Backpage.com, one of the world's largest classified ad websites and a frequent target in the political battle
against sex work, closed its adult ads section Monday in the United States after becoming the victim of a government witch hunt.
The move came shortly after the release of a U.S. Senate report that accused Backpage of hiding criminal activity by deleting terms from ads that indicated prostitution.
The abrupt closure came on the eve of the scheduled testimony of Backpage's founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, and the site's CEO, Carl Ferrer, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' subcommittee on
To keep problematic ads online, the company edited them. One moderator said he removed material that was obviously indicative of prostitution but the post remained published. According to the Senate report, the moderator testified under oath: [M]y
responsibility was to make the ads OK to run live on the site, because having to get rid of the ad altogether was bad for business.
By late Monday, visitors to Backpage saw censored tags in red font under the adult section's menu of escorts, body rubs and strippers. Other sections remained operative, including for cars, real estate and childcare. Backpage said:
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.