Backpage executives refuse to answer Senate panel probing sex trafficking

January 10, 2017The No. 1 UConn women's basketball team matched its own record 90-game winning streak with a 102–37 victory over No. 20 South Florida on Tuesday night.Time_Sports

The operators of the online classified site on Tuesday declined to answer questions from a Senate panel investigating the company’s adult services ads, which lawmakers and law enforcement say have helped facilitate pimping and child sex trafficking in the U.S.

Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, his business associates James Larkin and Michael Lacey as well as other company officials appeared before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations but invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves.

"After consultation with counsel, I decline to answer your question based on the rights provided by the First and Fifth Amendments," Ferrer responded to a series of questions from subcommittee chairman Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

The hearing, in which Backpage officials were compelled to appear, came as Backpage announced late Monday that it had shuttered the adult services section of the website to U.S. users. The move by Backpage came hours after the subcommittee published a scathing report charging that systematically edits its escort ads, filtering out words that would suggest the site was promoting the sex trafficking of children. The company said in a statement it made the decision to shutter its adult services section in response to "an accumulation of acts of government censorship using extra-legal tactics."

Critics of Backpage say the site helps facilitate pimping and trafficking of children. But the company has effectively argued in federal courts that while some users of its site may engage in criminal activity, it is just the host of content posted on the site and is immune from prosecution under the Communications Decency Act.

But the subcommittee charges in its report that Backpage “knowingly concealed evidence of criminality” by systematically editing escort ads posted on the site, filtering out words that would suggest the site was promoting the sex trafficking of children.

Backpage executives began using a feature called “Strip Term From Ad Filter” to help screeners automatically delete hundreds of words indicative of sex trafficking — such as lolita, teenage, amber alert, teen and school girl, according to the Senate report. By Backpage’s own internal estimate, by late-2010, the company was editing 70 to 80% of ads in the adult section either manually or automatically.

"Think about the real-world effect of that practice," Portman said of the filtering. "A trafficker submits an ad on containing a word like ‘lolita’ or ‘teen’ — a pretty good clue that a crime may be afoot. But then Backpage’s Strip Term From Ad filter would delete the problematic term and the remainder of the ad would be published. Of course, this editing changed nothing about the real age of a person being sold for sex or the real nature of the advertised transaction." 

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said that by editing the ads Backpage officials were effectively coaching pimps on how to traffic children, without raising red flags.

“That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of evil — simply evil,” she said.

The report also charges that Backpage officials know the site facilitates prostitution and child sex trafficking. The subcommittee estimates that Backpage makes about $150 million annually from its adult services ads, roughly 90% of the company's revenue.

The website, which is similar to Craigslist, has been under pressure from lawmakers and law enforcement for years to end adult-services advertisements. Craigslist ceased posting adult and erotic service ads in 2010.

The hearing comes a day after the Supreme Court said it won’t hear an appeal from three sex trafficking victims who accuse Backpage of helping to promote the exploitation of children. A lower court ruling threw out the case, citing the Communications Decency Act as shielding Backpage from liability.

In October, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced pimping charges against Ferrer and charges of conspiracy to commit pimping against shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin (Lacey and Larkin said in a statement they sold their interest in Backpage two years ago, but the subcommittee asserts they still maintain a substantial financial interest and influence over the company).

A Sacramento County judge tossed out the charges, noting the Communications Decency Act. But Harris, who has since been elected to the Senate, refiled new charges in December of pimping and money laundering against the three men.

In July 2015, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart successfully lobbied MasterCard and Visa to cease processing transactions for its adult services ads. American Express stopped doing business with Backpage earlier in 2015.

Employees of Backpage told subcommittee investigators that employees were aware that the website was facilitating prostitution, and some employees even visited prostitutes who were advertised on the website.

In one case, an employee that was part of the team that screened ads wrote an internal message concluding that a user of the site was a prostitute, and the employee was reprimanded by Chief Operating Officer Andrew Padilla, according to the report.

“Leaving notes on our site that imply that we’re aware of prostitution, or in any position to define it, is enough to lose your job over,” Padilla wrote in an e-mail.

Some First Amendment advocates say the Senate's tactics are worrisome.

"The tactics used against sites like Backpage threaten speech far beyond what's posted on online classified ad sites," said Emma Llansó, of the Washington-based Center of Democracy & Technology. "When government officials move beyond the bully pulpit and conduct persistent pressure campaigns to achieve a result repeatedly denied to them in court, we're in the territory of unaccountable government censorship that is anathema to First Amendment values."

Views: 126


You need to be a member of United Truth Seekers to add comments!

Join United Truth Seekers


Help Pay The Rent. "United Truth Seekers" Is an informative Social Network exposing the truth that the mainstream media ignores. The truth will set you free!

This website is brought to you exclusively by member donations. Click Above, Thank you.


Eastern Standard Time

We’re “mining” cryptocurrency with our phones! I’m looking for people who want to join me and my friends and figured this would be a good way to get the word out. 🚀 I am sending you 1π! Pi is a new digital currency developed by Stanford PhDs, with over 10 million members worldwide. To claim your Pi, follow this link and use my username PAMUTS as your invitation code.

Download this and you will get cryptocurrency mining on your phone, and remember every 24 hours to open the app and touch the Pi button that way it automatically starts mining for you, you basically have to do nothing after that just let it Stay in the background mining cryptocurrency for you until one day it’s worth money for enough to cash it out!




"It was the poverty caused by the bad influence of the
 English Bankers on the Parliament which has caused in the colonies hatred of the English and...the Revolutionary War."
– Benjamin Franklin

"Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined."

Patrick Henry
June 26, 1788


© 2022   Created by Pam Vredenburg.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service

google-site-verification: google4dc7c778a884c7b9.html