BOSTON (Reuters) - Online classified site Craigslist will replace its “erotic services” ads with a new adult category following pressure by state authorities after the murder of a masseuse who advertised on the site.
The “erotic services” section will end within seven days and be replaced by an “adult services” category where advertisements will be individually screened by Craigslist staff, Craigslist said in a statement on Wednesday.
The measures could set a precedent for similar sites, said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who led a 40-state task-force on Craigslist and campaigned publicly for tighter controls on the San Francisco-based service.
“Closing the erotic services section, a blatant Internet brothel, should lead to other blocking and screening measures, and set a model for other sites, if Craigslist keeps its word,” he said.
Craigslist’s sex-service listings have faced intense scrutiny since the April 14 murder of 25-year-old masseuse Julissa Brisman, who advertised on Craigslist in Boston.
Philip Markoff, a 23-year-old Boston University medical student, was charged with killing Brisman and with attacks on two other women he met through Craigslist ads.
Craigslist, a 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, is partially owned by online auctioneer eBay, which bought 25 percent in 2004.
Along with free listings for everything from apartments and furniture to jobs and cars, Craigslist.com carries one of the largest and most controversial sex-service listings. Its rapid growth and low-cost business model have hurt newspapers by siphoning away advertising revenue.
Craigslist had already made some changes to curb illegal activity on its site. Under pressure from 40 U.S. attorneys general, the site agreed in November to charge people posting erotic ads $5-$10 by credit card and require them to submit a working phone number to use the site.
From Wednesday, postings to the “erotic services” section will no longer be accepted, Craigslist said. Postings to the new section, which opened immediately, cost $10. Once they are approved, they will be eligible for reposting at $5.
Not every state was satisfied. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has pressed Craigslist to go further by tracking computer IP addresses of suspected prostitution rings and take other safeguards.
“Several weeks ago, we informed Craigslist of an impending criminal case that implicated its website. Rather than work with this office to prevent further abuses, in the middle of the night, Craigslist took unilateral action which we suspect will prove to be half-baked,” Cuomo said in a statement.
His office declined to elaborate on the criminal case.
In April, Blumenthal asked Craigslist officials to eliminate photographs in the “erotic services” and similar sections of the site, hire staff to screen ads that violate Craigslist rules and offer incentives for people who flag and report prostitution advertisements.
“We will be monitoring closely to make sure that this measure is more than a name change from erotic to adult and that the manual blocking is tough and effective to scrub prostitution and pornography,” Blumenthal said.
Tabloids dubbed Markoff “the Craigslist killer.”
The murder followed the killing of George Weber, a New York reporter knifed to death after responding to a personal ad he placed on Craigslist in March, and the early-April sentencing of Michael Anderson, a Minnesota man convicted of killing a woman who responded to a babysitting ad.
Editing by Helen Popper