Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Craigslist has rattled my faith.

On Jan. 26, at 12:01 p.m., someone posted on the topic “Craigslist reveals its true political agenda.”

But don’t go looking for it. The posting is gone. And it’s not one of those things where you click on the link and find out it was “deleted by the Craigslist community”; it’s just gone. The only sign it was there was an asinine reply an hour and 25 minutes later that, if it’s not already gone, soon will be, ephemera lost to the fast-moving world of the anthropologically interesting and otherwise saddening and worthless Craigslist rants and raves.

What was wrong with the posting? Did it espouse an extraordinarily offensive ideology, such as Nazism or apartheid? Did it delve too deeply into a sexual no-no, such as pedophilia or rape? I fortunately had the page cached, so when I went back to the bookmark, I had something to look at — and to copy into a word processing file, and to make screen captures of. So you can judge for yourself the crime this anonymous writer made. Here it is, without corrections:

After the latest round of officially incorporated cities, it now becomes clear that Craiglist intends to create a link between all Aryan, English speaking cities in the world. Shunning its liberal and progressive roots, Craiglist is now poised to be the favorite website for conservative and white supremacist organizations. How else could one explain the incorporation of Brisbane over Rome, Auckland over Madrid, Cardiff over Beijing? As it stands now, Buenos Aires is the only Spanish speaking Latin American country in the secondary city list; Mexico City has been deleted, even though Hispanics continue to be the largest growing minority in the US. There is not a single African country and only 3 Asian token cities. What’s next: censorship? spyware? account temination? Hitler could not have done a better job; apparently his failure was due to the fact that he did not speak English.

In your mission statement, you claim that you want to be “inclusive, giving a voice to the disenfranchised, democratizing”. Yet, you insult the Hispanic community by not even officially incorporating a single Spanish speaking city to Craiglist. DO THE RIGHT THING!

You also claim that you want to be a “collection of communities with similar spirit, not a single monolithic entity” Yet most of the cities incorporated are in mostly white, English speaking countries. DO THE RIGHT THING!

Whenever someone asks that a place like Mexico city be added, it gets short and vague answers. In contrast, if someone asks that Sweden be added, it gets long and encouraging words. DO THE RIGHT THING!

You claim that technical consideration such as memory capability, hardware, etc. is given when picking out your next city. Yet, if a city like Buenos Aires, Puerto Rico, or Mexico City is not going to generate that much traffic, then it should NOT overburden your memory or technical capabilities. DO THE RIGHT THING!

The criteria is not the same for every city. Brisbane had fewer than 10 posts when it was activated, mainly from the same person soliciting sex. Mexico has more than 20 posting and it has now deleted from the runner up list. DO THE RIGHT THING!

You have blundered, but that is not unusual. We all make mistakes. It takes a bigger spirit to accept that we have done wrong and we are willing to change. Now, GO AND DO THE RIGHT THING!

So what the poster did is accuse Craigslist of racism. And the Craigslist response was to disappear the posting as though it never existed.

I’ll throw in the concern of a correspondent:

The last time I checked the Internet country statistics, many of the countries that s/he mentioned weren't as “connected” as many of the countries currently on Craigslist. I haven’t really bothered to think too much about how or why Craigslist chooses its countries/cities. I doubt if it is a conspiracy per se. There may also be some legal reasons why Craigslist sites aren’t in some countries. I know people like that the Internet is beyond the bounds of local, state and countries laws, but that isn’t entirely true.

I think it is interesting that the poster singled out Mexico and Africa, however, but what about China and the countries in Russia? I guess s/he didn't seem to care or notice that they were missing, too.

It’s true, the possible inadvertent cultural bias revealed by the poster is interesting. And I’d consider asking the person about it if I could ask him or her anything at all, but when the post disappeared, so did the ability to e-mail the sender.

How many people would even have seen the posting, given the flood of text roaring through Craigslist sections daily? How injurious could the posting possibly have been?

Craigslist, as a private company, has the perfect right to control what appears in its listings, but if it can defend allowing the worst kind of racist and sexist bilge — and as a First Amendment fan, I think that's the proper stance — it should be able to justify self-criticism as well. Allowing anti-Semitic rants to flourish with the implied justification that the Internet’s self-corrective capabilities will kick in implies as well that Craigslist criticism will also be corrected, if it should be. The correspondent’s reply alone indicates that would have been an appropriate move, a worthy entry in the marketplace of ideas.

Coming from the world of newspapers, many of which are relatively good at posting corrections to the record, covering their own scandals, talking to media critics such as Mark Jurkowitz or Dan Kennedy, giving ombudsmen free rein or allowing blisteringly critical letters to the editor to be published without editorial comment, I suspect that Craigslist could benefit from the same self-examination.

At the most paranoid, the deletion of the post worries me most not because it suggests a close-mindedness hypocritical to the Craigslist mission, such as it is, but that it suggests a defensiveness that, in turn, suggests that the poster struck a nerve by making a valid point. (At my less paranoid, I consider it almost certain that the decision to delete was made at a far lower level than that of those making decisions about where to launch sites. It was undoubtedly a soldier taking initiative so the generals aren’t bothered. But there’s a chance it’s policy, as well.)


Michael Scott Moore said...

One well-wired city not yet on the Craigslist Aryan Axis: Berlin.

The posting sounds like bullhonkey to me, but not dangerous bullhonkey.

eric said...

What the hell is the craigslist? I couldn't even figure out how to follow the threads. What's it for?


eric said...

OK...I found it...

What does this "§" symbol mean after a post?

Scape7 said...

Good lord, I've no idea. I never noticed them. So they can't be too important.

I hope.

Michael Scott Moore said...

I take it back; Berlin does have a Craigslist. But it's brand new.

Scape7 said...

Your point lies shattered on the floor of our honeymoon suite like the shards of this vase. Something like that, anyway.