The Rise and Fall of BackpageJune 10, 2021
Michael Lacey and James Larkin’s website, Backpage.com was seized in April 2018 and they were arrested for allegedly facilitating prostitution. They have maintained their innocence, saying the publishing on their website, which included adult ads and general classifieds, is protected by the First Amendment.
#FOSTA #KamalaHarris #Backpage
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On the morning of April 6, 2018, the FBI arrested Michael Lacey and James Larkin and seized Backpage.com, the website they created in 2004, on allegations that it was a platform for underage sex trafficking. Lacey and Larkin were later charged with money laundering, conspiracy, and facilitating prostitution. The two men have maintained their innocence and are now confined to Maricopa County, Arizona, via ankle monitors. Their trial is scheduled for 2020.
Veteran newspaper publishers, Lacey and Larkin see their arrest and prosecution as an assault on the First Amendment. In the early 1970s, they built an alt-weekly empire specializing in muckraking journalism. In the process, they made enemies of powerful figures in Arizona politics, including John McCain, his wife, Cindy, and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
After the internet and Craigslist gutted their business model, Lacey and Larkin launched Backpage.com, an online version of the classified sections of their print newspapers. Illegal activity was never allowed on Backpage, but sex workers advertised their services via innuendo. Connecting with clients online turned out to be considerably safer than walking the streets or working for a pimp. The internet empowered sex workers.
Lacey and Larkin were able to fend off legal challenges thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which said that website platforms aren’t responsible for third party content. As sex work became conflated with sex trafficking, that defense was eroded.
Lost in the panic was Lacey and Larkin’s behind-the-scenes collaboration with law enforcement in responding to subpoenas and even training vice officers on how to use the site to catch traffickers. Backpage’s Carl Ferrer even received a certificate from then-FBI Chief Robert Mueller for his outstanding cooperation helping with sex trafficking investigations.
This is the story of the rise and fall of a newspaper empire, and how a new moral crusade is endangering sex workers, shielding traffickers, empowering pimps, and undermining free speech online.
Written, shot, produced, edited, graphics, and narrated by Paul Detrick. Additional camera by Todd Krainin, Zach Weissmuller, Meredith Bragg, Alexis Garcia, Mark McDaniel, and Justin Monticello.
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