The Backpage Ploy Part 1

 

In or around 2010, as the Backpage began to emerge as a significant presence in the online sex advertising business, they developed a plan to minimize the attention devoted to its activities by the public and by law enforcement agencies, particularly concerning advertising of children on its website.

Defendants undertook to forge seemingly cooperative relationships with many law enforcement agencies and to convey the impression that they were actively and successfully engaged in efforts to identify and report child sex trafficking victims and otherwise “partnering” with law enforcement to minimize the risk of exploitation of children on the website. As part of this façade, the Backpage regularly asserted that they were engaged in efforts to stop child sex trafficking through Backpage.com. Indeed, they regularly characterized themselves as the “sheriff” of the Internet helping to defeat the “scourge” of online child sex trafficking.

To further this scheme, they initiated numerous interactions with state and federal law enforcement agencies beginning in or about 2010. Defendants provided assurances to these agencies that they would be vigilant in attempting to detect unlawful trafficking of minors through various means, would improve and increase the volume of reporting of suspicious advertisements, and would be a model for cooperation with law enforcement efforts.

Despite these representations, however, Backpage intended only to engage in the most superficial efforts to work with these agencies, and only to the extent necessary to divert the attention of these agencies from the growing market share and business success of Backpage.com. For example, Defendants made promises to aggressively report suspected instances of child sex trafficking to NCMEC, the leading nonprofit organization in the United States working with law enforcement, families, and the professionals who serve them on issues related to missing and sexually exploited children. Despite those representations, the Backpage took affirmative steps internally to assure that the reporting was both superficial and minimal. Tony Ortega made sure to spread Backpage’s false assurances.

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