A lawyer for Backpage.com argued before the Washington Supreme Court on Tuesday that the website should be granted “complete immunity” from prosecution because it did not write the online ads that resulted in the sex trafficking of three underage girls.
Backpage maintains that the website is immune under the federal Communications Decency Act, which says that an Internet service provider is not liable for the content posted by users.
“It’s clear that Backpage did not create or develop the ads that allegedly harmed the plaintiffs,” Backpage attorney Jim Grant told the court.
But a lawyer for the three victims says that Backpage did play a role in developing the ads.
Erik Bauer told justices that Backpage should be considered an “information content provider” because of its posting guidelines, which he said help traffickers write sex ads that won’t get flagged by law enforcement.
The guidelines include suggestions such as “don’t advertise in time increments of 15 minutes,” and offer a way for pimps to pay for the ads with untraceable prepaid credit cards, Bauer said.
“These so-called posting rules that are on the Backpage website are actually instructions to pimps on how to post an ad that works,” Bauer said.
Grant countered that claim, saying virtually every website has posting guidelines. “Backpage’s rules prohibit illegal content and prohibit improper content, just as Craigslist rules do, just as Facebook rules do, just as Microsoft Windows rules do,” Grant said.
The three victims in the case were between the ages of 13 and 15 when they were trafficked.
The mother of one of the girls told TVW after the hearing that her daughter ran away from home at the age of 15, took a bus to Seattle and within 36 hours was trafficked for sex by a pimp who used Backpage to sell her multiple times a day.
“She’s doing much better today,” her mother said. The pimp was arrested, and she said the next step was to go after the facilitator — Backpage. “I felt it was time Section 230 (of the Communications Decency Act) was looked at,” she said.
The justices will release a decision at a later date. TVW taped the hearing — watch it below: