Even when it comes to protecting children, good intentions are not enough. Backpage.com is
a website that grew rich on classified ads for services like escorts, body rubs and exotic dancers. Far from being a marketplace for consensual exchanges, Backpage, the authorities said, often used teasers like “Amber Alert” and “Lolita” to signal that children were for sale.
In the midst of a Senate investigation, a federal grand jury inquiry in Arizona, two federal lawsuits and criminal charges in California accusing Backpage’s operators of pimping children, the website abruptly bowed to pressure in January and replaced its sex ads with the word “Censored” in red.
And the consequences?
Tiffany — a street name — did not stop using the site, she said. Instead, her ads moved to Backpage’s dating section. “New in town,” read a recent one, using words that have become code for selling sex. “Looking for someone to hang out with.” Other recent dating ads listed one female as “100% young” and suggested that “oh daddy can i be your candy.”
For Tiffany, 18, the demise of Backpage’s adult listings has made things far more unpredictable — and dangerous, she said. The old ads allowed her to try to vet customers by contacting them before meetings, via phone or text message. With far fewer inquiries from the dating ads, she said, her first encounters with men now take place more often on the street as she gets into cars in red light districts around the Bay Area.
For an earlier Cato discussion of the relevant First Amendment issues, see here.