Backpage.com has a reputation of being the seedy home for online sex ads, and one stat puts a point on it: Of the $50 million in revenue it earned in California from January 2013 to March 2015, 99% of it came from adult ads, notes the Ringer. "It is, in essence, an escort advertising network nestled in a Craigslist knockoff," writes Kate Knibbs. But does that make its execs criminals? Prosecutors think so, having charged CEO Carl Ferrer with, among other things, "pimping a minor" because the site is accused of not cracking down on ads with underage girls. They've also charged founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin with conspiracy to commit pimping. Knibbs takes a deep dive into how Backpage came to be and how the case is being closely watched in the online world because of its free-speech implications. "Digital Pimps or Fearless Publishers?" sums up the headline.
One interesting part of the back story is that Lacey and Larkin hail from a journalism background as owners of Village Voice Media. They launched Backpage because they were losing so much ad money to Craigslist and wanted to keep their "journalism passion project afloat," writes Knibbs. The site foundered as a general classifieds site, but it took off when Craigslist ditched its adult section, and those ads gravitated to Backpage. The criminal case hinges on Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which holds that websites aren't responsible for content posted by users. Knibbs has her own view: "It is inarguably, flagrantly bad that it’s easier to target children because of online classified sites," she writes. But if it's true that Backpage's honchos haven't done all they could to stop the sex work of minors, "that makes them mercenaries and menaces," she concludes. "What it does not make them is pimps." Click for the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)