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E0867 craigslist-logo.png
"Screen shot of Craigslist for Ann Arbor Classifieds location taken October 2012" Site
Type E-Commerce
Launch Date 1995
Status Active
Product Line Shopping Website
Platform Cloud Service

is a free online forum where users can anonymously post and browse advertisements for goods and services. Similar to the classifieds section of the newspaper, the forum is unique to different cities and is divided into multiple categories. Craigslist does not offer any forms of secure monetary transaction, so users must personally communicate with the ad-poster in order to set up details for a transaction. The site is run by 30 staff members in San Francisco, California, and is otherwise largely moderated by the community through the flagging of prohibited content.[1] Due to the shortage of formal authority and the anonymity of the users, many people view Craigslist as an unsecure route for online transactions which raises ethical and potentially life-threatening issues and concerns. Additionally, media coverage of people using Craigslist unethically, such as the “Craigslist Killer” Philip Markoff and sex-trafficking cases, also have provided a negative reputation for the site. Craigslist gets approximately 50 million page views per month, and in the United States alone has seen roughly 60 million users per month. Craigslist is available in the US, Canada, Europe Asia/Pacific/Middle East, Oceania, Latin America, and Africa, covering a total of more than 700 local sites in 70 countries. The site supports 13 different languages: Catalan, Danish, Dutch, English, Filipino, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portugese, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. The company makes sole profits off of job advertisements in 10 cities and brokered apartment listings in NYC.[2]


Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, as seen through [3]

As a newcomer to San Francisco, California, Craig Newmark, founded Craiglist in 1995 by starting a local email list, which eventually grew into an established for-profit company in 1999. The company has expanded to buying and selling [4] however, the site maintained the use of a .org domain to "symbolize a relatively non-commercial nature, public service mission, and non-corporate culture." The site is run today by Jim Buckmaster who was titled as CEO in 2000 and has been serving under that role ever since. While the site gets more than 60 million new classified ads posted each month, the company is still run by about 30 staff members in San Francisco.


The Craigslist website will first direct a user to choose a specific location to view listings and offers. [5] All posts are categorized by specific tops and subcategories. Posts can be listed according to different filters such as price, location, last posting date, etc,. For each individual post, the lister can write a description about the product or service, as well as price, pick up location and contact information. An interested buyer must arrange the pickup method and payment method for each product/service, as Craigslist does not offer these services. Aside from products and services, users can also post and contribute to discussion forums for a variety of topics. [6]

Ethical Implications

Terms of Use

There have been many run-ins with the law through activities on craigslist. In Craigslist's Terms of Use they state, "You are also required to comply with, and to ensure compliance with, all laws, ordinances and regulations applicable to your activities on craigslist." In addition, they state "You agree to indemnify and hold CL and CL Representatives harmless from and against any third-party claim, cause of action, demand or damages" and proceeded to define these measures as relating to content that users post or transmit, activity that occurs from their accounts, a users reliance on any user content, and their violation of the TOU. This obligation of indemnification includes payment of any costs incurred by CL or CL Representatives or any attorneys' fees.[7]

"Craigslist is intended and designed for users 18 years of age and older, and access or use by anyone younger is not authorized" [7].

Prohibited Content

From the official CL Terms of Use [7].

  • 1. illegal content
  • 2. content in facilitation of the creation, advertising, distribution, provision or receipt of illegal goods or services
  • 3. offensive content (including, without limitation, defamatory, threatening, hateful or pornographic content)
  • 4. content that discloses another's personal, confidential or proprietary information
  • 5. false or fraudulent content (including but not limited to false, fraudulent or misleading responses to user ads transmitted via craigslist)
  • 6. malicious content (including, without limitation, malware or spyware)
  • 7. content that offers, promotes, advertises, or provides links to posting or auto-posting products or services, account creation or auto-creation products or services, flagging or auto-flagging products or services, bulk telephone numbers, or any other product or service that if utilized with respect to craigslist would violate these TOU or CL's other legal rights
  • 8. content that offers, promotes, advertises or provides links to unsolicited products or services. Other content prohibitions are set forth in guidelines for particular categories or services on craigslist and all such prohibitions are expressly incorporated into these TOU as stated in section 1 above.


Flagging is an available feature in Craiglist intended to help keep content on the site in "good-faith" according to its users. It is a form of public censorship.

Guidelines: "A user shall not "flag" (or otherwise seek removal of) content on craigslist without a personal, good-faith belief that the content violates the TOU. A user may flag content only on his/her own behalf. A user must not permit, enable, induce or encourage others to flag content for them. A user must not flag content for others."


Craigslist login

When creating a Craigslist account you can use your email or a handle for your login. Having a handle gives you the option to maintain an online identity and offline anonymity. When other users view your account then they will have no way of tracing your craigslist identity.

Also it is stated that at login "cookies must be enabled". Many users attempt to maintain more privacy by erasing their online bread trail. The way they can do this is through activating settings to clear cookies after leaving a window. So it is interesting that this login does not give the user the option, but insists cookies must be enabled. See full Privacy Policy When meeting up to make any transactions made over CL, the company is not held responsible for any actions or damage that may be caused.[8]


Security warning

Users are cautioned by a large, bolded warning when logging in that infers that there are common scams and fraud that can occur with Craigslist.

"The collection of craigslist users' personal information (including but not limited to email addresses, IP addresses and telephone numbers) is not allowed for any purpose."

"Any copying, aggregation, display, distribution, performance or derivative use of craigslist or any content posted on craigslist whether done directly or through intermediaries (including but not limited to by means of spiders, robots, crawlers, scrapers, framing, iframes or RSS feeds) is prohibited."

Because there is such a lack of moderation and formal authority via the Craigslist network, maintaining these rules for security can be extremely hard to manage. This lack of oversight raises ethical concerns because users can thus exploit the personal information of other users and customers with low risk of consequences. This is the reason why Craigslist tries to let go of as much responsibility as it can for transactions that happen through the website since they cannot realistically or plausibly regulate proper security measures.


The personals section on Craigslist is where users can seek others for different types of interactions. Users can either seek others for relationships, friendships, meet-ups, or even sex. The casual encounters section has been a part of the prostitution problem found on Craigslist since its inception. Although the "Erotic Services" section has been removed from Craigslist, users post similar ads under the personals section seeking the same services.[9] Unlike a controlled online dating website, Craigslist users can post anonymously about themselves, sometimes including pornographic images. Also, there are no guidelines about what exactly to post so users can relay false information. This presents dangers to both parties in that meeting up with someone that one has met anonymously online can be very risky. This is shown by the many cases of Craigslist meet-ups that have gone awry; some have even involved legal authorities. This situation on Craigslist is ultimately a looser form of online dating and raises ethical concerns because unexperienced users can get exposed to inappropriate content and can even be involved in real-life situations that are potentially dangerous and illegal.

Fraudulent Posting

Most common signs of Craigslist scams [10]

The nature of Craigslist being mostly unregulated, allowing essentially anyone to post anything and make listings while staying essentially anonymous, has lended its way to certain problems regarding item sales. It is a recurrent trend across many Craigslist sites for stolen products to be sold in the 'for sale' section [11]. Users can advertise fake items and invalid information, passing them off as genuine. These stolen products or scams range anywhere from jewelry, to bicycles, to ticket sales, to electronics. Indications of stolen items being sold on Craiglist may include unusually low asking prices, stock merchandise photos, bulk posting from the same location, or requests for wired money transfers or preloaded credit cards as methods of payment.

Knowledge of this recurrent trend of stolen items being sold on Craiglist has led increasing numbers of people to search on Craiglist after their belongings have been stolen. Not infrequently, people have found success with this method. Craiglist's anonymity often makes it difficult to definitively identify thieved goods. In recognition of this problem, Craigslist has attempted to implement measures to combat these prohibited listings, and have been reported to actively cooperate with law enforcement in attempts to crack down on illegal activity. It has also provided basic guidelines for its users to help them with scam detection and self-protection. The flagging feature mentioned above also allows users to bring attention to a post they might find suspicious. Yet even so, the inherent, unregulated nature of the site still makes it relatively easy to find loopholes. Users are especially susceptible to such hoaxes on Craiglist as the site does not take responsibility for mediating legitimate transactions, and there is also no third party that detects deception.

In addition to the regular problem of fraudulent advertisements and sellers, is also the presence of likewise fraudulent buyers. Many listers will receive correspondence from other users posing as buyers, asking to pay with a cashier's check of an extremely high amount of money. This is a common indication of a "Craiglist buyer's scam".

There often appears fraudulent advertisements for subleases and leases in college towns. Many students, looking for a place to stay last minute, fall prey to this and loose 1000$ deposit. Scammers will post an advertisement for a very nice place at a great price. They even include pictures of the place and an address, everything seems straight out of the book. Once a message is received inquiring about the advertisement the buyer is sent a generic email that asks basic information, almost like an application. Then, after the buyer sends in the application including all their information, they receive another generic email that discusses how they key will be mailed to them or they can pick it up after a deposit of $1000 is received and approved. The email will also include how the seller is not in the country and therefore will be unavailable for a viewing. The buyer must commit to buying without ever physically seeing the place, or meeting the landlord. If the buyer is unfortunate enough to fall prey to this, par how good of a deal the entire thing seems to be, they send the $1000 dollar deposit, which is generally required to be in cash through western union. After the seller received the payment they go dark and the buyer never receives a follow up regarding the key or anything. Ultimately, the buyer has been scammed $1000 dollars and has no hope of seeing that money again.

"Craigslist Killer"

Philip Markoff, the "Craiglist Killer"[12]

In 2009, media coverage of Philip Markoff's murder of Julissa Brisman sparked ethical controversies over the issue of anonymous online users meeting up in real life to make transactions. Markoff used Craigslist to hire three different women offering massage and lap dance services and met up with them in different hotels on different nights. He was suspected of robbing all three women, and the murder of one of them called Julissa Brisman. After his arrest, Markoff made several suicide attempts, and on August 15, 2010, he was found dead in his cell from self-inflicted wounds and suffocation. The Markoff case drew much media coverage and inspired The Craigslist Killer, a movie that aired on the Lifetime Network in 2011.[13] The media attention that correlated the killing with Craigslist negatively impacted the site's reputation and raised awareness about the dangers of online anonymity, especially via Craigslist. Because of the site's anonymity and lack of regulation, occurrences like the "Craigslist Killer" are impossible to prevent, which means that users are still at some potential risk when using the website because someone else could do similar acts of deception and violence.

Sex Trafficking

Child sex trafficking seen on Craigslist as mentioned by [14]

Craigslist became a medium for child sex trafficking after opening their "erotic services" section which soon changed to the category, "adult services". It was one of the very first sites to be connected to sex trafficking. There was a $36 million revenue projected from the sex ads that users paid to post within this section of Craigslist. While Craigslist's Adult Services was eventually shut down, the company was not prosecuted for enabling sex trafficking advertisements. As said in the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Craigslist is seen as an advertising service so it cannot be treated as a speaker or publisher of the content and therefore they don't bear the consequences [4]. Even though the the "adult services" category has been taken down, the same content can be seen in a different content called, "casual encounters". Several young women have shared their stories on how their photographs have been shared on Craigslist as advertisements for sex. A women who goes by the name, "AK", was constantly sold for sex by pimps who would move her from city to city and take all the money she was earning from these Craigslist ads. She was also forced to never quit or otherwise, punished [15].


While the site is reputable for being free to use and efficient in advertising to local communities, many people view it in a negative light because of the lack of security and the risk of dealing with anonymous traders. As stated on the New York Times website, "On its site, Craigslist states that it has expanded to more than 700 local sites in 70 countries and gets more than 20 billion page views per month."[16] With the massive web traffic on, it makes sense that users would be dealing with numerous traders, all of which cannot be counted on to be ethical, morally-driven human beings. The New York Times states, "In 2011, four men answered an advertisement on the site offering $300 a week, a free trailer and unlimited fishing to 'watch over a 688 acre patch of hilly farmland and feed a few cows' in rural southern Ohio. Instead, three of the four men were lured to their deaths, their bodies buried in shallow graves."[17] If Craigslist users cannot trust the people they are dealing with, they may eventually choose not to utilize the website anymore. It is vital for Craigslist to maintain a strong reputation, and stories of Craigslist users dying as a result of their online trading do not strengthen the credibility of This consequently heavily impacts the reputation of the website and unfortunately turns off many users because the potential risk of danger and loss of security are too high.


Craigslist has also been mentioned with numerous instances of online prostitution. Previously, it allowed users to post on and see "Adult Services" pages, on which various prostitution services were offered. In 2006, Seattle police officers utilized a prostitution sting to arrest 104 people, playing on the idea that some of Craigslist's users utilize the website for sex. The Seattle Times states, "Nearly three-fourths of the men who were arrested on suspicion of patronizing a prostitute responded to postings in the "erotic services" category on Craigslist...". [18] With the repeated ethical concerns and incidents, Craigslist closed its "Adult Services" pages in September 2010, but there is still much room for concern as users can post similar services on any page, particularly the "Personals" page. [19] Thus, this ethical concern is still at large because Craigslist users have just become smarter and more deceptive of where they post these kind of services, meaning that the service still exists; it simply has moved to a different section of the website and has become more discrete as to avoid detection by police and Craigslist staff.


See Infringement Claims

Ethical Implications Summary

While Craigslist provides a unique service that gives access to a large local market of goods and services, there are risks and ethical implications. Due to the large volume of transactions organized, Craigslist continues to offer its service and refrain from taking responsibility for actions outside of the website. Craigslist still has many ethical implications due to lack of security, and that many illegal services can be hidden through the website, allowing fraudulent activities to occur. The online anonymity aspect puts users at risk when posting ads and/or meeting up with clients. Anonymity can detract from how a user cares for another anonymous user, adding an impersonal effect to the transaction.[20] To lower the risk of crime, Craigslist urges it's users to be careful of when and where to meet, to bring a friend, and to schedule the meeting during the day in a public setting.[21]


Once a user creates a login they are then free to post ads for almost anything they have, however there are a few guidelines to follow. Since the site is "intended and designed as a local service," a user may post content only to the single specific geographic area offered on Craigslist (see for which that content is most relevant. The same or substantially similar content (for example, an ad for a particular item or service, a particular offer, a particular message or a particular comment) may not be posted to or communicated via more than one such geographic area. Content that is equally relevant to multiple (i.e., more than one) geographic areas should not be posted on Craigslist."

Because the site is a live form, posts are listed in order of the time they were posted. This enables users to see the most recent postings first, which is relevant since old posts may no longer be standing offers. However,if an ad is posted and not commented on for over a week, it is less likely the ad will receive much traffic because it will be pushed down on the list. The ad can still be found through relevant filters and searches, but reposting the ad will provide it the highest probability of activity. Due to the manner of this process there is a guideline that a "user may post the same or substantially similar content no more than once every 48 hours."

In order to increase the credibility of a post and attract more attention and a good reputation by the community of users, there are some posting guidelines that a user should abide by. One, a user should include a detailed description of the product they are wishing to sell, including background information, any measurements, materials, and/or colors of the product. Next, a user should be precise when defining the title and location of the post. People who are looking to buy are often interested in the finer details of a product, so it helps to include them upfront to gain trust in an online environment. Lastly, it is often beneficial to post a photo of the product that one is trying to sell. The addition of a photo to a user's classified page will likely enable the product to be sold faster as a photograph can reduce any ambiguity that may appear in the description of a product. [22]

People often take to Craigslist to post humorous, or very strange items that they have no use for. For example, people post ads for items such as ripped trampolines and used bellybutton rings, among many other oddities. [23]

Produced Media

Lifetime Network aired The Craigslist Killer, a dramatized account of the Markoff case in 2011.

Zach Galifianakis is producing a movie on Craigslist, called "craigslist joe". View the trailer here. The movie will be released August 2nd, 2013.

A 24 hour documentary has also been made and can be watched on YouTube here.

Watch episodes of real people submitting real postings on Craigslist TV here. The series is now in its 4th season.

See Also

External links


  1. Craigslist | about | Factsheet. N.p., n.d.
  2. Craigslist, company overview
  4. 4.0 4.1 Kennedy, Emily. Carnegie Mellon University. Predictive Patterns of Sex Trafficking Online. 30 June 2018
  5. Ann arbor, MI jobs, apartments, personals, for sale, services, community, and events. (n.d.).
  6. Forums - craigslist. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Craigslist: Terms of Use
  8. HTTP Cookie on Wikipedia
  9. Ars Technica: No Erotic Services? No problem for prostitutes on craigslist
  10. Benson, Miranda N. The Dolly Blog. 9 Safety Tips for Avoiding the Most Common Craigslist Scams February 5, 2018
  12. 'Craigslist Killer' traced former fiancee's name on jailhouse wall in blood before his suicide
  13. Wikipedia of Philip Markoff
  14. Turnham, Steve and Lyon, Amber. Sold on Craigslist: Critics say sex ad crackdown inadequate
  15. Write et al. ABC News. Craigslist: Site for Sex Slaves' Story Saves Girl's Life. 10 August 2010.
  16. New York Times Craigslist Article Dec. 6, 2011
  17. New York Times Craigslist Article Dec. 6, 2011
  18. Times Article on Prostitution String via Craiglist
  19. Miller, Claire Cain (September 4, 2010). "Craigslist Blocks Access to ‘Adult Services’ Pages". The New York Times. Retrieved September 4, 2010.
  20. Kathleen A. Wallace, The Handbook of information and Computer Ethics: "Online Anonymity", 2008 pg. 168
  21. Craigslist: Safety
  22. Apartment Therapy: 5 Tips For Selling Your Stuff on Craigslist
  23. Huffington Post article on weird Craigslist ads

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