Search This Blog

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Backpage dilemma

Is it possible to rid the online classified site of child trafficking without shuttering its adult section?

This week saw a renewed effort, led by the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, to pressure Village Voice Media’s online classified site to shutter its adult section. On Sunday, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist offered up a harrowing story about “Alissa,” whose pimp used the site to sell her for sex at the age of 16 and 17. A couple of days later, Kristof responded to a Village Voice article claiming that his original column contained factual errors with a rebuttal and a call for Backpage to “get out of carrying prostitution advertising” altogether.
For many progressives, there is a dramatic tension here: Horror at the existence of child trafficking, and a desire to see it disappear, and yet a belief that consenting adults should be able to do what they want sexually — maybe even if it involves the exchange of money. It’s not even a question of one concern trumping the other, because, while theories abound, it’s unclear what impact the shuttering of Backpage’s adult section would have on trafficking as a whole, let alone whether similar ads wouldn’t just pop up in the personals section; nor is it clear what impact the site’s screening measures have had on reducing trafficking ads.
It’s hard enough nailing down accurate figures on the number of children trafficked in the U.S. each year — the most commonly cited estimate is 100,000 to 300,000, but the Village Voice claims those figures are wildly inflated and “hatched without regard to science.” We do know that more than 50 cases of child trafficking (attempted or otherwise) on Backpage have been reported over a three-year period, which brings up another quandary: Do we castigate the site for failing to detect those ads or celebrate these as cases where traffickers were actually caught? Furthering the contradiction: Backpage is both friend and foe to traffickers. It’s an ideal advertising outlet, but it’s also one of the most, if not the most, relied upon tools for law enforcement to identify child trafficking victims.
Given the complexities here, details are especially important — and they’ve gotten lost in this emotionally charged debate. For example, it’s worth taking a closer look at what Backpage does do to vet ads. Liz McDougall, general counsel for Village Voice Media, tells me the site “operates an automated filter system to preclude ads with suspect words and phrases.” The specifics of the system are guarded by lock and key to make it harder for traffickers to circumvent it. On top of this, Backpage has real-life human beings manually review all submitted content for the adult and personal sections before it’s posted on the site. Just to be double sure, Backpage does another manual review of all material once it’s actually published in either section.
When Backpage identifies an ad potentially advertising a minor, it “immediately reports it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” and an “‘expedited’ reporting system” is in place for cases “where there appears to be an imminent possibility of rescue.” All postings require a credit card number, which can be subpoenaed by law enforcement, and Backpage has a policy of responding within 24 hours, says McDougall. She adds that the site “stands ready and willing to do more,” especially “in cooperation with government, nongovernmental, public, private and all other interest groups sincerely dedicated to pragmatic approaches to addressing this scourge.”
Backpage is attempting to both prevent traffickers from advertising on the site and to assist law enforcement in cases where they do slip through — but is it enough? The site’s outspoken critics certainly don’t think so. Short of no longer carrying sex ads, Kristoff suggests that Backpage require an ID check for those placing ads to ensure that they are adults — but that only addresses trafficking cases where the minor is advertising herself. “I assume that critics sometimes urge age verification anyway because child sex trafficking is a horrific crime and we want to feel active in fighting it,” McDougall says. “But it does not help the problem to advocate measures that have superficial appeal but no real effect.”
Ultimately, most critics will accept nothing less than the site shutting down its adult section — but this will likely direct business elsewhere (just as Craigslist’s shuttering of its adult section drove traffic to Backpage), and potentially to less cooperative businesses.
That’s not to mention that many sex worker activists argue that closing Backpage’s adult section will make it harder, and more dangerous, for those who are willingly in the industry to ply their trade. “What it comes down to is what keeps the most people the most safe, and what actually makes sense for sex workers,” says Sarah Patterson, a community organizer for the Sex Worker’s Outreach Project’s New Work City chapter. She argues that the ultimate answer is decriminalizing sex work while also protecting those who are being coerced into the business; and in this particular case, she says it’s allowing adults to sell sexual services on Backpage while also going after those selling non-consensual services. “For a lot of people that’s really hard to imagine,” she says, explaining that sex work is generally seen only in black and white terms. “Unfortunately for me, that is the solution.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Was Nicholas Kristof's Story About an Underage Prostitute Peddled on 'Concocted'?

On Sunday, as part of hiscampaign against, the online classified-ad service owned by Village Voice Media, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof told the story of "Alissa," a former underage prostitute who "escaped that life and is now a 24-year-old college senior planning to become a lawyer." Kristof reported that "Alissa says pimps routinely peddled her on Backpage," beginning when she was 16. He quoted Alissa as saying, "You can't buy a child at Wal-Mart, can you? No, but you can go to Backpage and buy me on Backpage." The headline for a video accompanying the online version of Kristof's column says, "Age 16, She Was Sold on" Kristof claimed "court records and public officials back Alissa’s account."
But as Village Voice Media (VVM) points out, Alissa turned 16 in 2003, and " did not exist anywhere in America in 2003." The company adds that Alissa, who testified that she had been compelled to work as a prostitute in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City, said she left prostitution in August 2005, and "in the summer of 2005 did not exist in Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Atlantic City." VVM says Kristof could have found this out readily enough:
He could have read the court transcripts. He could have read the testimony of A.G. (the victim). He could have read the testimony of FBI agent Tamara Harty. He could have Googled the case and read the coverage in The Boston Globe which reported: "Soon after meeting (agent) Harty in 2005, (she) was moved out of state to a home for troubled youth."
Neglecting to do any of the above, Kristof could still have asked us.
Instead, says VVM, Kristof "concocted a story to suit his agenda." Kristof responds on his blog:
Alissa turned 16 at the end of 2003....All during 2004, she was 16 years old, traveling up and down the east coast being pimped. Backpage operated in at least 11 cities during 2004, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale, both of them cities Alissa where [sic] says she was pimped on Backpage. Then at 17, as Backpage expanded to 30 cities including Boston, she was pimped even more broadly on Backpage — and also in Village Voice print ads, she says.
Moreover, contrary to what the Voice says, Alissa continued in the sex trade until 2007, when she got out for good. Backpage was steadily expanding and becoming a major force in this period, and pimps routinely used it to sell her, she says.
VVM says Alissa did not mention any of these details in her court testimony. According to the October 2010 Boston Globe storyto which VVM refers, Alissa (dubbed "Jessica" by theGlobe) left prostitution in 2005, not 2007, and the case against her pimps "covered incidents that happened between 2001 and 2005." By 2007, when Kristof now claims she "got out for good," she would have been 19 or 20.
Do any of these details matter? Only if you accept Kristof's premise that VVM is responsible for criminal misuse of That logic would also make Craigslist responsible for the deaths of men lured to their deaths by online job ads, Louisville Slugger responsible for assaults aided by its bats, and GM responsible for bank robberies in which its products are used as getaway cars. Kristof concedes that "many prostitution ads on Backpage are placed by adult women acting on their own without coercion," and he says "they're not my concern." Yet he cites the National Association of Attorneys General, which routinely equates all prostitution with slavery, to back up his claim that is "the premier Web site for human trafficking in the United States," and he joins those bullying busybodies in demanding that VVM stop accepting "adult" ads, suggesting that advertisers should boycott The Village Voice until it does. All this while admitting that "Backpage's exit from prostitution advertising wouldn't solve the problem." It would, however, force Kristof to pick a new scapegoat.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tophers Great American Cereal Book

Over the years there have been several books published about cereal, but none is quite like the latest one to hit the shelves: The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch. If you are a cereal lover, then this is one book you will want to have around your home. This is not another historical narrative of the cereal industry, but a compendium of virtually every major American cereal ever made, complete with key historical points and many wonderful cereal box pictures. You will be fascinated with all the cereals, both familiar and obscure. It is so easy to open the book at almost any page and get lost in browsing. Interspersed among the cereal listings are several brief articles featuring highlights from cereal's amazing history. If you are looking for a book to feed your cereal passion, this is the one to get. It's fun, informative, and full of flavor!

Now that's the copy above I was forced to publish by the publisher after I made my honest review. So much for freedom of the press right? Truth is this book had some serious glaring errors in it, none of wich I blame on Topher Elis. My personal fave error being that it says Fruit Brute from General Mills is available every Halloween! That stuffs been of the market for decades LOL! Someone was asleep at the wheel weren't they! Overall a fun breezy read.

Lemon Creme Twinkies and Springtime Snoballs.

This came as a bit of a surprise as Hostess has filed for bankruptcy recently. The lemon Creme Twinkies are the result of a poll to determin the next twinkie flavor. The previous recent ones were as follows: Chocolate Creme(currently in reissiue/re-release.)Strawberry Creme, and Retro Banana Creme.

The Springtime snoballs(snow in spring?) are a result of a total lack of imagination.

One Million Moms Protest Gay Marriage In Archie Comic

One Million Moms Protest Gay Marriage In Archie Comic

One Million Moms Protest Gay Marriage In Archie Comic.

AMAZING! Why is this even a problem?

Kevin Keller first appeared in Veronica comics #522.
Posting this got my in hot water with Jason Liebig,(took attention away from him LOL!)

In their latest attempt to banish all traces of gay from the planet, conservative group One Million Moms, one of the tumors sprouting from the larger cancer known as American Family Association, is urging Toys ‘R’ Us to stop selling an issue of Life With Archie depicting the wedding of the comic’s first openly gay character, Kevin Keller, to Clay, an African American doctor who treated Keller’s war injuries. Yes, you read that right: Kevin’s a war hero! And he’s marrying a doctor, no less! A million real moms would swoon in delight. So what’s the problem?

The problem, apparently, is that One Million Moms — whose numbers are about 955,488 shy of an actual million, according to their Facebook page — feels it’s unfair for them to have to answer questions their kids may ask about the world around them while standing in a toy store. Also, it doesn’t like gay people.

Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater issued this statement:

“We stand by Life with Archie #16. As I’ve said before, Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. It’s an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday.”

“We’re sorry the American Family Association/ feels so negatively about our product, but they have every right to their opinion, just like we have the right to stand by ours. Kevin Keller will forever be a part of Riverdale, and he will live a happy, long life free of prejudice, hate and narrow-minded people.”

One Million Moms’ most recent campaign to prevent JC Penney from naming Ellen DeGeneres as their spokeswoman was, thankfully, unsuccessful.

[Source Galleycat via Robot6, Huffington Post]

Free one day Redbox rental!

Redbox tomorrow (i.e. Thursday the 8th of March) you can input the code THANKS2U one free one-day rental.