The website Backpage.com was seized by the government on Friday, evidenced by law enforcement's post plastered across the site's homepage. Founder Michael Lacey's Arizona home was raided the same day, according to the Phoenix FBI.
Lacey's attorney confirmed to The Arizona Republic that he's facing a 93-count indictment.
Backpage is a site similar to Craigslist, where users can post apartment ads, sell items, and seek job applications. But they've gained a reputation for turning a blind eye to ads for escort services, which has earned the ire of politicians and activists.
Missouri's Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill responded to the site's shutdown, saying, "This is great news for survivors, advocates, and law enforcement." Cindy McCain, the wife of Arizona Senator John McCain weighed in on what she called a "good day" in light of the raiding of Lacey's home: "They've confiscated everything and shut the website down."
According to The Wall Street Journal, Backpage's CEO was arrested in 2016 under allegations of 'pimping', but no criminal charges were brought against him. Craigslist and Reddit have both removed their personal ads in fear of similar actions against them.
In a statement, Craiglist said, "Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craiglist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day."
When Craiglist made the decision to shut down any posts advertising adult services in 2009, customers seemingly ran to the competition.
Prior to today's shutdown, Backpage reportedly made $20 million a year from prostitution advertising, but that number is questioned. And further questions remain about how much responsibility sites have over posts from their users.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation voiced concern over making tech companies criminally responsible for their users' speech, warning that while "Facing the threat of extreme criminal and civil penalties, web platforms large and small would have little choice but to silence legitimate voices. Platforms would have to take extreme measures to remove a wide range of postings, especially those related to sex."
Some in law enforcement have also voiced concerns over taking the sex ads down, which removed the ability for them to easily access the contact information of solicitors. According to Tulsa World, vice officers used to spend their time on the streets to bust prostitutes, but then "began relying on the anonymity and convenience of websites like Backpage," because "although police still see prostitution in some parts of the city, the sex industry has largely shifted to the internet."