Internet Law

Backpage shuts down adult ads after report alleges content editing; SCOTUS denies cert in civil case


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Backpage.com announced on Monday that it is shutting down its adult advertising section amid developments in the U.S. Supreme Court and a Senate subcommittee investigation.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied cert in Jane Doe v. Backpage.com, a civil suit filed by sex-trafficking victims that contended the website helps facilitate sex trafficking of minors, report the Boston Globe and the National Law Journal (sub. req.).

The cert denial left in place a decision by the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals finding that the company was protected by the Communications Decency Act, which protects companies hosting third-party content.

Despite the company’s victory in the Jane Doe case, it faced problems on several other fronts. Backpage.com announced its decision to shut down the adult ads section hours after after a U.S. Senate subcommittee released a report about its operations, report Reuters and the Washington Post.

The report accused Backpage.com of editing ads to remove evidence of child sex trafficking. The report said the company automatically deleted words from ads such as “teenage,” “rape” and “young,” and manually edited some ads.

Some courts have found that editing content removes the protections of the Communications Decency Act, according to a summary of the law by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Company officials were scheduled to appear before the subcommittee on Tuesday. The company’s chief executive officer and two former owners are facing California charges of pimping and money laundering.

Backpage.com released a statement saying it was acting because of “unconstitutional government censorship.”

“For years, the legal system protecting freedom of speech prevailed,” Backpage.com said, “but new government tactics, including pressuring credit card companies to cease doing business with Backpage, have left the company with no other choice but to remove the content in the United States.”


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