The founders and CEO of Backpage.com may have beat pimping charges, but their classified site hasn't escaped unscathed from claims that it benefited from prostitution and human trafficking. The site shuttered its adult section on Monday, claiming government censorship and "an assault on the First Amendment," reports the Los Angeles Times. The company says officials finally prevailed in a years-long effort to make Backpage "too costly to continue," which included "pressuring credit card companies to cease doing business with Backpage," per the Washington Post. However, the move came mere hours after a US Senate report accused Backpage of being "far more complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone previously knew."
The review of some 1.1 million pages of company documents concluded Backpage removed terms like "teenage," "rape," and "young" from ads indicating sex trafficking or prostitution but left the ads in place. "Having to get rid of the ad altogether was bad for business," one moderator said, according to the report; 99% of the site's income reportedly came from its "adult" section. "Backpage's response wasn't to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site," Sens. Rob Portman and Claire McCaskill say, per Reuters. "That's not 'censorship'—it's validation of our findings." Backpage's CEO and two founders were cleared of pimping charges in December but still face new charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit pimping, reports the Post. (But Backpage wasn't always a haven for sex ads.)