It’s been many years since Geebo removed its personal ads section and I’m happy to say that, over the years, many other sites have followed. But not all of them. One, in particular, has continued to successfully fight legal efforts to shut down the site’s personals section, considered a facilitator of illegal prostitution and sex-trafficking industries.
That site is Backpage.com and, under most circumstances, I’d use some pretty choice words to express my feelings about the site and its legal team, which invokes the First Amendment to protect its sex-ad revenue pipeline, even at the expense of human lives.
But this week, as Backpage finds itself back in court over another effort to derail the questionable ads, I find myself having to support Backpage in its legal battle – not because I support what they do but because America is a land of laws and I believe that even the government – especially the government – should abide by them.
In this case, the government comes in the form of Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County, Illinois. In his effort to cut off the lifeline of Backpage’s advertising business, he sent letters to both MasterCard and Visa, calling on them to cease business with the site over concerns about the adult services section of the site – and a short time later, they did just that.
To me, those letters sure do feel like government overreach, a threat by the head of the law-enforcement agency of the second-largest county in the nation. Naturally, Backpage wants a court injunction forcing Dart to rescind the letters, which is what a federal judge will be considering during a hearing later this week, according to USA Today.
Meanwhile, the site has filed suit against the sheriff, accusing him of violating free speech rights of individuals who use the service to post ads, according to the Wall Street Journal.
As much as I would love to see Visa and MasterCard pull the plug on Backpage once and for all, just as American Express has already done, the credit card companies would need to decide that out of moral conscience or what’s best for business or even and organized public pressure campaign. But this sheriff should not be allowed to bully the largest credit card companies a key player in the financial engine that keeps the dollars flowing in and out of a business, so long as that business is operating within the law.
It pains me to note Backpage’s success in fighting off legal efforts to take it down, but, by all rights, this latest effort should be a clean win for them again. The courts should grant the injunction and force Sheriff Dart to rescind his letters.
If that happens, I can only hope that MasterCard and Visa executives decide that doing business with Backpage isn’t worth the headaches that come with their relationship and they’ll just keep those ties severed for good.
Then, I’ll truly feel like I’m back on the side of good again.