Crime on The Most Popular Mobile Site in the US: Craigslist

Loved by browsers – despised by newspapers
What’s the top destination for mobile browsing in the US? Craigslist. US mobile users averaged a whopping one hour and 39 minutes per month on Craigslist alone.

Though Craigslist doesn’t have much of a business model (no ads, mostly free posting, few staff) it has absolutely transformed print media. Between 30 and 40 percent of daily newspaper revenue used to be from classified ads. Craigslist has helped take a bite out of print budgets across the country.

Crime on Craigslist
Once a new medium becomes this popular, disillusionment typically follows. Mass adoption often fuels unfortunate or unintended outcomes. Here are a few:

  1. The Craigslist Bank Robbery (Social Engineering Oscar Award)
    In Monroe, Washington, a bank robber, wearing a yellow vest, safety goggles, a blue shirt, and a respirator, pepper-sprays a guard delivering cash to the bank, and runs around the corner. Here’s the twist: the robber had posted a Craigslist ad for road maintenance workers, promising $28.50 per hour to those who would gather near the bank — wearing yellow vests, safety goggles, respirator masks, and blue shirts. (This sounds ripped from an episode of My Name is Earl.) At least a dozen workers showed up after responding to the Craigslist ad. This gave the thief the opportunity to slip away to a nearby river and escape via a giant yellow innertube.  TV coverage of the theft | Seattle Times coverage of the apprehension.
  2. Crowd-Sourcing Larceny
    Also near Seattle, an nasty niece impersonated her aunt when she posted “House being demolished. Come and take whatever you want, nothing is off limits.” Respondents removed nearly all possessions in the home, including its front door. Then, again near Seattle, it happened again. “All my belongings and my horse need to be taken away,” read the post. On his way home, Robert Salisbury noticed truckloads of his belongings heading away from his house. “I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back,” Salisbury said. “They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did.” Fortunately, the person who took his horse left a note, and called the police to let them know about this unusual request. Mr. Salisbury regained his horse, but even his porch swing disappeared as part of the grinchy hoax.
  3. Prostitutes Infiltrate Craiglist’s Otherwise Innocent “Erotic Services” Category.
    Craigslist enjoys immunity under the Communications Decency Act’s section 230. It doesn’t edit content, so whoever submits a post is ultimately responsible for it. (When sites such as Roommate Connection provide encourage illegal behavior, such as housing discrimination, that immunity vanishes.) Since Craigslist provides a blank canvas for housing ads, it enjoys immunity under the DMCA’s safe harbor provision. However, Craigslist’s matrix also invites ads for prostitution, through posts aimed at those seeking “relationships,” which could mean a date, a casual fling, or an erotic service. That’s far more than the blank form for landlords, and it creates a responsibility that 40 state attorney generals have asked Craigslist to address.And so it is, but not in any way suggesting that prostitution is illegal, or by taking down the category. Craigslist will require that prostitutes have a working phone, and identify themselves with a credit card. It seems like a lot of technology is being used for a category of posting that could be simply eliminated. Except, perhaps, that sex ads increase Craigslist’s popularity more than its fast-loading text pages and local content. Since this neither stops supply or demand for such services, the likely effect is for the marketplace to move. Perhaps to Craigslist’s “therapeutic massage” category, or elsewhere.
  4. Might It Be Better to Have One Central Hub of Vice to Monitor?
    In recent days, Craiglist has been sued for facilitating the illegal sale of a gun; a Michigan woman advertised for a hitman to kill her lover’s wife; and a woman offered to sell a seven-day-old baby for $10,000. Users immediately told the police when these announcements were posted, and crimes were prevented.  Some local police departments have started patrolling social networks such as Craigslist and MySpace, and they make drug and prostitution busts based on these easy-to-monitor hubs of communication. Perhaps the job of policing Craigslist is best left to the police.

Through Craigslist, I’ve bought a rabbit hutch, hired programmers, sold climbing gear and given household items away to lovely people. Craigslist is just a medium; it really doesn’t encourage virtue or vice. But we have larger institutions in our communities which do.  And perhaps they need to be more engaged in social media.

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