Valued at more than $500 million by a recent Senate report, online classified advertising site Backpage.com quickly removed all adult sections on Monday night prior to a Tuesday hearing scheduled by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Members of the U.S. government are investigating allegations against Backpage that claim the site promoted sex trafficking of underage girls as well as prostitution.
Releasing a statement about the abrupt closure, a Backpage representative wrote “The decision of Backpage.com today to remove its Adult section in the United States will no doubt be heralded as a victory by those seeking to shutter the site, but it should be understood for what it is: an accumulation of acts of government censorship using extra-legal tactics.”
The statement continues “Like the decision by Craigslist to remove its adult category in 2010, this announcement is the culmination of years of effort by government at various levels to exert pressure on Backpage.com and to make it too costly to continue.”
Interestingly, some child-protection organizations and law enforcement agencies have been complimentary of Backpage’s cooperation during investigations into sex trafficking. Dr. Lois Lee, the founder of a shelter program for victims of sex trafficking, said “Backpage.com was a critical investigative tool depended on by America’s vice detectives and agents in the field to locate and recover missing children and to arrest and successfully prosecute the pimps who prostitute children.”
However, the Senate report into Backpage alleges that the owners of the site knowingly profited from illegal activity. Summarized in three points, the report states Backpage hid evidence of wrongdoing by “systematically editing adult ads,” claimed to have sold the site to a foreign company despite retaining ownership by the U.S. owners, and was aware that advertisers were using the site specifically for sex trafficking.
It’s likely that a permanent closure of the adult sections of Backpage will bring an end to the site’s profitability. United States Senator Kamala Harris believes that about 99 percent of the site’s revenue is generated from the adult section of the site. Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer as well as shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin are expected to appear at the Senate hearing on Tuesday in addition to company general counsel Elizabeth McDougall and chief operations officer Andrew Padilla. Three parents of alleged victims, stemming from listings on Backpage, are expected to speak at the hearing as well.