Supporters hailed the passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) as a major victory, but the measure is not without its critics: some say it would undermine a basic underpinning of the internet, which enables websites to host information from 3rd parties without liability.
Backpage allows users to post adverts to sell items, and carries ads for roommates, job openings, automobiles and more.
On Friday, an e-label was posted on an online classifieds website, saying it had been detained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. post inspectors and the IRS.
The Backpage.com website has been accused of conducting investigations for several years because it was used to promote prostitution and money laundering. It said authorities plan to release information about the enforcement action later Friday. It's a huge step.
The notorious website reads: "Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized".
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The U.S. Senate passed legislation last month making it easier for state prosecutors and sex-trafficking victims to sue social media networks, advertisers and others that fail to keep sex trafficking and other exploitative materials off their platforms. The bill is now waiting for President Trump's signature.
"Shutting down the largest online USA marketplace for sex trafficking will dramatically reduce the profitability of forcing people into the commercial sex trade, at least in the short term", said Bradley Myles, chief executive of Polaris, an worldwide anti-slavery group that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It is the world's second-largest classified advertising website after Craigslist and brought in $135 million in annual revenue in 2014, according to The New York Times.
Backpage had defended itself by claiming that it is not responsible for ads posted on its pages and said it attempted to abate illegal activity by hiring moderators to flag inappropriate content.
Three young women alleged the site facilitated their forced prostitution and filed a lawsuit.
A 2017 Senate report cites the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which said Backpage was involved in 73 percent of suspected child trafficking reports the group received from the general public. Authorities in California also added that 90 percent of the site's income was derived from so-called "adult ads".