Backpage.com is the second largest classified ad website after Craigslist. Like Craigslist used to, Backpage has a section for adult ads and content. Many “pimps” use the site to advertise women that they control through force, fraud, or coercion. It’s very common for the women to be girls under the age of 18. Such acts by the pimps are legally defined as “human trafficking,” which is the fancy name for “modern slavery.”
The Sex Trafficking on Backpage Debate is about what should be done about it. After receiving much negative press for its facilitation of human trafficking, Craigslist shut down its adult section. Backpage has yet to do so, and it’s not necessarily simple to decide whether they should.
Possible Effects of a Victory for Either Side
I think we’re looking at two major potential effects on Human Trafficking if the adult section of Backpage gets taken down:
- Instances of Human Trafficking go down
- Instances of Human Trafficking stay the same
Actual Instances of Trafficking Go Down
- An increase in the cost of supplying victims
- An increase in continuing other necessary activities to trafficking
Actual Instances of Trafficking Stay the Same
- An inelastic demand for commercial sex
- A reduction in available tools to fight slavery
- A migration of the advertisements to other online sources
- A hope of creating a larger, aggregate attack on slavery
- A symbolic action of wider spread fights against slavery
- An ongoing discussion on freedom of speech, especially as it relates to the internet
- What other things should coordinate with this move?
- Can we simultaneously attack the alternative advertising outlets for traffickers?
- How will traffickers respond if we manage to “push them into a corner?”
- Can we handle a critical mass of these criminals “backed into a corner?”
|Batman intentionally used this as a symbol.
Can we get results as spectacular as fiction?
- How much do we value symbolic action vs. real action?
- How well can we translate symbolic action into real action?
- Should we devote many resources to symbolic action?
- What precedents do we set by forcing a webpage to shut down through legislation?
- Will the net benefits of more restricted internet communication exceed the net benefits of maintaining a more free internet communication?
We Need Data
- How effectively have we used Backpage’s adult ads for good?
- Could we use Backpage’s adult ads more effectively to do good?
- What other ways do pimps advertise to “clients?”
- Ultimately, would actual instances of slavery be reduced as a result of eliminating Backpage’s adult ads?
- Do we know the key words and phrases that can give traffickers away?
- Do we know other patterns (in terms of pictures, locations, claims) that can give traffickers away?
- How many arrests have come through the use of Backpage’s adult ads?
- How many victims have been freed through use of Backpage’s adult ads?
- What analytic processes could we use to come up with a more robust system?
- Could stronger relationships with Backpage increase our efficacy?
- What if we posted the anti-trafficking hotline on the ads site?
- How high are the switching costs to go to another form of advertising?
- How effective are other methods for them than Backpage’s adult ads?
- How many pimps actually use Backpage?
- Will actual instances of slavery be reduced as a result of eliminating Backpage’s adult ads?
- Will we reduce the instances of slavery to a greater degree by shutting down Backpage’s adult ads, or by using Backpage more effectively?
Regardless of What Happens, We Know What to Do
- Foster better relations between Backpage, law enforcement, and anti-human trafficking organizations
- Run better analytics on Backpage’s adult ads
- Rally around the symbolism
- Don’t lose steam
- Keep fostering a sense of urgency
- Come up with parallel solutions and bring them to the forefront of the issue
- Address gaps in providing care for victims
|Polaris Project runs the national hotline. If you see
a suspected case of human trafficking, or have questions,
Put it in your phone.
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