A new set of documents reveals that Backpage has been soliciting advertisers to create ads for the website’s adult listings, which could lead the site to face criminal charges.
Previously, Backpage’s higher-ups have told Congress, police, state authorities, and sexual abuse victims that it simply carried third-party content and had no connection with sexual ads from pimps and human trafficking rings. Backpage said it would remove illegal ads and refer unlawful content to police officials. But a series of documents presented to the Washington Post shows that Backpage hired a company in the Philippines called Avion to purposefully bring advertisers onto the website.
According to a series of spreadsheets, emails, audio files, and manuals, Avion would search the internet for sex advertisements, get in touch with the ads’ hosts, and offer them a free ad spot on Backpage. In turn, workers would then create the ad and send it over to the original ads’ host for approval with one click.
In other words, the documents reveal Backpage commissioned sexual ads to be created on its website through a third party. Many fake ads were also created and posted on competitors’ websites, linking back to Backpage.
In the past, Backpage has cited the federal Communications Decency Act to protect itself, arguing that the site merely hosts content and plays no role in its creation. However, in light of the newly released documents, Backpage may be forced to remove any form of adult classified advertising in its entirety from the website.
Backpage has also previously had a direct hand in enabling illegal content, including the sex trafficking of minors. The Washington Post reports that Backpage has edited ads for underage girls by removing age-based language, leaving the ads in place on the site.
“This is about as far from passive as you can get. This is soliciting. This is, really, trickery,” Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told the Post. “So I hope this opens the floodgates of liability for Backpage. Nobody deserves it more.”
Backpage removed their adult content section in January. However, most adult ads simply moved from a dedicated adult section to the “dating” section on the site. Child sex trafficking has traditionally remained an enormous problem on Backpage as well, causing many to target the site as a major hub for child prostitution. Backpage’s CEO has also been arrested on pimping and trafficking charges due to the site’s solicitation of sexual material, which accounts for nearly all of the company’s income.