The latest salvo against the website www.backpage.com has been fired from our area.
The website is owned by Village Voice Media, which operates a number of weekly newspapers in major cities around the nation. It has been at the center of controversy because of the many advertisements for sexual services it runs that involve minors. It has faced strong criticism from elected officials in our state and has been the target of legal actions by the attorney general of Washington and other states.
The latest lawsuit was filed last week in Pierce County Superior Court by three teenage girls. Two of the runaways were 13 and the other 15 when they were trafficked on the website. As a result, they were forced to have sex with numerous men. The profit from these sordid acts was split between their pimp and the website.
The pimp linked to the older girl is now in prison. But the website operator continues to dodge its responsibility. The step it takes to verify that minors are not involved in the promotion of sexual activity is to require the person paying for the ad to click a button attesting to the age of the person in the ad.
Realizing anyone could lie through the anonymity of the Internet, our state Legislature passed a law this year requiring ad companies to use some real verification. But a U.S. District Court judge has put enforcement of the law on hold following a legal challenge by the website.
Its lawyers argue it has no legal liability for postings based on language in the 1996 federal Communications Decency Act
The provision they cite was meant to protect the free expression of ideas when the Internet was in its infancy. It was never meant to protect those who are accessories to crimes such as child prostitution. At this point, the best path is for Congress to update the language in the act to clearly state this.
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