Backpage is a classified advertising website that was launched in 2004. In 2011, it was ranked the second largest classified ad listing service on the internet after Craigslist. It offers listings for cars, jobs, real estate and other services. Some of those services include the sex kind. The categories for these “adult” ads include male escorts, body rubs, strippers and strip clubs, dom and fetish, ts and adult jobs.
In 2013, Backpage reportedly “netted more than 80% of all revenue from online commercial sex advertising in the United States.”
After a government report was published on Monday, Backpage removed the adult categories, adding to those pages instead, “The government has unconstitutionally censored this content.”
The bipartisan Senate Investigations Subcommittee report, which was published late Monday, said Backpage has “knowingly concealed evidence of criminality by systematically editing its adult ads” for up to a decade.
It said executives instructed moderators to edit the text of ads “to conceal the true nature of the underlying transaction” by filtering out terms including “lolita,” “teenage,” “rape,” “young,” “amber alert,” “little girl,” “teen,” “fresh,” “innocent,” and “school girl.”
It also accused Backpage of often refusing to act swiftly in response to complaints about particular underage users, “preferring in some cases to interpret these complaints as the tactics of a competing escort.”
“Backpage knows that it facilitates prostitution and child sex trafficking,” the report said.
The company pledges to continue its legal battles, which have become an important test for the entire internet industry of whether online platforms can be held liable for the content posted on their sites. “This will not end the fight for online freedom of speech. Backpage.com will continue to pursue its efforts in court to vindicate its First Amendment rights and those of other online platforms for third party expression,” the company said in a statement it released.
Some LGBTQ activists are worried about the ripple effects this will have on the transgender community.
“So many do not understand why particularly trans women resort to sex work,” Deja Lynn Alvarez, a trans advocate and activist from Philadelphia told us. “It is not a hobby a lifestyle or a choice. It is a means of survival that comes out of sheer necessity. When your very existence is deemed illegal and immoral by society and the government — it doesn’t leave you many options.”
“Right now, there are hundreds or thousands of trans women across the country in hotel rooms in states and cities that they do not live in relying on Backpage to simply feed themselves and pay for that room for one more night and to hopefully get back home safely.”
Sharron Cooks, another trans activist from Philadelphia, posted her outrage on Facebook. “Now some Trans women involved in the sex work industry will have to walk the streets and risk police harassment and criminalization and encounter higher incidences of street harassment and violence.”
Alvarez hasn’t found much empathy from her own LGBT community. “The response has been so negative,” she told us. “A lot of jokes about trans women’s body parts and people saying, ‘It is about time. Now they (transgender women) can actually get jobs.'”
Alvarez added, “I am saddened to see the community’s response. It is showing once again that transphobia is alive and well even within our own LGBT community.”