Backpage Shutdown Sparks Debate

Apr 14, 2023

In 2018, the US government shut down Backpage, a classified advertising website known for facilitating sex work. Five years later, the repercussions of this shutdown are still being felt by sex workers and advocates of free speech. A recent report by Reason Magazine delves into the impact of the Backpage shutdown, including insights from Kaytlin Bailey, Founder & Executive Director of Old Pros. Bailey is quoted, “To know so many people who used this service to keep themselves safe, to schedule and screen their clients, and to have the government narrative be that these, like, evil sex traffickers are kidnapping and shipping children… has been absolutely bananas.”

The shutdown of Backpage also raises important questions about free speech and online censorship. While many celebrated the shutdown as a victory against sex trafficking, others saw it as an attack on free speech and a dangerous precedent for online censorship. As the Reason Magazine report notes, some sex worker advocates argue that the government’s crackdown on Backpage has actually made it harder to combat trafficking by driving it further underground.

The Backpage shutdown has also had ripple effects beyond the sex work industry. As gig workers increasingly rely on online platforms for their work, the Backpage shutdown highlights the vulnerability of these workers to censorship and government crackdowns. For example, delivery drivers and ride-hailing drivers have faced similar challenges in recent years as their companies come under scrutiny for labor practices and safety concerns.

Despite the challenges faced by sex workers and gig workers, there are signs of progress in the fight for labor rights and free speech. Organizations like Old Pros continue to advocate for the rights of sex workers, while groups like the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain fight for the rights of gig workers. The Backpage shutdown may have dealt a blow to these movements, but advocates remain resilient and committed to their cause.

In conclusion, the Backpage shutdown continues to have a significant impact on sex workers and advocates of free speech. The demonization of Backpage as a tool for sex trafficking not only ignored the realities of sex work but also threatened the rights of workers across industries.