Officials, Craigslist meet to discuss illegal ads

NEW YORK Tue May 5, 2009 5:08pm EDT

Philip Markoff (R), a Boston University medical student, with his lawyer John Salsberg (L) at his side, is arraigned in Boston Municipal Court in Boston, Massachusetts in this recent photo from April 21, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Garfinkel/Pool

Philip Markoff (R), a Boston University medical student, with his lawyer John Salsberg (L) at his side, is arraigned in Boston Municipal Court in Boston, Massachusetts in this recent photo from April 21, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Garfinkel/Pool

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for Craigslist met with several state lawyers Tuesday to discuss blocking the social networking site's "erotic services" ads, which have been linked to recent high-profile murders.

The meeting, held in New York, included the attorneys general for Connecticut, Illinois and Missouri.

State officials have called for changes to the 14-year-old online bazaar that generates more than 20 billion page views per month in 50 countries with a staff of just 28 people.

The popular networking site, where users post ads for jobs, used furniture and dating, has come under fire following the murder last month of a 26-year-old masseuse who advertised services on Craigslist in Boston.

Philip Markoff, a 23-year-old Boston University medical student, has been charged with murdering the masseuse. Markoff, who has been dubbed the "Craigslist killer," was also charged with assaulting and robbing a woman in Rhode Island.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who attended the meeting, called on Craigslist to shut down its "erotic services" section, which she said includes prostitution ads, and to improve its ability to track illegal content.

"The erotic services section of Craigslist is nothing more than an Internet brothel," Madigan told Reuters. "Hopefully they will recognize the problem, and they claim to."

In a statement, Craigslist chief executive Jim Buckmaster said he was optimistic that the issues could be addressed "while preserving the beneficial aspects of Craigslist ... without compromising the quintessentially American values of free speech embodied in our Constitution."

The company, which is partially owned by online auctioneer eBay, has started requiring credit card and phone number verification for certain ads. As a result, the number of "erotic" ads has fallen, according to Craigslist officials and the attorneys general.

But in Chicago, Madigan said, about 400 to 500 ads for prostitution are still posted every day.

"It's got to change, and whether they find a way to do that voluntarily, great. If they don't, I believe you're going to see a whole series of lawsuits against them," she said.

In March, New York reporter George Weber was stabbed to death after meeting his accused killer through a Craigslist personal ad. Michael Anderson of Minnesota was convicted of killing a woman who responded to a babysitting ad placed on the website.

(Editing by Michelle Nichols)

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