Dallas October 6th 2016 backpage.com Cheif Executive Officer Carl Ferrer was arrested in Houston’s Bush Intercontenential Airport on warrent issed by California. Ferrer was arriving on an international flight from Amsterdam. If this does not sound like a cheap set up from a fictional international crime novel already, it gets better. The California warrant was issued for felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping, as was explained by California Attorney General Kamala Harris. At present Ferrer is being held on in lieu of $500,000 bond and will face an extradition hearing before he can be returned to California. Previous to the arrest agents raided the backpage.com Dallas headquarters on allegations that adult and child sex-trafficking victims had been forced into prostitution through escort ads posted on the site.
"Making money off the backs of innocent human beings by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is not acceptable in Texas. I intend to use every resource my office has to make sure those who profit from the exploitation and trafficking of persons are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," Paxton, a Republican lawmaker, said in a statement.
Additionally the majority shareholders James Larkin and Michael Lacey have been charged with conspiracy to commit pimping, however their whereabouts are not known and they have not yet been arrested. Warrants have been issued for their arrest by the state of California. In California it is illegal to make money off of prostitutes or solicit customers for prostitution, and is considered under the law to be felony pimping. "Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal," said Harris, a Democrat who was desperately trying to acquire publicity in the run for the U.S. Senate. "Backpage and its executives purposely and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world's top online brothel."
As we have discussed in previous articles, backpage.com is nothing more than an online classified ads website. Most of backpage’s revenue comes from the “ adult section” of the site that features adult services and escort ads. California alone netted the site some 2.5 million dollars per month in revenue. What is at the heart of backpages legal saga is the first amendment and freedom of speech. First off backpage’s users have the right to publish what they like under the first amendment protections. The second point, is that backpage itself is nothing more than a 3rd party service and does not author its own ads, its users do. These arrests are setting a dangerous precedent for publishers in the classified or social media online sphere. The message and legal framework is this, as a publisher or owner of a 3rd party website you can now be held accountable for what your users say or publish on the website you own. We must ask ourselves are the owners of backpage co-conspirators in what their users author or is backpage providing a service for users who under the first amendment have a right to author and publish what they want? With the traffic levels backpage sees it is an impossibility to have human eyes monitor each and every post. At best they can run algorithms that look for keywords that may be associated with bad actors using the website. I’m sure these draconian standards would never be applied to a larger company like facebook even though facebook clearly has more resources to devote to monitoring what their users post.
Certainly this is not the last we will see of backpage.com. As I write the site is still up and operational. Only time and trial will discover if these charges will stick. Rest assured a legal battle will ensue. We must as a society decide whether internet freedom and 1st amendment rights trump the actions of an overprotective nanny state that insists on legislating morality. If you feel strongly about these issues, we urge you to contact your state lawmakers and urge that the Internet be kept free.