Advertising website, Bookpage.com closed its adult section fighting accusations from members of the Congress that the page facilitated child sex trafficking.
After that in the publication of the Senate report claimed Backpage.com had “knowingly concealed evidence of criminality” by editing ads featuring words associated with child abuse. Bookpage.com says its freedom of speech rights have been violated and also claims the ads had helped police track down missing children.
Although the closure was unexpected, now links on the site to its adult section now feature the word “censored”. Direct users to a page that claims the business has been a victim of “unconstitutional government censorship.”
Backpage’s chief executive, Craig Ferrer, was arrested last year and accused of pimping, but the case was rejected by a judge
Californian authorities had claimed that Backpage’s chief executive and two ex-owners hosted sex trade ads and pimping offences and generated millions of dollars. The case was dismissed by the judge last month. On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal filed by three women who had been sold as prostitutes via the site when they had been teenagers.
Other international versions of Backpage.com continue to offer their adult sections.
The Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations described Backpage as the “world’s second-largest classified advertising website”, adding that the service was involved in 73% of all child trafficking reports passed from the public over to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
The company did not block the ads, but had set up a programme that helped remove incriminating words and phrases like schoolgirl, Lolita, rape, young, fresh. The committee also presented evidence from unnamed whistleblowers, who were said to have worked for the company.
The report said: “According to her, moderators ‘went through the motions of putting lipstick on a pig, because when it came down to it, it was what the business was about’ – that is moderating ads for prostitution,”
Backpage has shared the letter it had sent to the committee defending its practices and also published a statement from Children of the Night – a Los Angeles-based organisation part-funded by Backpage and dedicated to “rescuing American children from prostitution”.
Dr Lois Lee, the organisation’s founder wrote: “The ability to search for and track potentially exploited children on a website and have the website bend over backwards to help and cooperate with police the way Backpage did was totally unique,”
Backpage’s lawyers said executives from the company would appear at a Senate subcommittee hearing later, but would not testify.