Publisher Vows to Fight First Amendment Battles
As federal appeals court Judge Richard Posner has described, the goal is either to “suffocate” Backpage out of existence or use the awesome powers of the government to force Backpage to follow in the footsteps of Craigslist and abandon its Adult advertising section. Judge Posner described such tactics as “a formula for permitting unauthorized, unregulated, foolproof, lawless government coercion.”
Leading the charge for this action was Democrat and feminist Kamala Harris, the politically ambitious Senator for California, and former CA Attorney General.
“It’s a sad day for America’s children victimized by prostitution,” said Dr. Lois Lee, Founder and President, Children of the Night, a leading national hotline and shelter program for victims of sex trafficking based in Los Angeles. “Backpage.com was a critical investigative tool depended on by America’s vice detectives and agents in the field to locate and recover missing children and to arrest and successfully prosecute the pimps who prostitute children.” She added, “The ability to search for and track potentially exploited children on a website and have the website bend over backwards to help and cooperate with police the way Backpage did was totally unique. It not only made law enforcement’s job easier, it made them much more effective at rescuing kids and convicting pimps.”
Backpage.com was created thirteen years ago by Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, through their newspaper company, New Times Media, to compete with Craigslist, the nation’s largest online classified ad platform. Larkin and Lacey were pioneers in independent journalism, establishing Village Voice Media in 1970 to provide alternative news coverage of the Vietnam war and later served as editor and publisher of twenty weekly newspapers.
As The Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have observed, the Senate subcommittee has engaged in an “invasive, burdensome inquiry into Backpage.com’s editorial practices [that] creates an intense chilling effect, not only for Backpage but for any website operator seeking to define their own editorial viewpoint and moderation procedures for the third-party content they host.”
This will not end the fight for online freedom of speech. Backpage.com will continue to pursue its efforts in court to vindicate its First Amendment rights and those of other online platforms for third party expression.
Mike Masnick, Founder and CEO of Floor64 and Editor of the Techdirt blog
Eric Goldman, Technology and Marketing Blog
Hilary Hanson, Huffington Post
Kimberly Mehlman Orozco, Criminologist and Human Trafficking Expert Witness. Also here and here.
Mark Joseph Stern, Slate
Nick Sibilla, Institute for Justice