On Monday, a multiagency task force seized classified ads website Backpage. According to a notice plastered over the landing page of the site, the “enforcement action” was coordinated by the United States Department of Justice. Several federal and local agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center were involved in the seizure.
The notice does not provide any details as to why the government took action against it, but says that “additional information will be provided at around 6:00 pm EST on Friday.”
Backpage is the second largest classified ads website on the internet (right behind Craigslist). The recent passing of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) may be the impetus behind the sting. Craigslist removed its adult classifieds several weeks ago in anticipation of the law.
Backpage has already seen its share of trouble with its adult section even before FOSTA. For several years the site has been fielding allegations from Congress that it not only allowed and encouraged postings for prostitution and sex trafficking of minors but also actively participated in covering up these activities.
The legal shenanigans ultimately led to the arrest of Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer in 2017 and the eventual removal of the adult section of the website. It is unclear whether the seizure of the entire site is FOSTA related. However, Fox News reported that prostitution on the site has continued despite the adult section's closure.
The seizure is somewhat ironic considering that the US government has used Backpage in the past for job listings.