Henry McMaster, the South Carolina attorney general who threatened Craigslist with criminal prosecution last week, must assume Web users and the people of his state don't take the time to read.
Just a few hours after Craigslist announced that it had filed a lawsuit against McMaster for making threats and alleging managers of the site were in some way responsible for prostitution ads that have appeared on the site, McMaster claimed victory.
He suggested that it was he and his threats that prompted Craigslist to implement changes to the site, such as setting up a system to review ads before they appear in the new "adult" section and the deleting of the "erotic" section.
"Overnight (Craigslist) removed the erotic services section from their Web site as we asked them to do," McMaster wrote on his site Wednesday. "And they are now taking responsibility for the content of their future advertisements. If they keep their word, this is a victory for law enforcement and for the people of South Carolina."
As anyone who has followed this story knows, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster announced a week ago that he planned to implement a monitoring system for adult ads and do away with the erotic section. This was well before Friday when McMaster posted a note on his site saying he was going ahead with criminal prosecution.
Craigslist had come under scrutiny after law enforcement agencies complained that the site's erotic category was a digital meat market where prostitutes and pimps could safely conduct business. On Wednesday, the state of New York announced it had made seven arrests in connection with an alleged prostitution ring that operated on Craigslist's erotic section.
Craigslist has worked with state attorneys general from across the country to try to find a way to curb sex solicitation on the site. In November, 40 state attorneys general, including McMaster, were part of an agreement with Craigslist that saw the service adopt a series of changes, such as requiring anyone posting to the erotic section to provide phone and credit card numbers. Craigslist met again with a small number of attorneys general earlier this month after a woman was murdered by a man who allegedly found her ad on Craigslist's erotic section.
The important thing here is that McMaster refrained from making more threats and his comments apparently signal he will not be filing criminal charges.
"We trust (Craigslist executives) will now adhere to the higher standards they have promised," McMaster wrote. "This office and the law enforcement agencies of South Carolina will continue to monitor the site to make certain that our laws are respected."
McMaster never had legal grounds in which to prosecute Craigslist managers, according to Matt Zimmerman of the the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He told CNET News the Communication Decency Act protects Web sites like Craigslist from being held criminally liable for the actions of users.
After reading McMaster's comments, some may conclude that one of two events transpired: McMaster didn't get the memo that Craigslist was well on its way to changing the site to satisfy the demands made by a group of attorneys general earlier this month.
Or, the AG simply used the controversy surrounding the online sex trade, a problem that apparently has no easy answers, to drum up a few easy press clippings.