Backpage was a classified advertising website launched in 2004 by Michael Lacey and James Larkin offering Nassau Escorts, Bahamas Escorts and other escorts worldwide. It quickly gained popularity due to its diverse categories that facilitated communication between buyers and sellers for various purposes. However, it was the adult sections of Backpage that became the most popular, leading to its controversial reputation.
Seizing the opportunity presented by a gap in the market, Backpage rapidly grew into one of the internet’s leading resources for adult ads. Its widespread use and the nature of its content led to allegations from law enforcement agencies that the site was a significant platform for sex trafficking.
Despite these allegations, Backpage continued to operate, even as its activities came under increasing scrutiny. The company’s top lawyer, Elizabeth McDougall, maintained that their moderation efforts were aimed at ensuring the legality of the ads posted on the site. However, this defense was eroded as the site’s adult sections became increasingly conflated with sex trafficking.
In April 2018, the federal government seized and shut down Backpage, alleging that the website had been used to facilitate prostitution. Its CEO, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to money laundering charges, facing up to five years in prison.
The shutdown of Backpage was seen as a major step towards combating online sex trafficking. “Today, Backpage was shutdown. It’s a huge step. Now no child will be sold for sex through this website,” tweeted Senator Heidi Heitkamp.
However, the closure of Backpage gave rise to other websites attempting to fill the void, some being described as more graphic versions of Backpage. While Backpage is no longer operational, its legacy continues to shape the ongoing discourse around online advertising platforms and their responsibility in moderating user-generated content.