After suffering weeks of empty legal threats over its online prostitution ads, Craigslist went on the offensive Wednesday with a federal lawsuit against South Carolina’s attorney general, seeking a restraining order that would block any further threats and prevent any criminal prosecution by the state.
Henry McMaster, the state attorney general, called the lawsuit against him “good news,” because it shows Craiglist its taking the matter seriously. At the same time, McMaster backpedaled away from his earlier threats. “This office and the law enforcement agencies of South Carolina will continue to monitor the site to make certain that our laws are respected,” he said in a statement.
McMaster has been blustering against Craigslist since May 5, when he vowed to launch a criminal investigation against the site and its management, if Craigslist did not find a way to block all prostitution ads in its South Carolina section and prevent any posts containing pornographic images. The threats came despite reforms Craigslist launched in November last year to try to stem the flow of prostitution ads.
The prosecutor gave Craigslist a May 15 deadline to block the content, and Craigslist responded last week by announcing it was closing its “erotic services” subcategory site-wide, creating a new “adult services” replacement in which every post is prescreened by staffers.
But the action did nothing to stop the threats, according to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, who announced the lawsuit in a blog post Wednesday. Buckmaster said McMaster threatened prosecution as recently as Sunday.