Why Craigslist Shuts Down Their Personals Section

In the spring of 2018, longtime users of Craigslist's personals section were shocked to find that the website had shut the personals section down completely, and possibly for good. But why did Craigslist shut down this popular section of their website, a section which had been a mainstay of Craigslist since the website's founding? To put it simply: The passing of the "Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act." Let's take a closer look at why Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA for short, resulted in the shutting down of one of Craigslists's most popular sections.

The Wording of the Act

In March of 2018, Congress approved a new act called the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. This law, on its surface, seems only related to child trafficking--so why shut down the Craigslist personals section, which is only used by adults? The reason lies in the wording of the Act, which is designed to hold website's liability for both criminal and civil litigation if "third parties (meaning users) misuse online personals unlawfully."

This broad wording means that Craigslist could be held legally responsible if users are found misusing the website for acts that are illegal, such as prostitution or otherwise for soliciting sex in exchange for money. This means that if one person was caught in the act of soliciting sex for money through Craigslist, the website would be legally responsible--resulting in financial lost and possibly even a criminal case.

The Evolution of Craigslist "Adult Services"

The personals section in Craigslist was specifically targeted for removal due to the evolution of "adult services" being offered on Craigslist. By the time of the personal section's removal in spring of 2018, it had become common for people to offer a variety of adult services (including prostitution) using coded and subtle language. The reason why the personals section was used in this way was because adult services used to be openly offered on Craigslist. Craigslist used to openly host a section called "erotic services" until 2009, when the section was changed to "adult services" in order to comply with laws regarding online solicitation. However, the adult services section was removed completely in 2010; despite this, people continued to offer and solicit adult services using the platform. They simply migrated from erotic services to the renamed adult services to, finally, the personals section.

Statement from Craigslist

When announcing the removal of their popular personals section, Craigslist issued a statement to users explaining the official reason for the removal: US Congress just passed HR 1865, 'FOSTA,' seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully. Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day. To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!"

Perhaps one day Craigslist may reinstate the personals section, but for now, it is gone for the foreseeable future.