Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Unbelievably True Story Of How Craigslist Murdered Over 100 People

from the the-real-killer-here-are-the-killers dept

It's time to panic about Craigslist again. If it's not a key player in the human trafficking scene, it's the unwitting accomplice in over 100 murders.
[A]ccording to the Advanced Interactive Media Group, an industry watchdog and analyst, Craigslist passed the 100-murder mark just three weeks ago, when a 22-year-old man from Gary, Ind., attempted to rob the middle-aged couple who’d arranged to buy his car.
Frankly, I'm surprised the number isn't higher. Not because Craigslist is the best thing that happened to pimps and murders since the invention of the internet, but because it encompasses nearly every major and minor city in the United States.

And, seriously: "Craigslist passed the 100-murder mark?" I realize "users of Craigslist passed the 100-murder mark" is a much clunkier sentence, but this sounds like it was written by a grandstanding sheriff, rather than a journalist.

Not only is it accessible by a vast majority of the US population, but its reach goes far beyond the buying and selling of goods. It also handles personal ads, searches for roommates and dozens of other ways for two strangers to meet face-to-face.

Sure, the voice behind this latest "let's worry about Craigslist" isn't a misguided government official or law enforcement officer with an anti-sex worker ax to grind. It's AIM's Peter Zollman, who's put together a completely not-for-profit SafeTrade "initiative," which helps set up safe areas for meetups and transactions, usually with the assistance of local law enforcement.

But to suggest this is a Craigslist problem -- rather than a human being problem -- is off-base. Nevertheless, Zollman makes this assertion:
Zollman and other critics say Craigslist has done “next to nothing” to encourage safe use or deter criminals. Among other things, the site doesn’t provide safety information unless a user explicitly seeks it out, and the company has not endorsed any third-party efforts — like Zollman’s own campaign to create “SafeTrade” spots at local police stations.
Zollman wants the site to make safety warnings more prominent and to get behind some sort of "safe trading" program, whether his or someone else's. But his company's tracking of "Craigslist murders" tries to imply it is somehow worse than the old system of classified ads in newspapers -- which arguably led to an exponentially higher number of murders than Craigslist has, even given the limited, very local reach of most papers.

Zollman's take on Craigslist is decidedly more measured than it was a few years ago, when he referred to it as a "cesspool of crime." Unfortunately, his willingness to play into fearful narratives that sell better than more measured takes on the issue undercuts the sincerity of his "SafeTrade" offer. And it does nothing to dissuade law enforcement and other government officials from attacking Craigslist for the acts of a very, very, very slim minority of its users.

Even when Zollman takes into account the positives of Craigslist, he still undercuts his own arguments by saying things like the company's "ethos of anonymity" makes it prime territory for criminal behavior -- something that throws shade at Craigslist and anonymity, as if both of these elements were inherently suspect, rather than just being treated as so much thrown baby/bathwater by the SafeTrade founder.

Common sense and personal responsibility are in short supply, which is why people are always happy to suggest it's the platforms they use that should be doing more, rather than doing anything of their own will and volition. Meeting a stranger always carries a risk. Doing so while carrying lots of cash even more so. (However, given the ubiquity of asset forfeiture programs, I'd be somewhat wary about taking large sums of cash to a police station…) I agree Craigslist should feature safety information more prominently, but then again, nothing in its warning is groundbreaking or otherwise unavailable to potential users.
And Zollman's murder tracker would be a lot more honest if it were simply a list of people who've used Craigslist to facilitate their criminal acts, rather than giving the impression that Craigslist is somehow, in some very minimal way, responsible for these incidents.

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