Craigslist founder rejects link between site, crimes

The Public Press
 — Oct 21 2009 - 10:03pm

Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, said he does not believe his Web site is to blame for crimes committed by those who use the Internet to lure their victims.

"People might use our site, much like they might use the phone, or a car, or the roads, and I can’t find a reason for any of us to feel guilty about it," Newmark said during a wide-ranging interview with the Public Press’ Stephen Robert Morse.

As they sat at the Reverie Café in San Francisco’s Cole Valley, Newmark went on to discuss a wide range of topics, including what his organization does to cooperate with the police in tracking down criminals.

"The deal is that our site is a really good way for the victims to address the situation. We are good at helping the cops find the bad guys. I have helped myself a bunch of times."

Also in his interview with Morse, Newmark rejected the notion that Craigslist was a cause of the collapse of the newspaper industry.

"That's an urban legend. The newspapers have a lot of problems these days," he said. "For example, paper is very expensive to print and very expensive to deliver."

He also sees a role for newspapers going forward, just not in the same format, as they currently exist.

"Newspapers printed on paper may be phasing out, but newspapers as news organizations will actually thrive," Newmark said. "We'll see those networks and networks of fact checkers, reporters, editors, will shift. We'll find new models for paying for it."

Newmark went on to share a cause dear to his heart: help for American war veterans.

"I do know that when it comes to a war veteran, we need to create better support systems for the people who have committed themselves so thoroughly to us. And that means supporting the Veteran’s Administration, that means working with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. I am heavily involved with that group."

For more from the interview, read the excerpts below. For the full interview, contact The Public Press at info[AT]sfpublicpress.org.

Question: Seeing you eat chicken schwarma is a great starting-off point. I know that you’re doing some work with organizations that promote peace in the Middle East. Can you talk about that work that you’re doing?

Answer: I’m doing a few things and as in many areas, I’m somewhat out of my depth, but that’s a way of life for me now. I just plunge in and get stuff done. In this case, the primary activities are microfinance in the Middle East, focusing on groups like Kiva and working with CHF International. There’s also Landforpeace.org, which is working with the Clinton Global Initiative. Aside from microfinance, there’s a peace group of moderates, hundreds of thousands of moderates between Israel and Palestine, called One Voice. I’m also working with the US-Palestinian Partnership, which I expect to be renamed, which is focused on helping small and medium-sized businesses in Palestine get the funding they need and the help they need to make their businesses more successful and hire people. And all of this was with the encouragement of the Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. governments.

Q: What are your thoughts on companies like Gumtree.com in the UK (the British equivalent of Craigslist)? Do you view similar sites that create social communities and provide classified ads as competition?

A: I usually don’t know anything about the other sites. Craigslist is a community service as well as a business, with some classifieds, but the deal is that nobody operates in that specific space.

Q: Let’s talk about your role in customer service. On your business card, it says “founder/customer service rep.” What does it mean for you to be actively involved in customer service? Is that just a humble title, because I know you’re a pretty humble guy?

A: I look through my email for problems that people report, I also look into our discussion boards to moderate them, and that’s what I do through the day.

Q: Do you plan on remaining in your current position for as long as Craigslist exists?

A: I plan on doing customer service only as long as I live. After that, it’s over.

Q: There have been a few recent incidents, for example a journalist in Queens, New York, who was killed, where people have been murdered after setting up liaisons with other people using your site. Do you ever feel any level of guilt when your site has led to homicide, sexual assault or any other crimes?

A: First off, any kind of crime or bad stuff on our site is unacceptable. We’re good at working with the cops to help them deal with the bad guys. When it comes to working with victims, we’re pretty sympathetic. We try to help them out however we can. However, our site, I don’t know about the specific case [in Queens], people might use our site, much like they might use the phone, or a car, or the roads, and I can’t find a reason for any of us to feel guilty about it.

Q: Do you want to talk about any specific cases?

A: No the cops do tell us not to do that, we could screw things up.

Q: Within your work at Craigslist, what is your biggest accomplishment? What gives you the most joy?

A: The sense that we are really helping out a lot of people.

Q: Do you have any other aspirations beyond the work that you do right now?

A: I’d like to help other people get the word out about their organizations, getting more effective at it. I am doing this in a bunch of cases. I see my limits to this coming up because I am still doing serious customer service for the site.