a warrant.

What actually happened was Backpage said "Whoops, you can't use that word", and then allow the submitter to resubmit, and then the system would delete all trace of the orginal ad. So, when LE turned up with warrants asking for all the advertisers who'd tried to use the phrase "15 year old lolita" Backpage could say "we don't have that information".

re 1) - You make this sound like there was instructions posted on the page when you clicked "advertise" saying this, or advertisers were notified via email how to do this or something. Is this the case?

I run some online chat rooms, and the chats auto block some bad words by default and others words I added to the censor filter, I would hate to think someone would one day post that I tell spammers how to send spam by blocking one word and not blocking shorturlDotcom/M$a$k$eMoney$from$Home

The game of block this, spammers find work around, share with other spammers, add those to the block list, repeat; is not intending to teach scammers how to scam better.

re 2) from what I read long ago, for years BP did send notices to law enforcement when they felt that there were under age pictures used, is this not true or did this practice stop?

I have also read that just by being the main watering hole for this kind of thing, many agencies used it to look for abuse and trafficking victims, with some jurisdictions letting the self promoting adults go. I've also read where some cops were setting up fake ads to catch people looking for sex,

So it has always appeared to me that BP was helping law enforcement in several ways all over the country.

I understand some people think the best way to help is to shut down naughty ads completely, I myself think that is short sighted. I guess some people think things they did helped the dark side (in any way) / gave any comfort to the enemy and therefor they should be destroyed.

You say "what actually happened..." Is there an article somewhere saying that LE got a warrant looking for this phrase you mention? Sounds outrageous to me.

They were reporting to NCMEC. For all we know, the phrase "15 year old lolita" caused them to report something.

Beyond that, they had a bad word filter to help moderate the site. To make themselves look better, yes. They didn't want a bunch of ads on there using the word "lolita". They could have blocked ads with that word, thus guiding "traffickers" in how to write ads. They chose apparently to delete these words. Both of them would have been used against them. In either case, they must have had tens of thousands of ads matching, with the actual underage persons involved being in all likelyhood a small minority.

They were reporting a fixed number of things to NCMEC every day and every month. They capped the number of things they'd report to NCMEC. The indictment specifically charges them with getting ad submissions clearly pertaining to child sex trafficking and not reporting to them to law enforcement. When they met with NCMEC, NCMEC told them (paraphrasing) "you're breaking the law and will eventually get prosecuted for this". NCMEC and Backpage were not allies.

You are clearly reading the indictment in the way you choose to. Let's have a look.

#51: NCMEC claims in front of Backpage that "many" of the ads feature children, and either this, or posting prostitution ads in general, is illegal. Ok. Nothing here about Backpage not deleting ads involving underage people.

#54: Backpage asked NCMEC what kind of prostitution ads would be acceptable. NCMEC declines the answer. Backpage says "Adult prostitution is none of your business". The indictment mentions this proudly - because why? Because the indictment is 100% presupposed on the idea that Backpage advertising adult prostitution is a crime.

#63: NCMEC tells them, quote "a large portion of the ads on Backpage were blatant prostitution ads". No mention of underage persons.

#80. A mention of an email in which a limit on the reports to NCMEC is suggested. No details as to why, if maybe NCMEC asked for less reports, or if any such limit was ever implemented.

#96. NCMEC sends a letter, suggesting: verify the age and identify of submitters, verify the age and identity of individuals in photographs, do not accept prepaid credit cards, require users to use verified email addresses and phone numbers (not sure how). Backpage ignored those suggestions.

Now, if you, like NCMEC, believe that sex trafficking is a huge issue in the US, then you may find those suggestions to be sensible. If you, like me, believe in policies that protect marginalized people who engage in sex work, you might find them to only intended to create barriers for people who do not need this kind of help. In either case, this does not mean that Backpage condoned or otherwise supported sex traffickers.

That is all the mentions of NCMEC in the indictment as far as I can see.

Isn’t there a bit more than that?

For reference: https://www.justice.gov/file/1050276/download

#12 Alleges the age scrubbing behavior tptacek has mentioned.

#13 Discusses their lack of interest in a warning message and cites an email discussing limiting their reporting of incidents because they didn’t want to exceed 500 reports a month to the NCMEC. Far from your claim that the motivation is unclear, it is in fact explicit.

#51 Is actually the second warning Backpage received about the underage issue, the first being a letter from the AG’s as outlined in #39

#61 Is a list of newly banned terms including, “Lolita, fresh, high school, tight and young.”

#67 Adds “amber alert” to the “strip out list” tptacek has mentioned, guided the moderation’s “cleaning” of ads pimping children; ads which were not removed.

#69 Discuss their rejection of using age-verification software because of the ~$.60 cost per query.

#72 Refers to a letter from Seattle PD warning about the prevalence of underage prostitution ads on their site.

#74 A letter from state AG’s alleging multiple counts of human trafficking through their site.

#75 Rejection of an attempt to handle the “underage issue” because it would not provide a PR benefit.

#76 A presentation by their own PR firm warning that of the three major categories of ads on their site, one was “Pimps and Men Looking For Kids.”

#77 Email about underage issue, includes joke that site should be called “entrapment.com”

#78 Padilla admits to editing 76 pages of ads with the word “teen” in them, not removing said ads.

#79 Alleges thst during performance reviews many mods who ignored underage escorts kept their jobs.

#80 Actually states the reason, “If we don’t want to blow past 500 this month, we shouldn’t be doing more than 16 per day.”

#83 Keeping a 17 year old’s ad up despite her attempt to recruit a 15 year old because the 15 year old wasn’t actually in the ad.

#86, and #87, and #88 A mother explains that her drugged, kidnapped daughter is appearing in ads on the site, cites a phone number, and asks for ads to be removed. Response is that since the site in question (Backpagepics.com) isn’t owned by their corporate entity they don’t need to bother.

#93 AZU study showing issue with underage prostitution is shown to BP along with recommendations which are ignored.

#94 Coaching someone posting underage prostitutes on how to clean up the ads while keeping them up.

You didn’t even do a good job of cherry picking, and why bother with that unconvincing attempt at deception when we’re discussing a document we’re all reading?! A document which is quite damning and conforms to tptacek’s version of events rather than your own skewed version.

And you still had the gall to open with You are clearly reading the indictment in the way you choose to. Let's have a look. Look in the mirror.

I was citing all the references to NCMEC that I could find.

I looked at some of the points that you mentioned specifically, and I stand by my position. I support Backpage publishing ads for prostitution, and I would draw the line at them in any way supporting underage prostitution or sex trafficking. I don't see anything here that tells me that Backpage did that.

If you would like me to refute any point in particular, let me know.

Just as an example of how I am reading things. You refer to:

#39 - A letter by attorney generals saying Backpage should stop accepting prostitution ads, with the claim that "ads trafficking children" are among them in a subordinate clause. It does even claim that Backpage ignored those ads, or encouraged them.

Things like #61, #67 or #78, re. the word filter: It's obviously controversial, but look, there are thousands of ads using words like "teen" or "lolita". None of them mean that actual children are involved. In fact, NCMEC said, quote "It is virtually impossible to determine how old the young women in these ads are without an in-depth criminal investigation. The pimps try to make the 15 year olds look 23".

They can filter those words silently, they can block them explicitly ("guiding traffickers about how to write their ads" they will say), or they can have them posted as-is. And they can choose which of those ads warrant a report because they look like actual trafficking, which apparently they did.

I mean, let's say you and me want to run a prostitution ad site like Backpage, you figure you could do it in a way that would not end up with you in the position Backpage is in right now?

#86, and #87, and #88 is interesting: First of all, the ad is deleted once it is pointed out on Backpage.com. And Backpagepics.com may well not be under the control of Backpage, as they say; they might not be able to do anything about it.

Now, reading this I did think that not bothering, on purpose, to respond to a mother who's child has been kidnapped is pretty awful behaviour (though it still doesn't proof they condoned trafficking).

However, the indictment doesn't quote Padilla here, it paraphrases. For all we know, he told the subordinate: Answer the email, but just so you know this, Backpagepics.com is not owned by us, in general we don't have a legal responsibility to deal with them. Or, maybe Padilla showed a gross lack of empathy here.

But think the government wouldn't blatantly misrepresent this email, while also not lying? Think again.

As I said, if you would like me to address a specific point, I am happy to.

It's virtually impossible to know which of the ads actually corresponded to child sex trafficking. But it is not impossible to know that some of them did; the indictment includes statements from trafficked children and their families.

Despite your effort to frame the conversation that way, nobody is claiming that every "lolita" Backpage ad was a pimped child. The claim is simply that some were, and that Backpage knew it. It wasn't up to Lacey and Larkin to make a best effort at profiting from illegal prostitution ads while not profiting from child sex abuse: they were repeatedly given ways to mitigate the latter crime, and they repeatedly refused to do anything meaningful about it.

They belong in prison.

Since (as you say) it's impossible to know which ads correspond to child sex trafficking, and it's almost certain that some will be, what you are saying is that all marketplaces for prostitution must be banned.

Let's roll with that. Since it's impossible to know which pr0n on tube sites is underage, and it's almost certain that some will be, all porn tube sites must be banned.

Since it's impossible to know which email accounts are used for child sex trafficking, and it's almost certain that some will be, all email services must be banned. There's really no limit to how far you can go with this.

Why don't you start right now? Youporn, xhampster, xvideos, there are dozens - they all have "teen" sections. Send them a letter letting them know that their website is used by "child" pornographers (you're unsure which images, of course, it's really hard to tell with 17/18 year olds). That starts Claim #1 "defendant was notified that their site facilities child pornography". Better yet, get a law enforcement agency to do it, that looks better on the indictment. The fact that uploads ban/strip the word 'lolita' (they do, actually) - Claim #2!

The good news for the Backpage guys is that in court, every single one of those points in the indictment are going to have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The bad news is it won't matter because what's really going on is that they're being prosecuted for facilitating adult prostitution, and our puritanical society has barely come to grips with the fact that sex toys are now legal (marijuana is still pending).

No matter what you think of Lacey and Larkin, the loss of backpage and craigslist adult is a huge step backwards for female autonomy.

Markets for prostitution are banned. But that's not my point: my point is that at multiple steps along the way, Larkin and Lacey were told what they could do to mitigate the harm their site was causing to children, and they refused to do it.

For the nth time, I'm receptive to the harm reduction argument for sites like Backpage. They just need to be run by people who won't try to profit from child prostitution.

Supporters of Backpage can talk tough on message boards in advance of the trial, but those guys are going to lose in court, and lose bad. It's a nightmare indictment. This notion that they're going to prevail at trial seems like it depends on the idea that the jury is going to nullify for two middle aged men who knowingly profited from child sex trafficking. It's not going to happen.

Again, the indictment does not rely on sex trafficking having taking place. If the judge allows this to be brought up in court at all, the jury would likely still be instructed to make their decision regardless of whether they believe such charges to be true, since it does not factor into the US Codes under which the defendants are charged.

That leaves the moral question.

They were running a board posting prostitution ads. We agree that this is a-ok. The claim is that in some cases, some of the posts were advertising underage prostitution or sex trafficking. The number is disputed, but I think we can also agree it was a minority. I am sure we can further agree that inevitably, since some sex trafficking exists, someone will try to advertise it.

The attorney generals, or NCMEC, argued that Backpage should shutdown it's prostitution section, citing, among other things, sex trafficking. You are open to the idea that in the name of harm reduction, such a section should exist, though. So ok, Backpage doesn't shut it down.

Some suggestions were made how Backpage might otherwise reduce sex trafficking occurring on their website. Those included things like having submitters provide ID documents. It seems that you believe that refusing to do so is what made Backpage evil, when it otherwise would have been ok. That obviously depends on the sensibility of those suggestions. Maybe you think that they were no-brainers, likely to save the lives of thousands of children. I think they were invasive, made in bad faith, not likely to make a difference, yet totally undermining the Backpage as harm reduction argument.

Suffice it to say that I don't want to run a prostitution website with your blessing, but on the mercy of a bunch of attorney generals not being able to convince you that I didn't do "enough" to combat abuse. That seems like a precarious position to be in.

Now maybe if they did require IDs, or implemented other changes, they would have gained your approval. But it is unlikely it would have saved them from an indictment, or from the ire of sex-trafficking hysterics, nor the politicians trying to ride the PR wave.

There are sites that work differently than Backpage. They have advertisers maintain permanent profiles. They have higher barriers to entry and more checks. They may require a login to see any content. This gains them a lower profile, but ultimately does not protect them (see Redbook, Rent Boy, and probably others I do not recall right now).

The majority of sex workers are neither sex trafficking victims, nor high-class escorts with a Twitter profile. A lot of them might be similar to, say, the mother portrayed in the film Florida Project. They don't want to maintain a profile. This is not their full time job. They might post an ad today to earn some money, then delete it tomorrow. Backpage served this clientele. The silver lining here might be that the government is not, now, in the possession of the identities of tens of thousands of these woman.

Facilitating adult prostitution is a crime.

But morally ok.

That's not what their system is accused of doing.

You're right. Here's exactly what their system is accused of doing:

You build a form that allows ads to be submitted. It strips out certain keywords.

I read the indictment. It's pages and pages about the evils of prostitution, with just a few bits like - gasp - stripping out the word lolita to make them sound unsympathetic. I'm not impressed. I'm honestly surprised that you are.

I was in the industry when the word "lolita" suddenly went from common porn advertising (just like "teen") to forbidden. The content didn't change one bit; something changed in the legal landscape and the industry just did a global search and replace of their marketing content. They stripped out the keywords.

I don't think we're reading the same indictment, because the one I'm looking at is wall-to-wall quotes from Backpage staff and emails, and virtually nothing about the evils of prostitution.

Further, the indictment I'm reading doesn't simply talk about them filtering out the word "lolita", but a variety of keywords, and has examples of instances where they had known problematic ads with human review and stripped out problematic photos manually before running the ads.

Yes, it's wall-to-wall quotes from Backpage staff about facilitating prostitution - which of course they are guilty of. But that's not what's at stake here in the court of public opinion, where there's rather a lot of people who believe it should be legal.

The prosecution (also apparently you) is/are trying to convince us that these guys are knowingly facilitating child sex trafficking, which is something we can agree on is bad. So let's throw out all the points in the indictment that aren't child-specific?

It just doesn't seem to leave much, unless you believe that every mention of the word "teen" is a case of child sex trafficking. I considered adding a variety of NSFW links here to the official "teen" category of popular porn tube sites, but I'm sure folks can find them on their own. And as I'm sure you know, it's not real.

You make a lot out of the "max 500 reports per month" item, but given that it's likely a laborious manual process, how many do you want to report? There are thousands of ads from fake "lolitas" and "teens", none of which are any more credible than the porn tubes. The NCMEC doesn't want a bunch of spam either.

If you'd like to call out any specific #s in the indictment for special attention, I'm happy to engage in an honest dialogue.

> So let's throw out all the points in the indictment that aren't child-specific?

Are you missing the bits where children who were advertised on Backpage contacted backpage to get these ads removed, and backpage refused to do so?

We have testimony from children.

I don't think your argument makes much sense. "Teen" pornography has plausible deniability (or whatever you want to call it) because it can be produced in a way that ensures that the actors are adults (though even that isn't always true). You have no such defense when it comes to material that one can assume is unlicensed, produced in countries with no such (de facto or not) regulation or when it comes to something like prostitution. I assume they didn't verify age of the participants. Not like "tube sites" are a particularly high horse to begin with since there is plenty of material out there that is not only unlicensed or piracy, but verifiably stolen. Which anyone who even pretend to care about privacy should be against.

The fact that a particular person in a pornographic video is underage is up to the government to proof if they want to convict you, say, of a child pornography charge. It does not matter where the material was produced, or what kind of records they kept.

Now, the government may create laws that oblige a distributor of pornography to be in possession of such records, and someone how is not may be in violation of those laws.

It also doesn't matter if the material is advertised as "teen" or not.

Similarly, you may argue that a site like Backpage should be legal, as long as they verify the age of the advertisers. It's a rather strange argument, after all, they can't verify that the person they verify is the person that turns up at the appointment. But that is not the law.

The government is instead alleging that there is a law that makes Backpage-like advertising of prostitution illegal, regardless of whether the ages were verified or not.

Wait, can you tell me what indictment you were reading, which was pages and pages of the evils of prostitution and just a few bits about what the Backpage staff did, and where the only thing they're accused of doing to groom child trafficking ads is stripping the word "lolita"? I'm genuinely curious about what your sourcing is now.


Please point out to me the #s that you find damning.

Did you read the indictment or the press release?

He's asking you for the #s, surely he's referring to the indictment with numbered chapters.

Chapter #61 discusses this scheme. It's ridiculous to claim that any of the words used in the indictment strongly suggest child prostitution.

>array of terms that are suggestive of child prostitution (e.g., "lolita," fresh," "high school," "tight," "young")

We know Backpage did nothing about some underage ads because the girls who'd been trafficked tried to get those ads taken down and Backpage declined.

> And in February 2010, a detective emailed Backpage to alert the company that a 17-year-old girl who tried to get Backpage to take down an advertisement of herself had been rebuffed: According to the detective, the girl “tried asking for [the ads] to be removed but was told they couldnt [sic] be until enough people reported her as potentially underage.”

Backpage allowed users to delete ads they posted.

Should Backpage have allowed anyone to take down their competitors ads by sending an email claiming that the competitor is underage?

If you have a photograph of a child being raped, and that child contacts you to ask for that photograph to be taken down, you should probably do a bit more than say "no", you should probably try and see if you are hosting images of child sexual abuse and see if you can take down those images.

Backpage didn't dispute the identity of the children.

Please read the documents.

>If you have a photograph of a child being raped

What a wonderful strawman.

>that child contacts you to ask for that photograph to be taken down, you should probably do a bit more than say "no",

How do you tell that a specific person is in a photo? How do you tell that said person is a child?

>you should probably try and see if you are hosting images of child sexual abuse

How would you propose they do that?

>Backpage didn't dispute the identity of the children.

>Please read the documents.

Did you read the chapter following the your quote?

It's not a straw man. That happened.


I've quoted directly from it.

I asked because the claim you made earlier about the indictment makes more sense if you're talking about the press release (which I had not read because why would I).

I read all of your posts, and I couldn't find any quote. Why don't you give us the specific # in the indictment?

The specific what in the indictment? I think you're confused. I asked if 'stickfigure was working from the indictment or the press release (turns out: press release). He responded with a link to the press release and a request for which "#s I find damning". I don't even know what that question means.

Is one more relevant than the other?

Obviously yes.

> how many do you want to report?

All of them?

All of what though? It's not like backpage could possibly know who's underage and who isn't.

Should every ad containing the word "tight" go to the NCMEC?

Please read the document.

Backpage have already admitted a lot of this stuff was happening.

They certainly did not. Please provide the # of the indictment or a specific source.

Yes, and 95% percent of them are intended to proof that BackPage knowingly facilitated prostitution.

Starting with page 42, they list these ads. They somewhat hilariously call the subject of every ad "victim 1", "victim 2", despite there being no evidence, or indeed reason to believe, that they are or were.

I am reading this as someone who's thinking like the author of the reason article: A website running prostitution ads should legally be allowed to exist. You claim to be open to that position. Read like this, ignoring everything that presumes such a thing is in itself wrong, there are maybe 15 or 20 points out of the 156 that could even be considered relevant.

> Yes, and 95% percent of them are intended to proof that BackPage knowingly facilitated prostitution.

Which, incidentally, wasn't a crime until March 2018, when Congress passed a law that not only made it a crime, but retroactively criminalized it for Backpage.

This is absurdly unconstitutional, of course[0], and the bill's author (Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut) should know that, since he was the Attorney General for Connecticut before.

Of course, Blumenthal does know this, because he's been waging a personal war against prostitution for the past decade. He's the reason that Craigslist shut down the "erotic services" section about ten years ago, which meant that sex workers had to start posting in the personals section. (Of course, this gave them cause to write FOSTA/SESTA, at which point Craigslist had to shut down the entire personals section as well.)

[0] https://medium.com/@TechFreedom/yes-sesta-is-probably-uncons...

Wait, which count in the Backpage indictment comes from SESTA? The newest part of the online version of 18 USC 1952, which includes the specific (non-money-laundering) charge Backpagers were charged with, comes from 2002.

So if they strip out the words and post it anyways, it isn't doing enough, but if it just doesn't allow it to be posted, then it is a tool that allows traffickers to groom their adds?

I don't follow. They strip out the words and post it anyways.

But if they did the opposite, and just not posted any add that they flagged as inappropriate, then the ones posting the add could keep testing and figure out what sort of add gets past, and thus Backpage would be blamed for helping the traffickers posting the add figure out how to avoid detection.

You are adding speculation about claims no one is making.

We know Backpage applied energy towards changing a Backpage operated system that had the first-order effect of facilitating child sex trafficking. The speculation is about Backpage's intent, and for the intents of this discussion, that gets determined in court.

Look at the comment chain with the quote

>You build a form that allows ads to be submitted. It refuses to allow certain illicit keywords. People resubmit a few times until they get the form to accept the ad.

to see where the claim is being made that the company was helping to craft ads to avoid detection.

> I don't see why this is particularly damning. Visit any porn tube site right now and you will notice that "teen", "stepsister", and a few other young-sounding keywords are incredibly popular. The actresses are quite obviously NOT underage.

> When I worked for kink.com a decade ago

Commercial "underage" content can get away with it because they always have the 2257 records to back it up. That's as much a certification of its fictional status as one can get.

There are no 2257 records for prostitutes. And prostitution itself is illegal. When you're at the point where you're setting up filters to govern the facilitation (not prohibition!) of an already illegal trade, obscuring the fact that ad subjects for non-fictional services may also be underage doesn't buy you any deniability.

Once you demonstrate knowledge, it's game over. That company selling encrypted phones to cartels, the guy building smuggling compartments in cars, Ross Ulbricht, and now Backpage...all demonstrated that they knew what business they were in and did it anyway. Hell, pre-legalization, the stoners at your local bong shop had better OPSEC than most of these clowns-- you mention marijuana in their store and they'd kick you out and refuse to do business with you, since they didn't want to be caught admitting they were selling drug paraphernalia, just "tobacco pipes, man."

Sure, Backpage knowingly ran a prostitution website, which may well be illegal. What galls people is the claim that this is about something other that: That they are especially culpable because they stripped the word "teen" from the ads.

The problem is not so much about child prostitution but rather that them promoting illegal stuff on their web site and knowing it at the time

I'd recommend listening to this Reply All podcast episode specifically about the child protection act that passed shortly after Backpage was taken down and which caused Craigslist to remove their adult services:


There is significant evidence and research showing that these services helped protect prostitutes and kept many of them safe. They used technology and private forums to inform one another about dangerous Johns and screen potential customers.

Where teens being trafficked? Probably. But that's an entirely different problem, one of getting more social services available to help teenagers if their domestic situations turn bad; so they have some place to go and don't end up on the streets or being taken by pimps.

Since these services went away, sex workers are already reporting people they know disappearing, or being assaulted.

I listened to it when it ran. They address no part of the allegations against Backpage and are in no way relevant to the criminal complaint against Lacey and Larkin.

This is kind of similar to the immigration debate, where the laws actually on the books are so strict that many people are unsatisfied with just enforcing them, but leaving a large illegal-but-unenforced gray area sitting around just creates a massive haven for outlaws.

Now, if prostitutes were legalized, licensed, and regulated, and sites like Backpage were required to retain identification and registration records for all their advertisers, it would be easy to distinguish between a service that protects sex workers and a service that collaborates with human traffickers. But we can't have that, so instead we have gray market actors like Backpage, and a bunch of investigators and prosecutors who have to decide (based upon much fuzzier and less complete evidence!) whether they're just protecting sex workers or outright collaborating with human traffickers.

Maybe the investigators and prosecutors made a bad call. But combining unreasonably strict laws with bizarrely lax and discretionary enforcement is a really shitty way to handle these problems in the first place.

In Australia, where sex work is mostly legal (laws are a bit different from state to state), sex workers used to use backpage a lot.

When it went down, they started creating their own low cost advertising platforms or moving to Locanto that’s based in Germany.

Even before this, there were better designed, sex worker specific ad platforms run by sex workers in Australia.

So you haven’t stopped anything.

EFF did a similar thing with the Best Buy / pedo doctor case. This doctor has child porn on 5 devices, but the search was questionable so it got thrown out. EFF never mentions this fact and instead make a big stink about the Best Buy employees being listed as confidential informants. Basically all the comments on Twitter were talking about how the FBI probably planted the evidence.

I'm cool with reporting on the case. Talk about the bad search (the image was unlinked on the file system, so it was deleted). Talk about how when you give your devices to a third party they can report illegal shit they find. Don't just push a narrative while exonerating fucked up people.

There is so much misleading reporting right now. Everyone has their agenda and they ignore facts to push it. It makes me read way fewer articles online cause it's all such a mess.

A lot of good law is made protecting terrible people.

For instance Ernesto Miranda of "Miranda rights" was retried with his confession marked as not admissible, and was still convicted of kidnapping and rape.

> There is so much misleading reporting right now. Everyone has their agenda and they ignore facts to push it. It makes me read way fewer articles online cause it's all such a mess.

I think it's probably always been this way. It's just now, with the internet, we can find out.

As if government indictments are objective, give me a break.

Nobody is saying that they are. But if you're going to write a story about someone prosecuted (let alone convicted) of criminal offenses, it's incumbent on you to actually address the charges they face, rather than rhetorically posturing as if they faced some lesser charge your audience won't take seriously.

So Nolan could have written the story about the evidence Larkin and Lacey mustered in their defense against the actual indictment. But she didn't. Is it because she didn't know about the charges? Is it because Larkin and Lacey can't provide any such evidence?

You know, your preferred goals for the article, and author's goals might be different. I for one am glad for some backstory about the accused from their own mouths.

This is the subcommittee hearing that mentions the editing: https://reason.com/assets/db/1534803757948.pdf

I think the moderator stuff is enough to say this company should have been put out of business. I'm not sure when congress got their e-mails, though. Backpage and law enforcement clearly had a long-standing relationship, and it could be that law enforcement were aware of these activities and permitted them in order to keep receiving tips and cooperation. Even while Congress was after them in 2015, they were getting lauded privately by the FBI.

It's possible that law enforcement are somewhat culpable, hence the vehement nature of Backpage's persecution. We will probably only ever see the government's public side of the story, which is not good, as one result of this is the recently passed SESTA/FOSTA bullshit.

If LEO was off-the-books collaborating with Backpage to allow prostitution while catching the child exploitation, that'd be a somewhat diabolical attempt at fixing a criminalization problem by turning it into a de-facto legal-and-regulated market (without legislative action to make it an actual legal-and-regulated market).

If that is, in fact, what was happening, it's kind of shame that some Congresspeople with bad strategic reasoning upset that apple cart; that'd be a superior state of affairs to one where both the prostitution and the child sex trafficking happen in the dark, beyond the reach of LEO intervention.

>The indictment mentions it too, right before quoting an email by Backpage staff saying that referrals to NCMEC are to be capped at 500 per month or 16 per day.

This number is not helpful without context. For all we know that number is significantly over-reporting, was mostly false positives, and mostly resulted in the harassment of consenting adults.

>was to check ads for suspicious keywords. What Brown doesn't tell you is that their software then stripped the keywords out of the ads and ran them anyways.

I read the indictment too. They stripped out language like "young." What would you propose BP do in this scenario? Do you really want every attempted use of the word "young" reported to authorities? That's mostly going to waste resources and harass consenting adults.

Suffice to say the indictment and most media is going to be written in the most negative framing possible. I do know that it's politically expedient to harass/endanger prostitutes and I also know the NCMEC is against prostitution even when everyone is a consenting adult. For all I know BP execs were literally Hitler. But I also know I shouldn't take the framing from the state at face value.

That's true the state is not a neutral party, the prosecution's aim is to win once the file the indictment.

From Reason's perspective, the ironic part is that, even if Backpage is guilty, this is still a great case study for legalizing and regulating sex work. Even from a libertarian agenda, this is kind of an own goal for them.

The fact that any and all prostitution is illegal in the United States (outside of certain counties in Nevada in certain regulated and licensed brothels) means that running a service like Backpage requires people who are, ipso facto, willing to be accessories to criminal activity. One should not be surprised when it turns out that such people end up being accessories to even more criminal activity than originally bargained for!

If you outlaw online classified ads for sex workers, only outlaws will manage online classified ads for sex workers.

> Rather infamously at this point, Backpage is accused not only of running ads for child sex traffickers..

Care to provide the reference. Can't find that in the citations section.

They seem to be cited for prostituion and out of the many ads for which they are cited, none seem to be obviously about children. They are cited for profiting from prostitution and the rest of the charges are related to the finances around that.

I understood most of the arguments in favor of keeping Backpage up and running, but I didn't understand anyone who wanted to keep the founders out of jail. (Assuming the indictments had any truth in them.)

On the flipside of this backpage was an excellent resource for law enforcement to setup stings. On other services such as Humaniplex you had to have an account and you had to have safety ratings from providers to participate, that made it extremely hard for law enforcement, backpage's lack of ratings and open ended nature made it an ideal vehicle for law enforcement sex trafficking stings ironically.

First, the indictment charges them with "money laundering" and "facilitating prostitution". The government won't have to proof that any sex trafficking happened, or that Backpage supported it, or how they collaborated with NCMEC. In fact, the indictment, on the very first page, makes it very clear that the governments claim here is that any website focused on prostitution ads is illegal. And indeed, plenty of other sites have been charged in recent years, from Rentboy to Redbook. The story is always the same: Insinuations of sex trafficking, but no charges.

One important point to make here: People who claim to support these charges on the argument that "it wasn't just prostitution, they did other bad stuff" need to tread carefully: They are being charged with facilitating prostitution. You cannot support this charge, but then also claim you would be ok with a website publishing those kinds of ads.

I've read through a bunch of the indictment.

- The "500 per month" reporting limit is an incomplete, half-sentence quote from an email: "In one email, PADILLA instructed VAUGHT that "if we don't want to blow past 500 referrals this month, we shouldn't be doing more than 16 per day". That's all there is on this subject. There is no further information. It's not clear why they would limit them, or indeed if they did - for all we know this never happened. Who selected what is reported, and how? We don't know. Of course it doesn't matter either. It isn't really related to the charges.

What would be more interesting is what NCMEC did with these reports, and how many victims it did identify.

- The whole money laundering charge seems to revolve around the argument that we are talking about "proceeds from illegal activity". The indictment even says: Credit Card companies stopped to work with Backpage. "In response, the BACKPAGE DEFENDANTS have pursued an array of money laundering strategies." It then proceeds to explain how Backpage tried to get paid. I mean, read the charge:

"On or about the dates set forth below, each instance constituting a separate count of this Indictment, in the District of Arizona and elsewhere, defendants LACEY, LARKIN, SPEAR, BRUNST, and HYER, and others known and unknown to the grand jury, knowing that the property involved in a financial transaction represented the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, conducted and attempted to conduct such a financial transaction which in fact involved the proceeds of specified unlawful activity knowning that the transaction was designed in whole and in part to conceal and disguise the nature, the location, the source, the ownership, and the control of the proceeds of the specied unlawful activity".

They very much are saying: What you did (facilitating prostitution) was illegal, therefore trying to get paid for it, and hiding the fact that this payment is for prostitution ads, that is money laundering. There is no claim that they tried to launder money from outside of their business, or that they didn't pay their taxes.

and so what could a competitor do right here?

make the ad buyers use BAT token and store everyone on IPFS?

The sex industry has a sort of 360-degree shield from criticism: From a "left" or "liberal"-minded perspective, to critique prostitution in any way is an insidious attack women's agency and sexuality, a holdover from the privileged feminism of Andrea Dworkin and the 70s. I invite the reader to search for any serious discourse on problems within "sex work" at Current Affairs or The Intercept, The Guardian, or smaller leftist zines like Hard Crackers. From a "libertarian" perspective, it's an attack on the free market and the economic choices of individuals surely inspired by the fantasy of complete government control of the "sexual economy". There's no incentive from any nexus on the political landscape, no group in which you would curry favor with for criticizing porn and prostitution as dangerous or exploitative or objectifying, except small conservative funds which don't really have any velocity because US conservatives don't actually hate porn and prostitution. Feminist Current is the only outlet with a significant amount written on this situation.

Are you serious?

It is so shielded from criticism that it is legal and people are open about their participation; and the workers and customers are given proper legal protection and recourse. /s

>I invite the reader to search for any serious discourse on problems within "sex work" at Current Affairs or The Intercept, The Guardian

It's always dangerous to make generalisations about feminism, especially across different countries where the various splits evolved quite differently. The sex-positive version of feminism seems pretty dominant in the US but that's really not the case in the UK. The mainstream feminist voices you will hear in the UK media are almost exclusively not the sex-positive type that dominates in the US, other than a few younger writers. It's still very much dominated by what people call SWERF (sex worker exclusionary radical feminists) and TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) types of feminist. That's especially true of the liberal media like the Guardian and New Statesman. (Grassroots organisations aren't dominated in the same way as far as I can tell, and neither is academia, although I think you are still going to find far more 2nd wave type voices than in the US).

This stuff has been in the news fairly recently here because of an attempt by some feminist MPs to criminalise prostitution organised over the internet (and there are groups that have been pushing for it, some of them with links to the kind of evangelical US funds that you mention). There has been considerable backlash from sex workers and various grass roots feminist movements against this.

If you want an example a country where the sex industry has been regulated very differently then look at Norway and Sweden (if you start reading about this stuff you will quickly find people referring to the 'Nordic Model'). There's a huge amount of discussion of the topic academically and elsewhere. The results have not been what you are hoping for though (assuming your interest is reducing violence and exploitation).

In the UK there is certainly a degree of magnitude more diversity to the voices who engage in the discourse and are listened to. But can we name even one 'radfem' with similar mainstream platforms and access to the sort enjoyed by Owen Jones or Laurie Penny? I would think it would make sense to have named at least one if the situation is that of a "very much dominated" area.

As a rough marker of popularity, Owen Jones and Laurie Penny enjoy followers in the 100,000s (Jones over 700K). Sarah Ditum and Glosswitch each fail to break 20k. Helen Lewis, who hasn't written on sex work on the Internet more than a few times and certainly not strongly for abolition or the Nordic model, has barely 100k followers.

Unfortunately I don't see it as a pejorative that the grassroots movements we hear and know about tend to be protective of porn and prostitution as institutions. Small independent groups all supposedly working for the same better world will always end up in a survival-of-the-fittest contest, making concessions at the most controversial nodes to win favor. Basically every man in the Anglosphere who counts himself as progressive or leftist engages with the sex industry in some way, while basically none will care about anyone's abortion. Directly thus, we have the political movements we see today.

Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. Preventing a woman from consenting to sell sex services is immoral and paternalistic. Arguing you should do so because it might cause an increase in abuse or harm to minors is the same logical argument as banning alcohol because it could increase domestic violence and car accidents.

Reason magazine and the Reason podcast are important journalistic institutions. They do not parrot right or left ideology. They have a libertarian philosophy.

It is a classic truism that if you put 1000 libertarians in a room you will get 1000 definitions of what libertarianism is. In my opinion it is essentially a belief in the individual over the collective and that permeates all ideas, such as a distrust and dislike for the government for many different reasons.

Libertarianism is easy to criticize in broad strokes. Many people hear such criticism and assume whatever evil things they want about it. I am used to the criticism and accept that as being neither the stereotype of conservative or liberal my views are easily criticized by people who follow mainstream dogma.

If this philosophy is appealing I highly recommend the Reason Podcast. The latest episode on Elizabeth Warren’s plans for corporations is a good summary of libertarian views on populist rhetoric whether it comes from the right or left.

Except the case against Larkin and Lacey isn't premised on "preventing a woman from consenting to sell sex services", but rather on what they did to enable and surreptitiously profit from child sex trafficking. Again, I feel like people with strong opinions about this case generally haven't read either side of it carefully.

> Except the case against Larkin and Lacey isn't premised on "preventing a woman from consenting to sell sex services", but rather on what they did to enable and surreptitiously profit from child sex trafficking.

Except neither of the criminal actions have had that as a central premise. That's been prominent in some of the PR, especially related to the State prosecution and to the federal legislative efforts the case was used as part of the (mostly dishonest) pretext for, but neither the state nor federal criminal prosecutions were centrally about that, they were about facilitating and profiting from anfd concealing the origin of profits from prostitution.

I agree that most of the indictment was about concealing and laundering funds.

You might want to think why the US laws are so fucked up it's ok for a company to make money from advertising the rape of children.

Law enforcement tried other methods first.

Yes, far better to drive advertising sex services to foreign websites or decentralized platforms. Now everything will be better.

I don't have a strong opinion about where adult classifieds should run, here or Antigua, but I'm pretty sure that if you knowingly and deliberately profit from child sex trafficking --- as Lacey and Larkin are accused of doing --- you belong in prison.

But all evidence shows that Lacey and Larkin did everything they could to stop or limit child sex trafficking on BackPage.com.

Prostitution is going to happen no matter what we think of it and we should develop some methods to prevent or limit the negatives of prostitution. BackPage seems to be one of those things to help limit the negatives of prostitution.

Doesn't the evidence show kind of the opposite thing?

The evidence largely hasn't generally been presented. What has been presented is allegations in the form of a federal indictment, which includes selective, potentially decontextualized even if otherwise accurate, descriptions of some parts of what may be presented as evidence.

There’s an argument in here somewhere I’m sure, but I’m having trouble finding it. Yes: all we have now are the competing veracities of the Backpage and USG stories. The USG version sure seems to have a lot more details.

If I'm not mistaken they provided specific feedback to folks they knew to be trafficking sex on how to make their ads appear legal. That's the opposite of stopping sex trafficking on backpage - especially since they benefit.

> But all evidence shows that Lacey and Larkin did everything they could to stop or limit child sex trafficking on BackPage.com.

No, it really doesn't. They were going out of their way to reduce reports to law enforcement:

> The record also contains substantial evidence that, as a matter of policy, Backpage often chose to err against reporting potential child exploitation. As the Subcommittee reported in connection with its November 2015 hearing, in June 2012 Backpage instructed its outsourced third-party moderators only to delete suspected child-sex advertisements “IF YOU REALLY VERY SURE THE PERSON IS UNDERAGE.” In a similar email, a Backpage supervisor instructed internal moderation staff: “Young ads do not get deleted unless they are clearly a child.”

> In a similar exchange dated July 11, 2013, Vaught took issue with a moderator’s decision to report an ad to NCMEC due to “inappropriate content” and the moderator’s belief that the person in the ad “look[ed] young.” Vaught explained that she “probably wouldn’t have reported this one.” 268 The moderator responded that the girl or woman in the ad “looked drugged and has bruises”— obvious indications of trafficking—which led her to send the report. Vaught replied that the person in the ad did not look under 18 years old, adding that “[t]hese are the kind of reports the cops question us about. I find them all the time, it’s just usually you who sends them [(to NCMEC)].” Basing reporting on the appearance of the individual advertised, alone, may result in underreporting, however; as NCMEC has noted, “it is virtually impossible to determine how old the young women in these ads are without an in-depth criminal investigation. The pimps try to make the 15 year olds look 23. And the distinction of whether the person in the ad is 17 or 18 is pretty arbitrary.”

And they were ignoring requests from trafficked children to take down ads featuring photographs of those children:

> And in February 2010, a detective emailed Backpage to alert the company that a 17-year-old girl who tried to get Backpage to take down an advertisement of herself had been rebuffed: According to the detective, the girl “tried asking for [the ads] to be removed but was told they couldnt [sic] be until enough people reported her as potentially underage.”

And then there's the word stripping. People are clearly misunderstanding what happened there. An advertiser would try to palce an ad. Backpage's algorithm would respond "Whoops, you can't use that word", and ask the submitter to drop it. The submitter would change the word and resubmit the ad. Backpage would then delete any reference to the orginal ad. This means when law enforcement comes with a warrant Backpage can say "we don't have any ads for lolita, and we have no information about advertisers using the word lolita" -- because backpage had destroyed that evidence.

> And then there's the word stripping. People are clearly misunderstanding what happened there. An advertiser would try to palce an ad. Backpage's algorithm would respond "Whoops, you can't use that word", and ask the submitter to drop it. The submitter would change the word and resubmit the ad. Backpage would then delete any reference to the orginal ad.

Isn't this literally what Facebook and a million other websites do? Go to post on your timeline, type the n word or other banned content. Local JavaScript says "look! The n word! You can't post that." Then, the user removes the n word and hits post again, and the posts goes through without error.

The predators on Dregslist just moved to other categories. The gigs, rentals & rideshare postings are full of them, but that's OK b/c it's just good old fashioned exploitation.

I've run for office as a Libertarian, but in general I find the philosophy distinctly lacking. I definitely have a strong distaste for Objectivism.

I think it's good to have the libertarian voice at the table when discussing policy. I dread the thought of it being the dominant voice.

Not all libertarians are objectivist Ayn Rand enthusiasts. I am not one.

I support the social safety net. I would disagree vehemently at the current implementation of the social safety net and people who want to expand it in at current form, especially without raising taxes to pay for it.

Both sides want more government support but no one wants to pay for it.

I have never heard of a libertarian in favor of a government-based social safety net. Could you expand on what a libertarian social safety net would look like?

In broad strokes, my ideal safety net would be means tested (if you are poorer you get more) but gradually phase out as income increases in order to incentivize working, be a cash transfer to let people spend however they want without layers of make-work bureaucracy and political lobbying (farm lobby pushing food stamps, etc.), and be actually funded rather than through deficit spending.

> would be means tested (if you are poorer you get more) but gradually phase out as income increases in order to incentivize working

What's "in order to incentivize working"? That feature is infamous for the fact that it disincentivizes working. Incentives not to work don't get any more direct than paying people not to work.

If you decrease the amount provided by welfare less than the increase in earnings through wages, you slowly decrease the support. So if you made $100 in welfare, then you earn $100, you now get say $75 of welfare, for $175 total income. This continues until welfare reaches $0. This is very standard economic thinking.

Sure, and it's a disincentive to work. The welfare program you describe taxes those $100 of earnings at a rate of 25%. Fewer people will be willing to do $100 of work for $75 than would do it for $100.

Or working in the other direction, that welfare program represents a standing offer to people working for $100 that it will pay them $25 to quit.

You're misunderstanding.

If you do 0 work, you get $100 of welfare.

If you do $100-worth of work, you get your wages plus $75 of welfare. You net more money working than not working.

This is opposed to having benefits "fall off a cliff" if you earn above a certain threshold, which is very much a disincentive to work. Instead, the benefits gradually taper off so that each step toward more employment is always a net positive for the worker.

What exactly do you think I'm misunderstanding? Try to identify something I said that you think is a mistake.

There is no difference, to the recipient, between "getting $100 of welfare and $75 of the $100 I earned working", or "getting $75 of my $100 of welfare and the full amount of the $100 I earned working".

And there is no perspective from which a means-tested welfare program in which benefits phase out with increasing income does not represent a disincentive to work.

We're comparing not working to working. So it's a choice between $100 welfare, $0 working; or $75 welfare, $100 working.

And anyone who still qualifies for public assistance is not paying income tax yet. Not 25% at least.

But that's beside the point. The point is that it is possible to structure the benefits so as not to penalize gainful employment. You make sure that it's worth more money to work than to not work.

But the benefits you're describing penalize gainful employment very heavily. Look at the cash flow:

Before: 0 labor output, $100 income.

After: $100 labor output, $175 income.

You've gained $75 by doing $100 of labor, which means that the welfare program is taxing your labor income at a 25% rate. This is a fairly strong disincentive to work, and a substantial penalty on gainful employment. In the reverse direction:

Before: $100 labor output, $175 income

After: 0 labor output, $100 income

You'd expect losing $100 of sales to represent a loss of $100 in income. But it's only a loss of $75, because the welfare program will subsidize you to quit your job. This is, again, a disincentive to work.

To evaluate whether the program is an incentive to work or a disincentive to work, you have to ask whether, in the presence of the program, more work or less work is done than would be done in the absence of the program. It's not at all relevant that the marginal tax rate implied by the program is always less than 100%. As long as it's more than 0%, it is a disincentive to work.

The point may be to avoid a discontinuity? Some programs in the past paid full amounts below a cutoff, and nothing above it. So, if one were close to the cutoff, working would be extremely "disincentivized".

That sounds a lot like food stamps, if you scrape the ideological patina off it.

No, this is nothing like foodstamps. Foodstamps can only be used for approved products in the food category. This encourages certain industries, such as farmers, to lobby for increased welfare dollars to flow to foodstamps. It also requires an enormous bureaucracy to manage the foodstamp program and creates a political agenda and interest groups around it.

We should eliminate existing welfare programs, of which there are many, and turn it into a simple cash transfer to the recipient's bank account. If society wants to give $X in welfare to person Y, then let's give $X to person Y and not have all of the other drama and waste around it.

It's pretty much like SNAP, as I said, minus ideological cruft. SNAP is means tested and cash-like. Farmers are lobbying for more SNAP? Do you have some references about that? I haven't been able to find much. You get to buy most non-prepared food on the open market, it's not like you stand in line to receive a government-procured potato. As to 'enormous bureaucracy' - over 93% of SNAP funds go to directly to benefits. As far as I can tell, your idea is pretty similar to SNAP but you don't want to say it is because, I dunno, government and welfare are bad. That is, in the words of political economist W. Sobchak, an ethos but it's not all that much of a serious argument.

Agriculture is an enormously important industry in the US and agriculture lobbyists are extremely embedded in the government, from farm-state senators, to insurance, to tariffs, to myriad tax breaks. Arguing that farmers don’t influence government, SNAP being one issue of many, is laughable

That's an 'everything is related to everything' argument about something that I did't actually say.

The reason why food stamps work and wealth transfers don't is that increasing food production to match the demand that food stamps add isn't all that difficult, especially given that so much food already goes to waste. A direct transfer of money that could then be spent on things like housing or healthcare doesn't result in an increased production of those goods as it stands today since it won't result in a rapid increase in the number of doctors or the amount of housing available at lower price points.

I keep seeing conservative/libertarian groups propose things such as negative income taxes and UBI, but feeding the beast that is capitalism wont necessarily provide individuals substantially better conditions than exist today without additional major policy changes.

A free market is the most efficient way to distribute resources and it does this via price signals. Quantifying welfare as a single number, paid for in dollars, is maximally efficient. What you are arguing for is to split welfare into buckets, such as the food bucket (SNAP) and the housing bucket (rent control), but still let individuals spend freely within that bucket.

It’s an argument, but I think the simple solution is just to have one bucket and trust that individuals know what they need to spend money on best.

The twist you have, that food is a unique resource we grow too much of and SNAP is essentially free because we use food that would be wasted, is very strange and I haven’t heard it before. I don’t think government purchasers buy food from the trash pile, it all comes from the market.

> trust that individuals know what they need to spend money on best

Have you met people who struggle with addiction?

I suspect placing money explicitly into a food bucket is the only thing keeping a lot of children fed.

This is paternalism, and philosophically I think it’s best to let the individual decide what’s best for them rather than society telling people what to buy. You are essentially saying that the poor cannot be trusted to know what they need, whereas I think the poor are intelligent, rational people who will allocate their resources best.

I've helped keep a young drug addict alive for the past several years. I can assure you that good financial planning, and decision-making in general, does not always coincide with poverty.

And it's fine to argue that if people make poor decisions, they should be allowed to suffer the consequences, but that downplays the consequences that those around them suffer as well, especially children.

It's perfectly reasonable to say the money should be in a single bucket, but don't delude yourself that people are rational actors.

You are implying that enough poor people are junkies, or are poor because of some debilitating personal failure, that it is better not to trust any poor person to spend their welfare, in order to save the poor from themselves.

Your anecdote does not change my opinion. I trust that most poor people are hard working and honest, not one foot in the grave with dope like your friend.

I've heard many libertarians who are in favor of universal basic income, because it solves many of the problems that current welfare systems introduce. Also, there are some who are in favor of universal healthcare. There are indeed a wide range of views in the libertarian spectrum.

Coerced wealth redistribution is about the furthest thing there is to libertarianism.

They are impostors. True libertarians protect the right not to pay for other. You can support whatever you want only after you get this right.

As a (soft)libertarian I have to acknowledge that social spending can be such a great value that it's almost imperative - for example if we were to drop taxpayer funding of education, it would put our country at a severe disadvantage to other countries. Those more economically successful countries could over the long term buy our assets. Public-health vaccinations also come to mind.

UBI is quite popular in some libertarian circles. In theory, it would have minimal administrative overhead and distort the market less than the present regime of labor laws.

You sound more neoliberal than libertarian.

these threads really make me miss the friend/foe system on slashdot. This thread highlights very well all the bigots, rigth wing political shills, that I would love to mark as foe and never have to read again when they are back to maskerading their ways on more technical subjects.

A Reason article made it to HN's frontpage?

Amazing ... today must be bizarro Dienstag, but I'm not complaining.

I have a friend who used to advertise on backpage. She just did handjobs, not full-service... She was sort-of traumatized by the experience, but learned a lot at the same time.

One of my early taxi passengers was certainly a "working girl" [1]. I picked her up at a hotel early in the morning. I called the provided number, asked the hotel operator to give me the room number, and told the man who answered that I was at the lobby. When the passenger came out it was not a dude. She didn't seem like she enjoyed herself very much.

[1] https://www.taxiwars.org/2012/03/day-12-working-girl.html

Over my 3.5 years in the cab, I had several female passengers who helped me understand more about female attraction. One got in the cab and was speaking German into her phone, so I asked "Sprechen sie deutsch?" My German is not that good, but she insisted in conducting the taxi ride in German. She clearly found me to be intriguing, wondered "what are you doing driving a cab?", and gave me a kiss at the end of the ride. I never heard from her again.

Another woman going home from the bar would've been interested in a date and said, "you have my number." Things were complicated at the time, so I never called her back.

I told another female passenger about my relationship drama. She concluded that ride saying, "well I was about to ask you to make out...", and commented on how I had a sort of magnetism about me that she found most men lacked.

Men frequently have no idea what makes them annoying to women. Even though I'm not taxi driving anymore, I still practice my people skills. The female staff at my fitness club are interesting: some have decided that I'm "safe", while others have their shields up and clearly aren't interested in talking to me about anything that's not work related.

A month ago I ended a comment here with this line: "Relationship coaching for men is mostly about teaching them how to be less obnoxious." - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17554503

IMHO, our dear leaders would be more productive if they looked at the causes behind the sex industries (prostitution/porn/backpage advertisements/etc). I'd suggest they start with my post, "The Difference Between Boys and Girls" [2]. I tell this story to women all the time (when contextually-appropriate), and they all laugh.

[2] http://www.taxiwars.org/2016/02/the-difference-between-boys-... (tl/dr: female passenger didn't understand her new guy-friend's problem with her relationship history. I told her about how women choose who they want to have relationships with, whereas men have to play the numbers game until they find someone who's interested in them, and how some men never get 'picked'.)

Sex work is easy money, for women who are wired that way. Like the friend I mentioned at the top of this post, only a few women can do it as a calling; most just find themselves in that line of work because they need money.

Another passenger was a stripper that I saw a couple times (randomly assigned by the taxi company's computer system; she never called me directly). The last time she told of being followed home from her strip club, that she'd been beaten up, and that she didn't feel safe at her gated apartment complex anymore...

If our dear leaders acknowledged that this "oldest profession" exists for a reason, progress could be made in making 'sex work' safer for women. (I don't have any insights into the male stripper/sex worker's world, certainly they have predicaments too...)

This is actually fascinating and a pretty fascinating view point. I've been meaning to write something on this topic myself; will check out your blog posts/comments.

> This is actually fascinating and a pretty fascinating view point.

Thanks for this response. The score on my comment above is oscillating around '0' - I wonder how many votes it's actually gotten.

I have lots of anecdotes; only a few have made it into blog posts. Maybe one day I'll mine my notes for a book.

A group of three men on a business trip were going to a strip club. One of them had just gotten divorced, iirc. The newly-divorced man didn't actually want to go, but his compatriots insisted.

A few passengers invited me to come into their strip clubs with them. I found those to be rather depressing experiences. My theory is that normal human males have an "imagination" that allows them to "fantasize" about getting with their dancer. My imagination is disabled ("aphantasia" [0]), so I choose to spend my own money on other activities.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphantasia

> Thanks for this response. The score on my comment above is oscillating around '0' - I wonder how many votes it's actually gotten.

There is a habit where people require you to vilify or express a clearer polarizing opinion about a topic before they determine if you are an acceptable person to listen to, or not.

Its more like a disclaimer they look for.

If you don't do it, or "forget" to mention how much you don't agree with something, then people will discard everything you have to say.

I don't like the habit. Downvotes are effectively censorship, which I would be somewhat okay with if it came from the company itself (hackernews), because then people could disagree with how the company operates, but currently the downvote censorship comes from a mixture of the communities and administrators

> There is a habit where people require you to vilify or express a clearer polarizing opinion about a topic before they determine if you are an acceptable person to listen to, or not.

Hmm... I think you're saying that people don't like to consider nuance if they already have a strong opinion?

> Downvotes are effectively censorship,

I don't mind downvotes much, as they help me figure out what people care about. HN downvotes would be much more meaningful if I knew how many total votes a comment received. For example, my original comment is currently at "2 points", but it was at -1 earlier today, which indicates at least 5 people thought it worth voting on (2 down, 3 up). If I knew that 99 people actually voted on that comment, I'd probably develop the line of thinking some more.

Thanks for your feedback.

Look who's at the bottom at Hacker News! I enjoyed reading your posts on crumbling K5.

What I find interesting about the discussion surrounding prostitution is the wide but not nearly universal agreement that it's bad. One can't predict people's view on prosititution from labels like religious, feminist or humanist.

Hello, fellow K5 refugee. Nice to find you here, whoever you were over there. ;)

> Look who's at the bottom at Hacker News!

The comment was relatively successful, in spite of its low ranking, in that a good number of people visited my links, and I got some nice feedback from a few people.

> What I find interesting about the discussion surrounding prostitution is the wide but not nearly universal agreement that it's bad.

I think it's sub-optimal, but understand why it persists. I think more of an effort needs to be made to help young women be more assertive about the types of relationships they want. As I said in the comment I linked above, some sort of financial support for young people would be helpful.

> One can't predict people's view on prostitution from labels like religious, feminist or humanist.

There's a saying in medicine about how an accurate diagnosis is 50% of the cure... IMHO, the need for "prostitution" would be lessened if society had a better understanding for why the phenomenon exists. I think most people would agree that no matter what label one prefers, it's better to minimize the monetization of an activity that is best done freely.

The parent comment is substantive, civil, and on-topic. Why is it grey?

Because it was downvoted to less than 1 for a while. Please don't break the site guidelines by going on about that, which they ask you not to do: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. Instead, just give a good comment a compensatory upvote. Users tend to that, correcting the problem and leaving comments like this one referring to nothing.

It's strange. There's a huge anti-sex push from somewhere. Not from the religious right; that was back in the 1980s. Now Trump's sex life is OK with the religious right. The anti-sex movement has taken on a life of its own.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has been revealed as a front for a pedophile organization.[1]

[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/grand-jury-report-abou...

The three issues: philandering, sex trafficking, and pedophilia, are pretty different.

It's true that there used to be a vocal no-sex-outside-hetero-marriage movement that would have opposed all 3, but you don't hear much from them any more.

Condemnation of sex trafficking and pedophilia are much more widely held views, which are not intellectually honest to call "anti-sex".

> Not from the religious right; that was back in the 1980s

IIRC, GW Bush's administration in the 2000s made a big anti-porn push, IIRC, with Attorney General Ashcroft being particularly focused on it.

Regarding supporters of Trump and the Catholic Church: I agree it would be hypocritical for them to advocate against porn, I don't think that stops anyone, and I personally don't care - acting against evil (I don't think porn/sex is evil, but they do) doesn't require you to be a saint, or nobody would act.

This kind of hypocrisy does call into question the sincerity of your belief in whatever advocacy you're supporting, and whether you're simply supporting it to conform.

You don't have to be anti-sex to be anti the kidnapping and raping of children.

Most of my pro-sex sex-positive friends find that a pretty clear line.

> You don't have to be anti-sex to be anti the kidnapping and raping of children. Most of my pro-sex sex-positive friends find that a pretty clear line.

There are a lot of people who are intentionally conflating consensual sex work with sex trafficking and rape. (From your other posts, you appear to be one of those people, claiming that the "vast majority of women" doing sex work are doing so out of coercion or are being trafficked).

If sex work was legal and regulated it would generate a decent amount of tax revenue and cut down tremendously on human trafficking.


Please don't post ideological flamebait to HN. This is just what we don't need here. Whether you intended to or not, you just trolled the thread, with predictably wretched results.


Nah, it's a very libertarian leaning publication, definitely not friendly to Trump or the like. Falls out of the mainstream right vs left. Libertarians tend to promote freedom above all other values - even as a more left-leaning person I think it's good to consider a libertarian perspective on many issues actually, unless there's seriously good arguments and evidence to the contrary, freedom is a very important thing to value.

They actually do quite well on the Media Bias Chart for a largely opinion based publication, similar to Vox or Slate, so if you're interested in a libertarian perspective on something, they're probably a good source to consider.

It's for 50 years been the preeminent libertarian magazine in the United States; the libertarian version of The National Review or The New Republic. It's very respectable, has featured some pretty excellent writers over the years, and is worth taking seriously. It is not a Trumpian outlet.

I think we have very different definitions of 'respectable'. Maybe it's an American thing where absolutist free speech is worshipped as part of the cult of civic religion, but where I live Holocaust denial[1] isn't considered respectable or acceptable.

If you mean it should be taken seriously because it is influential, then yes I suppose it's worth knowing what they are saying (today that's defending child sex trafficking apparently, but that's not new ground for libertarians). Freep, /pol/ and Stormfront are all influential these days, but that doesn't make them respectable either.

[1] https://pando.com/2014/07/24/as-reasons-editor-defends-its-r...

I read Ames's piece, and I read Reason's response here:


... both Ames and Reason link to a scan of the entire issue. I am with Reason: it's embarrassing for Reason that they ran pieces by people who would go on to become figureheads in Holocaust denial, but Ames is stretching the truth rather dramatically about the content of the actual issue.

I don't know anything about Reason and apartheid support. It wouldn't surprise me. The National Review has also been accused of supporting apartheid, and they are the house organ of mainstream conservatism.

Certainly, the libertarians share some goals with the GOP, while being staunchly against Democratic economic policies and regulations. But they also take strong stances against the police state and military industrial complex. I believe Reason is as mainstream as libertarian publications go.

If Reason is trying to indoctrinate me and turn my liberal self into a Trumper, I can only say that it's doing a remarkably poor job thus far. ;)

That’s called libertarianism.

It has nothing to do with Trump, but it attracts a personality type who is also attracted to Trump like figures.

Jesus. I'm a liberal Democrat and a lot of what gets written in Reason gives me hives, but I don't make up random slurs about libertarians, and you shouldn't either.

It's not really a 'random slur', it's a fairly run-of-the-mill anti-libertarian argument. It might be overwrought or in other ways wrong but it's pretty standard. Quick googling finds a recent example but as a line of thought it's been around for at least as long as Reason itself.


I would level the same criticism at this article! Most of the libertarians I know can't stand Trump. Libertarianism itself is a coherent political philosophy (a suboptimal one, but coherent nonetheless) and we can do better in rebutting it than pretending that its adherents are alt-righters or Trumpkins.

Actual libertarians who think through the philosophy are as you describe.

Many of the casual fans discover the philosophy after reading Ayn Rand or something similar. The noisemakers on AM radio often claim to be libertarian.

I'm not interested. I get it, you don't like libertarianism "as she is spoke". I don't either.

A random slur would be 'Libertarians are unclefuckers'. But it's not controversial that the fringier extremes of American political movements often end up in some pretty dark, often white supremacist places. Ron Paul had a crazy newsletter and a weird, Trump-like personality cult. You mentioned NR and TNR. NR was founded, in part, to keep the anti-semites and other crazies out of respectable conservatism. Quite a few of the things TNR has published over the years are coming under renewed scrutiny of late as it becomes less acceptable to give bigotry a pass as contrarianism.

Is any of this a particularly fruitful criticism of the coherent political philosophies of Libertarianism, Conservatism and Jerkoff Contrarianism†? I agree with you that, for the most part, it isn't. But it's hardly a 'random slur', either.

†That's what I'm deciding to call (with love!) the coherent political philosophy of TNR.

We're probably approaching a place where we're going to struggle to find disagreement. You're dinging me for abusing the word "slur". Fair cop.

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