Thursday, September 16, 2010

Craigslist & the Public Sphere

Today on the Washington Post website, a shining example of the complexities of communications in modern times is the subject of one of the leading articles. Craigslist, the online classifieds site, has been in an ongoing debate over its adult services section after receiving criticism from human rights groups that sparked hearing and debates in federal and local governments, even meeting with White House officials. The site, critics say, provided opportunities for sex crimes, women and child trafficking. William Powell, who is director of customer service and law enforcement relations, argues that Craigslist was helping to combat this type of exploitation by monitoring the site and working with law enforcement agencies. Now, he argues, these types of ads will find other, less cooperative sites instead. As of September 3, the adult services section was permanently taken down. [1]

The debate around Craigslist’s ads area provides good framework for testing out some of the international communications theories in the readings.

For better or worse, Craigslist and particularly this segment of the services it provides, are an example of life in Castells’ Information Age. Life with modern technology has opened up new electronic meeting spaces. It’s brought with it new ways for people to interact-- and ushered in the good with the bad. International crime is much easier with tools like these. The anonymity likely lowers hesitations from new customers who would not take part in these activities if they were to be sought out face-to-face. The method of interaction affects the outcome.

It is also a good lens to examine globalization and global civil society. While the Craigslist debate has been limited to the United States, human trafficking, especially child trafficking can easily become an international issue, as victims are often brought across borders with language barriers and no families locally. The way the federal hearings started is what suggests that Habermas’ public sphere may be at work[2]. Pressure on Craigslist started from human rights groups—Non-governmental actors—who then put pressure on the federal government to act on the situation. It’s a different dynamic than top-down regulation starting at the government level. The awareness around the issue of child prostitution and human trafficking has been brought in the spotlight by mostly NGO’s, active members in the global civil society.

Craigslist and other sites like it (Facebook, Twitter) are interesting new fronts in international communications and the problems that come with. And also, a way to get rid of an old rug.

[1] Cecilia Kang “Craigslist says it shut down U.S. adult services ads for good”

[2] Daya Kishan Thussu International Communication 2nd Edition: Continuity and Change. 2006.Hachette Livre, London.

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