Murder brings scrutiny to fast-growing Craigslist

Fri Apr 24, 2009 7:10pm EDT
 
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By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - When Marissa decided to switch jobs from nursing to prostitution a year ago, the online classified site Craigslist was pivotal, she said. Friends told her she could make lots of money just by advertising there.

"I would never walk the streets. I would never do that kind of thing. But it's pretty easy to put an ad up. We love Craigslist," said Marissa, who declined to be identified by her full name because of her illegal work.

After this month's murder of a woman who advertised exotic services on Craigslist in Boston, Marissa now carries a weapon, the latest illustration of how Craigslist has evolved from humble e-mail to a few San Francisco friends in 1995 to a global phenomenon associated with illicit sex and murder.

Legal experts say growing scrutiny of Craigslist by authorities could lead to big changes at the 14-year-old online bazaar that generates more than 20 billion page views per month in 50 countries with a staff of just 28 people.

The April 14 murder of 26-year-old masseuse Julissa Brisman, who was bashed in the head and shot three times, is the latest headline-grabbing crime linked to Craigslist.

Philip Markoff, a 23-year-old Boston University medical student, was charged with killing Brisman and with an April 10 attack on a 29-year-old woman who advertised sex services on Craigslist in the Boston area. Dubbed "the Craigslist killer," Markoff is being held in an isolated cell on suicide watch.

The murder followed the killing of George Weber, a New York reporter who was knifed to death after responding to a personal ad he placed on Craigslist in March, and the early-April sentencing of Michael Anderson, a Minnesota man convicted of killing a woman who responded to a babysitting ad. He also became known as the "Craigslist killer".

"There's a whole field of law emerging which is online media liability law and the question is how much liability do we place on companies that host information other people post online," said John Palfrey, a Harvard Law School professor.   Continued...