why craigslist matters

ne requiescat in pace

At this point, it’s faded into dust. Old news. Everyone’s moved on. Except me, obviously.

a personal history with craigslist

I’ve used Craigslist to find living quarters, household odds and ends, sold/swapped items, attempted to navigate the Personals (and still read them just for the laugh, not for the penis pix) and yes — advertised my Erotic/Adult Services on there, both in the US and several other countries.

Any provider will tell you advertising on CL was hit-or-miss. Not only was it stronger in some cities than others, it was certainly stronger in some countries than others. And sometimes the geographical differences were distinct for non-financial reasons: like the number of thick-skulled, hyper-romantics in Asia who confused the Erotic Services section with the Personals vs the crudity of London punters responding to the ads (they were not confused, BTW). One thing never changed: a literate ad with a decent picture stood out in every city, every country. (And then I got to watch how literate the other ads would suddenly become, usually mangling the English worse than their own, original writing.)

It was very much an open market and in many ways, the Internet version of standing on the street. Or perhaps sitting at the bar. At best.

Shortly before I left for London to begin traveling, CL got weird. It started charging $10/ad in the US and requiring stricter screening to pay for it. (It had been running along at $5 for a while and using prepaid credit cards was never an issue.) I tried to get an ad up, just as an experiment, but I couldn’t. Considering the ads that were making it past the censors, I’m not really sure what set them off. Maybe my prepaid card? I do know that CL happily charged me $30 for my efforts, which I was never refunded though of course I wrote support. Obviously my card worked well enough.

So I got to London and it was a free-for-all again. Just needed an email address to post an ad — the Craigslist of old! Then I Tweeted about it and suddenly I was required to create an account, sign in and have my ad “approved.” Hmm…

That problem was solved when my netbook fried its own motherboard. Even the computer repairman had never seen anything like it. I got a new netbook (with a British keyboard, which I learned to love) and had no more problems posting ads on CL. I just stopped Tweeting about it.

Another netbook later and I was in Asia. I went to a few places and used CL without any issues. For some reason, on my second Hong Kong trip, CL decided to block me. I cleared cookies, I cleared my History, I cleared everything, I even installed a Flash wiper on my computer. I tried different email addresses I’d never used before on CL. I tried posting from different locations in HK (I drank a lot of coffee that day). I had two people in two different countries try to post my ad. I re-worded my ad. I was blocked. CL had tracked me down and was blocking every word of my ad. Or maybe my pix were the giveaway (should’ve just used someone else’s picture!).

I find it really hard not to believe something was going on. Other ads were going up, mine were being blocked. My emails to support were never answered (of course not). This happened after both the US and Singapore adult sections were shut down. Hmm…

Though I kept an eye on things, ads never seemed to really migrate to other sections of CL in Singapore. I looked in other sections when I was in other countries but I really did not see a lot of ad-migration. Possibly because people just didn’t try or they were censored or their ads flagged. I don’t know. I didn’t try posting in any other category.

Then, of course, came the worldwide removal of all Erotic Services sections in every country.

meanwhile, on another website…

I’d also been running ads on Expatriates.com. The clients off there were good. I preferred Expats to CL because of the quality of the clientele, but Expats was not available in every little city/suburb like CL was. If it was a “miss” I’d have to turn to CL.

After I’d landed in Asia, Expats started hinting at requiring paid ads for Dubai. Then they switched to paid ads only in Dubai. Then they started offering paid ads in other countries — pay and your ad stays on top for X number of days. Suddenly it became hard to successfully advertise on this site against all the spammy agencies.

Around the time that CL was coming under fire in America in August ’10, Expats suddenly stopped allowing any ads to be placed. They removed the Escorts(Social) section from all countries. Then the section came back, but no paid ads of any kind were mentioned. Then you could pay for them, then by December the Escorts(Social) section was removed entirely. The ads did not drift to other sections, though for a while the Personals was closed too.

What was going on? They didn’t respond to my emails about the situation. I really don’t know who owns it, but I heard some rumor they are an LA-based company. Were they being harassed? Just pro-active? Either way, it trashed our business. Suddenly ads were popping up all over the place in community classifieds, there seemed to be more street action, I had to rely on other sites I found through Google, as well as madly tweaking the SEO on my own site. (SEO pays off, ladies — there’s a reason companies will pay millions for a great SEO campaign.) Offline work was the obvious answer but not all those avenues were open to me, and I am way too oversized and ancient for Asian agencies.

I don’t know what clients did — relied on the unreliable local agencies? Googled as frantically as I? Look for a pickup bar and hope their companion was biologically female? The one website that seemed to step to the front after the collapse of CL/Expats is unreliable though it got very crowded after CL/Expats closed down.

back in the usa

With almost a sigh of relief, I paid for my Eros ad in Dallas. It’s expensive but my god it’s easy. I don’t have to spend hours Googling and optimizing my site (though that never hurts). I don’t have to monitor ten damn classifieds sites. The US is more of a closed market than other countries. I’m not sure if that’s an effect of criminalization or that we seemed to pioneer Internet escort work or…?

For instance, Singaporean escort ads/directories/classifieds get spammed by advertisers in the Ukraine, plus local agency spam. It’s like that in most countries. CL/Expats was the closet thing to a reliable, global advertising mall (there are local review/discussion boards, of course). The UK has a handful of central sites, Australia has a couple of regionally-strong sites. The complete domination of the US by Eros — much as I’ve complained about it — was like being swaddled in a warm blankie.

They’ve gotten smarter over the last few years. They’ve opened up a lot more markets (guess what — sex workers are everywhere people are!). The self-control over my ads are great — any mistakes are my own. (The downside to this automation are thumbnails with titles like “brunette busty XXX GFE nasty VIP exclusive escort.”)

While I do wish for a reliable worldwide escort advertising mall so I can take my peaceful easy feeling everywhere I go, such things are not completely feasible from a technological or cultural perspective. Especially not when you also take into account the various geographical firewalls around the globe (which CL/Expats seemed to get around due to being predominantly classifieds sites).

I didn’t think this starting out, but now I know why Eros has limited its advertising range to where it has and why the very nice people at Escort-Advertising have not expanded like they clearly want to. AdultWork is easily as global as CL, but not nearly as known and generally not search-engine nor user- friendly. It seems strongest in the UK (where the site is based) and most clients who use it outside of the UK are UK men who are traveling. It doesn’t reach much of a local market, despite its global listings.

the point

Which brings us right back around to the jaw-dropping wondrous sex worker-wonder that was Craigslist (and Expats, to a lesser extent). CL was truly global in the most complete way ever seen. Had I been in the Middle East, I could’ve advertised to US soldiers in several key locations without any trouble at all. Had I gone into the interior of China, I could’ve advertised in English in any number of Chinese cities that aren’t household names outside of China. Had I gone to Alaska in the dead of winter, I could’ve traded for a dog-sled ride to visit the most remote towns out there still listed on CL. As long as those folks had Internet access — I’d have work.

How easy will it be to duplicate something like this? Sex workers want to know. Yes, I’m sure it will happen again and yes, I’m fairly sure it will be organic, like CL was. But soon? Not likely.

I honestly feel heads of state have other things on their mind than occasional roving hookers or the local hordes content to stay within the boundaries of their own country (or the one next door). The problem, as I’ve ranted about before, are the influencers just a few rungs down from these heads. Though there are abolitionists in every country, so far none of them have managed a global coup like the US-based antis have. (They call themselves “anti-traffickers” here, but they’re really just anti-everything. The most radical of them are anti-sex.) When you read their papers, books and interviews, it’s clear they do not wish prostitutes to exist. Forget “saving,” forget the distinction between prostitution and prostitute. They do not want prostitutes to exist.

The antis threaten me. They screwed with my money. My existence is a personal affront to them. That I do exist means they continue to receive government funding to persuade others to try and rid the world of me. I’m simultaneously a victim to be saved and a parasite to be stomped out of existence. They have the right to choose what life they want to lead, I have the right to choose the life they want me to lead. They took away my autonomy in every city where around the world. They made it harder and possibly more dangerous for me to make a living.

They took away my ability to work even if my work was legal.

up next and why

BackPage/Village Voice Media had been feeling the heat alongside Craigslist. Now that CL has been assaulted and subdued, BP has started to become a bit more of a target. So far, they’re fighting it. They’ve caused problems for their advertisers (I see the ladies gripe on a regular basis) but BP is still kicking.

Yes, I’ve advertised on BP in a few US cities (it’s not the least bit international). It’s mostly been “miss” for me, but I know girls who can make bank during a normal working day off BP. Some of the more prudent ones are seeking safer advertising venues that don’t draw the attention of the antis and mainstream media. I speculated on the possible future in the US without CL here. One of the things I worried about came to pass: the global shutdown of CL’s Erotic Services section.

If you want to read some of the hysteria around CL and child sex trafficking, you might enjoy my take on a very flawed survey. “Research” like this is part of what pushed CL over the edge. This is not the voice of sex workers, nor even victims.

I’ve spent way too many hours thinking about all this. It’s not my cause celebre. It just haunts me. Cushioned by Eros, I’m not in the thick of it near as much, but I keep Googling for stories and reading anything new. What site will they target next? What tactics are they going to use, what tired propaganda that has somehow become truth?

Sure, sex workers are resourceful and resilient. It’s not an excuse to continue letting the antis get away with this. Sex workers, even other activists, feel it’s “just one site” and not even an important one at that. Craigslist was important enough that there is no ready replacement. Even Eros could be quickly replaced.

One website with notoriously ugly design as a microcosmic battlefield of the modern fight against prostitution. The sex workers lost.

22 thoughts on “why craigslist matters

  1. Parker

    Wow. What a story. That is so odd how your ad was blocked by CL overseas. I wonder why, since direct sex work is legal in the places you advertised (right?). I mean, that obviously didn’t change the fate of adult services section, but I can’t wrap my head around *your* ad being blocked. Kind of creepy really.

    I am glad that my presence at the UNIFEM conference in NYC had some benefit to the sex workers’ rights movement by being privy to the unveiling of the infamous Shapiro study (the lead researcher must hate me now, and he knows my real name). Even though it was icky to be in a room filled with so many people who seemed to have no interest in proper research methods and ethics (and why they are important for that matter), it served a purpose at least in that it got the study into the hands of sex worker rights activists.

    On a side note, I used to have tons of problems with my facebook account when I was going (politely) head to head with Somaly Mam supporters (Somaly Mam must hate me too and she also knows my real name, but at least I was polite and said I was against genuine forced sex work, just not targeting all sex workers). My guess is that I was reported and my profile was monitored but luckily not shut down. Guess FB figured with my grad school network and incessant link postings, that I was an an educated activist. I have to admit that I respect that I got to keep my profile active and have no problems now.

    But it saddens me that CL didn’t pay you the same respect.

  2. Maggie McNeill

    The most amazing thing to me is that the cops, politicians and media just won’t let Craigslist go; they’re like stubborn dogs with a favorite chew-toy. The Long Island Killer is sometimes labelled the “Craigslist Killer” despite the fact that the title already belongs to Philip Markoff; prostitutes who use any online advertising are referred to as “Craigslist prostitutes” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/07/craigslist-prostitues-assaulted-_n_858945.html), etc. I reckon they’re just upset that they went to all the trouble of building up a big villain and then it opted to leave the game rather than letting them beat it down, just as cops and DAs always sound indignant when a murderer kills himself rather than submitting to a show trial.

  3. kathleen

    great article.. I started using duttslist.com after I lost alot of business with craigslist. You made alot of great points !

  4. Tamara

    Craigslist was a pain in the arse towards the end,robbing the girls with $10.00 an ad,and I could’nt get a ad posted to save my life towards the end. It was rediculous! I had the text so saintly you almost felt like you had been batized again reading it and I swear I posted just my head shot with my arms in a photo and it still got rejected. “Your ad has been rejected” came into my inbox so much I just went over to back page,like you said the ads they put through only pissd me off as to the imbalance of rules on the board.

  5. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Parker — It was VERY weird and there is no other conclusion I can come to. Maybe because I was a known American and working elsewhere smacked of trafficking? I have no idea. But I was most certainly being blocked for some reason or another.

    Yes, that’s right! You brought the Shapiro studies to our attention long before the media got ahold of them. Were they smugly proud of their work? Just curious!

    Your FB experiences are weird too and you’re not someone who says inflammatory things. Hmm…

    Maggie — That’s something I’ve been wondering, actually. If these women have been killed in the past several months, they could not possibly have been advertising on CL, unless they were in another section (entirely possible, of course). I haven’t followed the story enough to know the details of their advertising tactics.

    Using Craigslist as an epithet for any sex work-related violence originating online — nice. Craig Newmark must never have imagined he would live in infamy in such a manner.

    Kathleen — Glad you liked this! Duttslist.com isn’t very global, however. I’d consider it a semi-regional site (like Eros).

    Tamara — They did become a pain (and I’d still like my money back), but they only did this under duress. They certainly weren’t charging a cent for ads in any other country that wasn’t the US. However…not really sure WHY they made the decision to allow some (trashy) ads and disallow tame ads from indies. ???? Maybe they were really saving us from ourselves, who knows?

    XX

  6. M

    I agree. Craigslist was a life-send for me when I started in Germany.

    Honestly, at that point I probably wasn’t ready to deal with serious punters. And craigslist was perfect-o! Just a bunch of bored businessmen wanting to have an adventure with a bored American chick. Involving sex. And money.

    Craigslist had this great easy-accessibility factor – yes, it got murderers…but for me, it got a bunch of guys who weren’t ready for german escort advertisements with sexual services explicitly listed, who stumbled on the page out of familiarity.

    Funny – one time, I posted a really innocent ad. I was back in the states for a bit, and I really just missed meeting a middle aged businessman, drinking wine, and going to a nice hotel room. Like, I wasn’t even offering services. I explicitly said that. So basically wrote that in an ad…and it was pulled :-(

    No – craigslist, based in america, just pulled all erotic advertisements across the board. Read about this on…maybe punternet…right after CL pulled the section in the US.

  7. M

    “Though there are abolitionists in every country, so far none of them have managed a global coup like the US-based antis have. (They call themselves “anti-traffickers” here, but they’re really just anti-everything. The most radical of them are anti-sex.) When you read their papers, books and interviews, it’s clear they do not wish prostitutes to exist. Forget “saving,” forget the distinction between prostitution and prostitute. They do not want prostitutes to exist.

    The antis threaten me. They screwed with my money. My existence is a personal affront to them. That I do exist means they continue to receive government funding to persuade others to try and rid the world of me. I’m simultaneously a victim to be saved and a parasite to be stomped out of existence. They have the right to choose what life they want to lead, I have the right to choose the life they want me to lead. They took away my autonomy in every city where around the world. They made it harder and possibly more dangerous for me to make a living.

    They took away my ability to work even if my work was legal.”

    Absolutely.

    Amanda, you should read this. It describes it pretty perfectly…

    Ronald Weitzer – The Mythology of Prostitution: Advocacy Research and Public Policy

    http://web.ccas.gwu.edu/dev/filehost/7/Mythology_of_prostit.pdf

  8. Amanda Brooks Post author

    M — Craigslist had easy access (up to a point in the US) and was extremely democratic because anyone could post damn near anything they wanted. The posters/readers sorted themselves out on their own.

    As for the CL murders — online escorts advertising elsewhere (including Eros) have been murdered. People posting for other things on CL have been robbed, raped, killed too. Someone who wishes to harm another person will simply find a way to do it. I always blame the killer for a death, not the website on which he found his victim.

    I’m familiar with Ron’s work (I like several of his papers). Not sure if I’ve read this one, but I will. Thanks for the link!

    Very glad you enjoyed this post!

    XX

  9. Parker

    Yeah, they were smug. But every anti-trafficking presenter seemed sorta smug actually. I mean, it was their special show and it is human nature. The only harm reduction panels that I saw was one that included International Women’s Health Coalition and Engender Health and Sex Policy Watch (www.sxpolitics.org). They were fantastic. American Jewish World Service seemed pretty cool too, even if the presentation was anti-trafficking (perhaps the presenter was more modest).

    I met Jane Roberts of 34 Million Friends of the UNDP and she is really cool!

    Anyway, it was more the focus on moralizing that was freaky, rather than compassion and analysis and the group-think mentality behind it.

    Thanks for writing about this!

  10. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Parker — Interesting look at this!

    Moralizing has no place in these things, I think. Always makes me wonder how these type of people manage to get so far on morality-based arguments that most people no longer truly believe.

    XX

  11. J

    Great blog. I’m glad you wrote about this. I too started on CL, and I feel it really has a place in our industry. It was sad to see it go. xoxo

  12. Tara

    I had the same issue with CL towards the end. I was paying people in other cities to start unique accounts and post my ads with new pictures and their own credit cards and they were still getting pulled down.

  13. Tara

    Amanda, no, as far as I can tell I wasn’t *doing* anything to cause it.

    Tamara, gosh, I hope your advertising photos are ALL YOUR OWN photos too.

  14. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Tara — Very weird. There must be more of these random-block stories out there though. If it seems definite, there must be a reason of some kind since these ads are people-filtered.

    XX

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  16. amidivine

    I’m really glad you wrote this and I finally somehow tripped over it; because actually, it confirms a very odd experience I had wondered if I was alone in having. I too worked off of craigslist, and was for many years scrupulous about never violating the terms of service.

    However, a good year or more before CL actually closed the ES section, and while many far more graphic ads were left alone day after day, I suddenly became unable to post. First one account, then another, finally any email account, any computer. I actually felt they had, for some unknowable reason, singled me out – and that there was some human filtering going on, because it would have been beyond the capacity of simple database filtering to look for my writing ‘style’; and it almost seemed as though they had to be specifically pulling my ads though I admit, I never did a scientific breakdown of whether I had made sure not to repeat not a single credit-card, name, phone number, photo, and IP address more than once.

    I truly never understood why they would do this and leave those other ads unmolested. It was devastating to my income and I too struggled greatly to find another venue that would function with half the ease and grace of CL – which I have to say, all the excoriation heaped upon them aside, they had an amazing simplicity and immediacy, a transparency almost, without the thick and murky miasma of other sites, with their editing, their delayed posting, their numerous requirements, and of course, usually their expense…

    And while I can’t say I’m actually enlightened as to exactly what was happening, it’s reassuring to know I was not alone in this experience.
    CL was for many women a surprisingly good resource and easy entry point into the world of pay for play, or prostitution, as you prefer – I’ve been working together with another woman, LovelyCharlie, who only began in the business, she’s told me many times, because CL made it so simple – which is NOT intended to be used as an argument against CL AT ALL – she like me was in her late 30’s and more than capable of choosing her life – but what is more to the point, she’s also told me a number of times how BETRAYED she felt by CL when they closed down the ES section. And I have to admit, it aroused again those same feelings in me, which I had pushed pretty much into the past. And that’s the other reason I’m so glad I came across this post – because it says that we were not the only one’s who found CL to be a uniquely blessed space to pursue our work and who actually mourned both it’s passing and the passing of that very small window, before the moralists and the haters and the people who need to feel good about themselves by judging others, simply overwhelmed it.

    For far too short a time, it was quite a lovely view.

    And I have a sick sinking feeling that at least here, we won’t see it’s like again. Given that sex-workers are the canaries in the coal mine of freedom, for me it’s not just sad…it’s scary.

    -amidivine

  17. Amanda Brooks Post author

    Amidivine — Thank you so much for your comments and your story.

    Sex workers are now paying more attention to Backpage, thankfully, so hopefully that won’t go the way of CL. I was very mad about CL because Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster simply FOLDED in the face of controversy (obviously, they aren’t sex workers!) and threw us all under the bus. The people at Village Voice at least seem willing to fight, which is also nice.

    “sex-workers are the canaries in the coal mine of freedom”

    So very very well-put. Indeed.

    XX

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