There’s an old expression about the squeaky wheel being the one that gets the oil. It’s an an analogy that’s widely used in different scenarios – the school officials who pay attention to the trouble-maker but give no recognition to kids who pay attention in class or the boss who deals with the complainer in the office but takes little notice of the employee who meets all of his deadlines.
In recent months, the attention on the online classifieds news business has focused pretty much on craigslist and backpage – and not in a good way. Mind you, I’m not complaining – and I’m guilty of also focusing on them - because it puts pressure on these sites to recognize the harm that they’re inflicting on society simply because they seem to turn a blind eye to human trafficking, child prostitution and other morally-objectionable crimes that flourish on their sites.
I’ve spoken out on this time and time again and I’ve made no secret of how I feel about these sites. But what I – and the news media – have failed to do in our awareness-raising reports is to shed some light on those in the online classifieds business who are providing safe online marketplaces where prostitution – disguised as “personals” ads – are simply not allowed. Much like Geebo, sites such as recycler, pennysaverusa and olx.com, which followed Geebo’s lead and also dropped personals ads, have operated in a responsible manner. Though these sites are competitors to Geebo, I also like to think of them as allies in the fight to clean up online marketplaces and provide safe forums for people to advertise everything from job listings and car ads to real estate listings and garage sale items.
It’s sad that the face of classifieds has taken such a dark turn. There was a day, back when newspapers dominated the industry, that these sorts of taboo activities that have become the mainstream were isolated to red-light publications and neighborhoods. Sure. it was a problem back then, too, but it was isolated. We could warn our children to stay out of those neighborhoods and away from those elements. Law enforcement officials were able to monitor the areas and enforce the laws when it was so warranted.
Today, those sites have put these criminal activities into the mainstream, in a place where our children can easily access bad people with bad intentions without any supervision. Despite what the operators of these sites claim, their efforts to monitor are laughable.
We should all take a lesson from the pioneer of classifieds ads – the newspapers. Mainstream family-oriented newspapers, which provided a forum for news and community on their pages, never would have allowed such ads on their pages. They were the gatekeepers that set the rules and standards for what was appropriate and what wasn’t. As an operator of an online classifieds site, I believe in following in their footsteps when it comes to serving as that gatekeeper for my own site.
I continue to be both amazed and saddened that a handful of sites can disregard that gatekeeper role and let criminals roam freely on their sites to seek out victims. At the same time, I am proud to be part of another group of sites that have chosen to take the higher road and provide safe marketplaces.
Today, I applaud them and encourage people to patronize them. Let them know that you appreciate what their efforts and responsible business practices.