Backpage was hit with two lawsuits this week, one in federal court in Arizona and the other in federal court in Florida, over allegations the company facilitated sex trafficking.
According to a report, the lawsuits come on the heels of a U.S. Senate inquiry in January that found Backpage ripped words out of advertisements that were code words for sex for sale with underage children and then posted the cleaned-up advertisements. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations had looked at more than a million pages of internal documents handed over by Backpage that included emails and policies about its editing and moderating practices. Once details of its review were released, Backpage responded by saying it was closing down the sex advertising section, citing “unconstitutional government censorship,” noted the report.
The new lawsuits, filed by lawyers, including David Boies, the well-known litigator who represented Al Gore in the court fight over the 2000 presidential election, contend Backpage removed evidence of child sex trafficking and “created other sites and special protocols to stymie law enforcement efforts.” Boies contends the sex ads have moved over to the dating section of the sites. Boies is representing an Arizona shelter for victims of sex trafficking and domestic abuse, a Florida anti-trafficking group and a woman under the name Jane Doe in the lawsuit. “Backpage helped create ads offering children and others for commercial sex in violation of numerous state and federal statutes,” Boies alleged in the suit. In the complaint filed in Arizona, the lawyers claim Backpage facilitated trafficking through websites such as BigCity.com. On the websites, which the suit contends aggregate sex ads, Backpage removed metadata from pictures that hurt attempts by family members and law enforcement to search through the images.