Sunday, April 8, 2007


An anonymous post on Craigslist has been the cause of quite some headache to a homeowner in Washington state. In response to a listing that literally declared, "Come and take what you want," truckloads of property were carried off, leaving the home stripped and its owner still in the dark.

This recent case is one of many "civil matters" that have facilitated by the online classified. The police have resolved to treat the incident outside of criminal courts, for reasons not clearly articulated. While many criminal offenses spurred by Craigslist have been put on trial, such as prostitution, drug dealing, and gambling, the open-house posting has not resulted in any criminal charges.

Why is that?

Well, fortunately the blame is not being pointed to the service provider. Coming down hard on Craigslist for facilitating the post would not be the proper solution. It would cripple the speed and openness of info exchange that we have come to expect from the internet. Online classified ads should be treated similarly to content hosting sites such as YouTube, where the service provider is not held responsible for content uploaded by individual users unless properly notified to remove it.

But in this case of invited burglary, who is responsible? Certainly the poster, who initiated the theft and provided information alerting users to the vulnerability of the house. A subpoena for the identity of the poster is thoroughly justified. They seem to me to be the true party at fault.

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