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Editorial: Scrutinzing Craigslist

Each week seems to bring a new criminal outrage linked in some way to the Internet site Craigslist.
In April, it was the Boston medical student dubbed “the Craiglist killer” who police say murdered a masseuse that advertised on the popular online classified site. Last month, seven people were charged in New York with using Craigslist to solicit prostitution customers. Last week, it was the Kannapolis case involving a man now charged with using Craigslist to solicit an assailant who raped the man’s wife as he watched. This week, the spotlight shifted to Oregon and the gruesome case of a pregnant woman who was brutally murdered. The suspect is a woman who befriended the victim through Craiglist and, police say, killed her and cut open her abdomen to take her baby, who did not survive.
In the wake of these and previous incidents, Craigslist has come under some well-deserved criticism for being too slow to hit the delete button on questionable ads that cross the bounds of propriety, if not containing outright solicitations for prostitution and other illegal activity. Attorneys general from dozens of states, including North Carolina, have warned the Web site that it needs to be a better cybercitizen ó or risk potential legal action ó and the online site has responded with some improvements. It agreed to drop its “erotic services” section and be more stringent in monitoring questionable postings. It also is cooperating with authorities investigating the Kannapolis rape and other recent cases.
State and federal agencies should keep up the pressure on Craiglist and other online sites. While most of us are well aware of the potential for children to be lured into dangerous situations by online solicitations, these recent and other cases show that adults also can become victims of violence through Internet connections, and the mechanism may as easily be through a casual acquaintanceship as a sleazy advertisement. These days, the unwary not only stand to lose their personal data through careless keystrokes, but even their lives.
Still, while calling for better monitoring, it’s also important not to strangle the medium in a futile attempt to protect ourselves from hazardous communications. The Internet has opened up new avenues of exploitation for criminal minds, but such elements have always found ways to prey on the innocent and conduct their sordid transactions. Some may recall that, decades before online communities such as Craigslist emerged, it was “Soldier of Fortune” magazine that scandalized civilized society with its “gun for hire” ads, culminating in some high-profile hit jobs and resulting wrongful death lawsuits that eventually forced the publisher to cease running such ads.
The best solution is for Craigslist and similar sites to take more responsibility for policing their content and be more proactive in guarding against abuse. Failing that, taking a lesson from the tobacco companies, they should at least be forced to deliver their services with a prominent warning: Use of this product may be hazardous to your health.

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