Craigslist has deleted its personals section after a bill passed by Congress would hold them liable for advertisements for sex work on their platform.
The online classified ad site announced the move this week, posting a note on the site that the personals section would be gone indefinitely. The note came after Congress passed a bill that would subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties post illegal advertisements, primarily advertisements for sex workers.
“Any tool or service can be misused,” Craigslist wrote. “We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.
“To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!”
The Craigslist personals section was popular for people seeking romantic partners or platonic relationships, but was also used by sex workers as a free way to advertise their services. Even before Craigslist deleted its personals section, there were warnings that driving sex workers back underground could have unintended consequences.
The Huffington Post noted that studies showed the advent of Craigslist for personal ads corresponded with a drop in the female homicide rate. Researchers from Baylor University found that Craigslist allowed sex workers to spend less time on the streets, allowing them to stay out of more dangerous situations.
Scott Cunningham, a researcher who worked on the report, said the congressional bill taking aim at platforms like Craigslist and Backpage.com mistakenly lumped all prostitution together with the more dangerous and exploitative human trafficking. But Cunningham said researchers found that many women were choosing these jobs of their own free will, and they will be in greater danger with options like Craigslist personals now gone.
“Lots of people work in jobs that they don’t necessarily like because they don’t have better options,” he told The Huffington Post. “In this bill, activists have been successful in painting prostitution as a one-dimensional evil that completely disregards the voices of many women who do this voluntarily.”
For sex workers, posting online ads is a literal lifesaver: one study found Craigslist's "erotic services" section lowered female homicide rates by 17%. Yet this soon-to-pass bill could make these ads illegal https://t.co/eMJLEiweyG— Angelina Chapin (@angelinachapin) March 21, 2018
The elimination of the Craigslist personals section came as a surprise to many, and a number of people took to social media to express their shock and frustration. Others speculated whether the site could survive the elimination of the popular feature, especially amid growing competition for marketplace sites and apps.