Last week Craigslist made what it considers to be herculean efforts in stemming the prevalence of pornographic ads for prostitutes and call girls (and boys) on its unfathomably popular website. The company heralded the moves as a success, but that wasn’t good enough for the state of South Carolina, where attorney general Henry McMaster said that the presence of any objectionable content at all — no matter how tame — was illegal, and that South Carolina would soon be prosecuting the company under state obscenity or prostitution laws.
Craigslist fired back, publicly demanding an apology from McMaster, calling him a hypocrite who was singling out Craigslist over some very tame content (a total of 40 non-explicit ads in the entire state under all its adult and erotic services categories) instead of going after much bigger, much racier fish, pointing mainly to escort service yellow pages listings in South Carolina that are hosted by AOL, Yellowpages.com, and area newspapers. While many of these are just listings of business names and phone numbers, some of these pages include explicit come-ons and photographs, just the kind of stuff that the AG is railing against and which has been removed from Craigslist.
Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster’s scathing open letter accuses McMaster of looking to make waves as he approaches a run for Governer — and that he wouldn’t dream of prosecuting a local newspaper for fear of losing their endorsement. Better to go after the California company that’s causing trouble on his home turf from 3000 miles away, no?
McMaster didn’t respond as the media began to question his motives, and now Craigslist is raising the stakes again, suing McMaster in federal court and asking for a restraining order against his threats.
What we have now is a big game of chicken, with one side accusing a high-profile executive of being a pimp and the other side accusing a high-ranking bureaucrat of being a corrupt bully. Who will blink? My money is on Craigslist prevailing in this one. If I had to predict, I’d wager that McMaster will quietly let the matter drop (maybe by distracting people with another lawsuit targeted at some lower-hanging fruit, maybe a local-area polluter), extending an olive branch to Craigslist in the hopes of getting that embarrassing federal suit dropped as well.