Craig Newmark started Craigslist.org over 11 years ago. Since that time, it’s emerged, almost by stealth, to become one of the 10 busiest websites on the internet. Craigslist’s 10 million unique users a month post 5 million, generating 2.5 billion page views. The site currently has a presence in 175 cities across 34 countries. Not bad for a quirky site that’s still based on a functional, all text design and run by a team of 19 from a livingroom in San Francisco. Craig’s blog can be found at http://www.cnewmark.com. [this guest post is also available as a podcast]
Bad stuff on the ‘net: it’s there, but greatly exaggerated
We’re seeing a lot of buzz about problems on the ‘net, like scams and predators of different kinds. It really happens, but it’s a very small part of what you see on the ‘net. The Internet is a microcosm of society, extremely beneficial, but sometimes abused. We need to be careful not to overreact.
I’ve been doing customer service for over eleven years on craigslist.org, and I’ve seen a lot of stuff. Overwhelmingly, what’s on the ‘net is a combination of people just doing their job, or doing what they need to do to get through the day. Sometimes people sell their stuff, or buy more, or maybe they just have something to say, and can’t get heard elsewhere.
However, the bad guys got onto the ‘net pretty early, to run scams or to advertise illegal activities where they had previously used other media. For example, scams involving fake goods have always been around, and are as much of a problem, or more, for traditional media. However, there are far more citizens than crooks, and more citizens are getting online, driving the percentage of crooks very low.
On the ‘net, however, you tend to leave trace evidence, and people can work together to find and stop many of the bad guys. On our site, people flag away most of the bad stuff, and that works pretty well. In persistent cases, people send us tips, and then we track ’em down and reason with them, and block them as necessary. We also spend a lot of time educating people and working with law enforcement.
Sometimes it means that people in law enforcement need to work together with people in the community to solve problems. For example, we’ll work with ISPs, and sometimes the cops, to deal with problems that we can’t solve ourselves. In some cases, we’ll get them all to work out specific problems with each other. Even the biggest ISPs have understaffed abuse departments.
However, there are bigger problems that get no buzz. Perhaps the biggest predators on the ‘net are people who post disinformation, particularly swiftboaters, using that term in the generic sense. We have a significant problem with ’em, which will hit a peak in October and early November. Even Jimmy from Wikipedia has a similar problem, citing the occasional situations with “jerks”.
We don’t know how to solve this yet, working on it, but this is the priority.
(thanks to Ed Wes and Jim Buckmaster for suggestions!)