Backpage shuts down its adult ads after report claims it enabled human trafficking

Backpage blamed government censorship.
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Backpage.com has shut down the adult services ad section on its website.

The classifieds website, which has been accused of making child sex trafficking and prostitution easier, took down the adult section Monday night. That came hours after a U.S. Senate subcommittee released a report that found the website knowingly facilitated online sex trafficking and concealed criminal activity by removing words from ads that would have exposed trafficking and prostitution.

Backpage's co-founders attended a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on the subject Tuesday, but refused to testify.

Reactions

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has made addressing human trafficking one of her priorities, commented on Backpage's decision via Twitter.

Removing these ads has been something lawmakers and advocates have demanded for years, but Backpage says it finally did so because the "government unconstitutionally censored this content."

"For years, the legal system protecting freedom of speech prevailed, but new government tactics, including pressuring credit card companies to cease doing business with Backpage, have left the company with no other choice but to remove the content in the United States," Backpage said in a statement.

U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), who led the Senate investigation into Backpage, said in a joint statement that "Backpage's response wasn't to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site. That's not 'censorship' – it's validation of our findings," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Backpage has been the subject of multiple lawsuits and investigations over the years due to the adult ads on the website. To read more about the fight to shutdown Backpage's adult ads section, check out this Newsweek story from November.

More on the Senate report

The Senate subcommittee's report comes after an 18-month investigation into Backpage's practices, which found the website has annual revenues totaling more than $150 million and is linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including trafficking children.

Portman said in a statement, citing the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there was an 846 percent increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking from 2010 to 2015, and the spike is "directly correlated to the increased use of the internet to sell children for sex."

Portman added that Backpage is linked to 73 percent of the suspected child sex trafficking reports that are relayed to the center's tipline.

The subcommittee's report alleges the following:

  • Backpage intentionally deleted words like "teenage," "lolita," "young," "school girl," and "amber alert" before publishing sex ads, and then hid the fact that the ads were changed.
  • Backpage coached users on how to post "clean ads" for illegal activity.
  • Backpage employees were aware that the site helped exploit children and facilitate prostitution, and they may have underreported instances of child exploitation.

For more on the subcommittee's hearing Tuesday, click here.

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