Backpage Evades Justice (For Now)

With all the success we’ve been having with recent developments in the dismantling and subsequent prosecution of the Backpage crime syndicate it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that there is still a long way to go before the kingpins and their willing lapdogs like Tony Ortega are brought to justice.

Yesterday we received word of a setback in the process as Salesforce.com Inc. appears poised to escape a lawsuit brought by 90 women who accused it of facilitating sex-trafficking through its work with the infamous Backpage web portal.

A state judge in San Francisco tentatively ruled Friday that the women’s claims were barred by a federal law that holds operators of internet services blameless for content posted by third parties.

We’ve previously reported on the closing of the federal loopholes which have allowed shady operators like Backpage and their knock-off clones to skirt their responsibility in publishing illegal content. Congress continues to work to close these loopholes and anti-sex trafficking advocates remain optimistic that laws allowing this behavior will eventually be struck down, but this comes as little comfort to the 90 women, identified in the lawsuit as Jane Does, who describe themselves as survivors of sex trafficking on Backpage.

They accused Salesforce of aiding in the exploitation they suffered under Tony Ortega’s prostitution site of choice by providing Backpage with computer services, including customized database tools and credit card processing which made the whole enterprise possible.

Backpage, as our readers will recall, was the world’s largest internet portal for the buying and selling of children for sex. It was known as the Craigslist of human trafficking and was the subject of numerous investigations of child trafficking before being shut down by federal officials in April 2018.

In his tentative ruling, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman cited the Communications Decency Act as the reason for dismissing the suit. The act essentially says that internet services, like Facebook and Twitter, are not publishers and therefore can’t be held liable for what’s posted on their platforms by users.

The lawyer for the women who filed the suit said she would ask the judge at a hearing Monday to reverse his ruling, saying: “We are not attempting to treat Salesforce as a publisher. We are making allegations that they helped build Backpage. We are saying that without Salesforce, Backpage wouldn’t have been able to operate.”

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