(Repeating with no change to text)
By Jason Szep
BOSTON, April 25 When Marissa decided to switch
jobs from nursing to prostitution a year ago, the online
classified site Craigslist was pivotal, she said. Friends told
her she could make lots of money just by advertising there.
"I would never walk the streets. I would never do that kind
of thing. But it's pretty easy to put an ad up. We love
Craigslist," said Marissa, who declined to be identified by her
full name because of her illegal work.
After this month's murder of a woman who advertised exotic
services on Craigslist in Boston, Marissa now carries a weapon,
the latest illustration of how Craigslist has evolved from
humble e-mail to a few San Francisco friends in 1995 to a
global phenomenon associated with illicit sex and murder.
Legal experts say growing scrutiny of Craigslist by
authorities could lead to big changes at the 14-year-old online
bazaar that generates more than 20 billion page views per month
in 50 countries with a staff of just 28 people.
The April 14 murder of 26-year-old masseuse Julissa
Brisman, who was bashed in the head and shot three times, is
the latest headline-grabbing crime linked to Craigslist.
Philip Markoff, a 23-year-old Boston University medical
student, was charged with killing Brisman and with an April 10
attack on a 29-year-old woman who advertised sex services on
Craigslist in the Boston area. Dubbed "the Craigslist killer,"
Markoff is being held in an isolated cell on suicide watch.
The murder followed the killing of George Weber, a New York
reporter who was knifed to death after responding to a personal
ad he placed on Craigslist in March, and the early-April
sentencing of Michael Anderson, a Minnesota man convicted of
killing a woman who responded to a babysitting ad. He also
became known as the "Craigslist killer".
"There's a whole field of law emerging which is online
media liability law and the question is how much liability do
we place on companies that host information other people post
online," said John Palfrey, a Harvard Law School professor.
"The general policy approach we have taken to the Internet
starting a decade plus ago was to say there is basically no
liability, but these recent cases put to the test that policy,"
said Palfrey, who is a co-director of Harvard's Berkman Center
for Internet and Society.
"Is it appropriate to say, 'No matter how harmful the
material is, we don't want to have any obligation placed on
Craigslist to take it down'? My sense that we need to strike a
balance here between supporting online businesses and
supporting innovation while also achieving greater levels of
safety for children and others," he said.
"That's the conversation that these awful events provoke,"
he added, noting such changes "would have a huge impact on
Craigslist and on future businesses that are structured in a
similar way. It would be very hard to run if it was as lean a
staff as Craigslist does and with the extraordinary reach that
it has. That is exactly the trade off."
'HORRIFIC, BRUTAL TRAGEDY'
Along with its free listings for just about anything --
from apartments to furniture, jobs and cars -- San
Francisco-based Craigslist.org provides one of the largest and
most controversial sex-service listings.
It is partially owned by online auctioneer eBay (EBAY.O),
which bought a 25 percent stake in 2004.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who led a
probe into American International Group's (AIG.N) controversial
$165 million in bonuses, this week called on Craigslist to
block ads for escort services that promote prostitution.
He sent a letter to Craigslist officials asking them to
eliminate photographs in the "erotic" services and similar
sections of the site, hire staff to screen ads that blatantly
violate Craigslist rules and offer incentives for people who
flag and report prostitution advertisements.
Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist chief executive, initially
denied his site offered "sex-related" ads, but he changed tact
in a blog posted on Wednesday where he wrote that "more must be
done" by Craigslist to eliminate illegal activity on its site.
"Craigslist is fully engaged in pursing this goal, and has
several initiatives underway that speak to the concerns
addressed in Mr. Blumenthal's letter, concerns which we also
share," Buckmaster said.
Under pressure from 40 U.S. attorneys general, Craigslist
agreed in November to charge people posting erotic ads $5-$10
by credit card and require them to submit a working phone
number to use the site. Blumenthal said that allowed
authorities to track illegal activity.
But Azer Bestavros, a Boston University computer science
professor, doubts such sites can ever be policed fully.
"One can argue that Craigslist is just facilitating
communication," he said. "Are we going to punish the phone
company because they allowed prostitution by allowing people to
call each other?"
Marissa, who describes herself in her ad as "very hot,
exciting, engaging and full of sensuality", said she has her
own ways of screening clients: she won't meet men unless she
can call them at their workplace first.
"If they don't allow me to do that, I don't see them. But
90 percent of them let me call them at work," she said in a
telephone interview as she drove between customers. "Most of us
know how to take care of ourselves."
(Editing by Anthony Boadle)