As noted above, although Backpage staff members monitor the site, the staff does not
review all content submitted for posting.172 Further, while the site requires persons accessing and
posting in the adult services section to indicate that they are eighteen years of age or older,
Backpage has no way to check those representations.173 Backpage representatives admit that
persons posting ads can lie174 in their submission, which is why Backpage has its employees
attempt to identify whether the person appearing or depicted in an ad is underage.175
Nevertheless, these scanning and checking procedures fall short,176 and experts agree that
Backpage does a “very poor job of” policing its site.177
Backpage mistakenly approves so many suspicious ads that every month it reports some
four hundred ads to NCMEC.178 NCMEC refers these reports directly to law enforcement for
potential investigation, however, in many instances, the reported ads are not removed from
Backpage.179 Oftentimes, in cases when law enforcement identifies an ad as a situation of child
sex trafficking, it directs Backpage to remove the ad.180 Even when Backpage removes the ad,
however, its measures have fallen short of protecting the children involved, as ads may be
removed temporarily, only to reappear later.181
Additionally, adult service ads can be paid for using pre-paid credit and gift cards, which
facilitates anonymous posting and makes locating suspected traffickers more difficult.182 John
Ryan, CEO of NCMEC recommended, “prohibiting payment sources that mask the customer’s
identity—such as gift cards, prepaid credit cards and using another's credit card.”183 More secure
and accountable payment options, including requiring identity verification and more stringent
172 See Hensley, supra note 167.
173 Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, supra note 48. Excerpt—Anderson Cooper/Liz McDougall Interview:
COOPER: ‘You say you don’t allow underage people. You have no way of verifying whether or not somebody
is underaged. You just have to check off whether—the person just says, “Oh yes, I’m over 18.”’
MCDOUGALL: “We do far more than check off whether they're over 18. We have automated filters for terms,
and then we have a [sic] two tiers of manual review that...”
COOPER: “They can lie in the ad about it, though.”
MCDOUGALL: “They can lie on the ad. We have people examining the images to try to identify if someone is
underaged and to look for other indicia.”
175 Id. Liz McDougall, attorney for Backpage, states that Backpage, “scans for 25,000 terms and code words linked to prostitution, sex
trafficking, and child exploitation.” Id. Some one hundred Backpage employees then check each ad individually before it is posted.
Deborah Feyerick & Sheila Steffen, A Lurid Journey Through Backpage.com, CNN FREEDOM PROJECT: ENDING MODERN-DAY
SLAVERY (May 10, 2012), http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/10/a-lurid-journey-through-Backpage-com/.
176 When presented with an ad that included the phrase “Make me beg, smack me, spit on me, degrade me, choke me—,” Ms.
“should never be permitted.” Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, U.S. Attorneys General Want to Shut down Backpage.com, (CNN
television broadcast May 4, 2012), transcript available at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1205/04/acd.01.html.
177 Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, Sex, Lies and Backpage.com; Backpage Under Pressure to Shut down, (CNN television broadcast
May 16, 2012), transcript available at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1205/16/acd.01.html. David Finkelhor, Director of
the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, and others recognize that Backpage does “a very
poor job of” policing its site, despite its claims of establishing procedures to protect children and prevent illegal activity. Id.
178 Feyerick & Steffen, supra note 175.
180 For example, Seattle Detective Todd Novisedlak contacted Backpage.com to remove an ad, which he identified as depicting a
fifteen-year-old girl being used in commercial sex. Green, supra note 170.
Although Backpage removed that particular ad, over the following two weeks, “ 10 more ads were posted [on Backpage] for the same
girl, using the same photos and phone number used in the original ad.” Id.
181 See supra note 180.
182 See Letter from John D. Ryan, supra note 41.
183 See id.