Backpage’s Knowledge & Facilitation Of Prostitution Ads

Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey and James Larkin

By 2008, if not earlier, Michal Lacey and James Larkin were aware that the overwhelming majority of the website’s “adult” ads involved prostitution. Nevertheless, they made a financial decision to continue displaying those ads.

The Backpage and its underlings also sought to sanitize the ads by editing them — that is, by removing terms and pictures that were particularly indicative of prostitution and then publishing a revised version of the ad.

Tony Ortega

This was the process Tony Ortega would often tout in his public defense of  Backpage as proof of its vigilant “moderation”.

For example, in April 2008, Carl Ferrer wrote an email explaining that, although he was “under pressure to clean up phoenix’s adult content,” he was unwilling to delete prostitution ads because doing so “would put us in a very uncompetitive position with craig[slist]” and result in “lost pageviews and revenue.” Thus, he instructed Backpage’s technical staff to edit the wording of such ads, by removing particular terms that were indicative of prostitution, and then allow the remainder of the ad to be featured on Backpage’s website.

Carl Ferrer

On February 26, 2009, Carl Ferrer. received an email from the classified-ads manager of a newspaper within the VVMH chain asking why Backpage’s terms of service purported to prevent customers from “suggest[ing] an exchange of sexual favors for money” in light of the fact that “[c]learly everyone on the entire backpage network breaks the rules.” In response, Carl Ferrer didn’t dispute the author’s characterization and explained that Backpage had simply added the terms of service at the behest of “our attorney in SF” in an attempt to avoid liability in civil lawsuits.

Later, on May 25, 2009, Backpage Executive Vice President Scott Spear  received an email summarizing a plan to begin “remov[ing] sex act pics and coded terms” from Backpage ads. Official court documents show that only hours later, Carl Ferrer would forward this email to Dan Hyer, in the Backpage marketing department, with the explanatory note that “We do not intend to be a craig[slist] here, just get out the most egregious stuff.”

As if that weren’t enough to expose the many lies Tony Ortega told on behalf of his bosses, on March 8 of the following year Carl Ferrer testified in federal court (the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida) in the criminal trial of a pimp who had used Backpage to post prostitution ads. During his testimony, Carl Ferrer acknowledged the defendant had used the email address “Youngpimpin86” when posting the ads. Ferrer. also acknowledged that the ads described one so-called escort as “five-foot-three, with a small waist and amazing ass you’ll have to see to believe. XL, XL, XL, Lollipop” and described a different so-called escort as “discrete, sincere and extremely naughty. I am the type of girl who absolutely adores a man who understands the many desires of a young beautiful woman and how to accommodate a variety of fantasies.

This episode and others like it prove in no uncertain terms that it is beyond plausible to pretend Backpage, and its mouthpiece Tony Ortega, believed they were merely offering lawful escort services.

They knew full well exactly what business they were in — it was to facilitate prostitution and child sex trafficking.

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