The Backpage Rabbit Hole Explained Part II

We set out yesterday to layout and explain the impending seismic impact of the latest spate of cases to hit federal courts this week with regard to the slow-moving train wreck that has been the Backpage.

Today we continue to unpack the ramifications in order to give our readers a better understanding of just how important this monumental shift in legal policy could wind up being for Tony Ortega’s former launching pad and ultimately for unscrupulous operators like Ortega himself who repeatedly defended and profited from such activities.

The argument: Annie McAdams, the Texas lawyer bringing the lawsuit, said Salesforce should bear legal responsibility because evidence will show that its employees “not only knew who they were dealing with, but they knew what the content was they were working with.”

  • Companies should bear responsibility based on their control over who they work with, she said, and whether they know a client is engaged in criminal activities.
  • How much control do you have over who your customer is, and how much knowledge do you have?” she asked.

It’s hard to understate the potential trouble this could open the door to for people like Tony Ortega and raises the ghosts of the same sort damning allegations made during the Nuremberg trials for Nazi sympathizers, “if you knew who you were working with and what they were up to you share culpability.”

The big picture: Policymakers have been fighting over exactly this question in recent years.

  • Last year, in response to the Backpage case, the U.S. President signed a law making web platforms legally liable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking.
  • European lawmakers just approved new rules that require platforms to screen for content that violates its now stricter content guidelines.

Web services have proposed their own systems for moderating content.

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company would accept some form of new regulation, particularly abroad, when it comes to policing “harmful content” like Backpage-style sex trafficking.
  • But Kevin Martin, Facebook’s top U.S. policy executive, told reporters that the company wouldn’t support any efforts to increase its liability for harmful content in the United States.

What’s next: The case will proceed — along with the lawsuit against Facebook and Backpage, as well as the Backpage founders’ criminal case — and its outcome could ripple out through the industry.

The implication of all this may be that many who previously labored under the same delusion as so many Nazi supporters insisting they were ‘just following orders’ only after being exposed, could well find themselves in legal jeopardy too.

If the Nuremberg trials following the Second World War taught us anything it’s that the dispassionate and equalizing eye of the law applies to all – from the highest Wehrmacht field marshals on the battlefield to the lowliest yes-man enlistees like Tony Ortega who, despite his countless chest-pounding attacks on Backpage critics, remains loyal to his former crime bosses.

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