So another ad on Craigslist has resulted in a man’s house being ransacked and many of his belongings — including his horse and his porch swing — being stolen. Robert Salisbury of Jacksonville, Oregon apparently came home to find people rummaging through his home, after an ad on Craigslist said that he was giving away his possessions. The ad, of course, was a hoax — just like the one that ran about a year ago that resulted in a woman’s house being vandalized. In that case, they even took the woman’s refrigerator, the kitchen sink and the front door.

As Mike Arrington notes in his post at TechCrunch, this shouldn’t be that surprising really. Craigslist is simply a mirror that reflects human behaviour at its best and possibly at its worst. Why does that have anything to do with the site itself? If someone arranges for a hitman to take out their spouse, and the medium of communication happens to be a newspaper ad, should the newspaper be liable? Hardly. If I call someone and arrange a bank robbery, is the phone company to blame for that?

Craigslist is simply an instrument. Obviously, if it publishes an ad that it knows to be fake or illegal — like the listings on eBay for human kidneys and so on — then it is potentially at fault. But it has no way of knowing whether Robert Salisbury of Jacksonville actually wants to give away all of his possessions, nor should it be expected to.

About the author

Mathew 2406 posts

I'm a Toronto-based former senior writer with Gigaom and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

8 Responses to “Why is it different because it’s Craigslist?”
  1. i won my bet.! yesterday, i told a work colleague that there would be a kneejerk “follow” on your site today as soon as mike A posted something – no matter the topic. way to go.

    LOL

    • Congratulations Dave — although I can't help feeling that you should
      get out more, maybe even meet some girls. Still, I guess everyone
      needs a hobby — I'm happy to be yours.

  2. The real question here: why has this not become the hottest campus prank sweeping the nation?

    • I'm kind of surprised at that too, Will — kids nowadays :-)

      On Wed, Mar 26, 2008 at 10:35 AM, Disqus

  3. Craigslist is different because it heralds itself as this great ethical organization that serves the community. And yet when things like this happen, Craigslist just hides behind its court cases that state that it's not responsible for their ads. But that's legally. What about ethically?

    Craigslist should be more vocal and make a proactive effort to curb these kinds of postings. How many people really give away all of their home's possessions when they're not even there? Come on. If Craigslist is really ethical, they should pony up a little bit of their $100+ million/year revenue and help this guy out.

  4. […] his possessions, and others were free to take what they wished. Technology writer Matthew Ingram tackles the question with a good dose of common sense, as usual. Post a […]

  5. Mathew: You're missing an important element. Newspaper classified departments have trained consultants who must know the identity of the person placing the ad, must adhere to state and federal standards against fraud and discrimination, and through experience learn to sniff out this sort of scam. The very nature of Craigslist list is, indeed, to blame for the high incidence of fraud, spamming, prostitution and other unsavory and illegal activity it supports. Yes, it's possible to fool a newspaper classified ad taker, but not easy. Craigslist is the perfect breeding ground for fraud and other types of illegitimate advertising.

    Roger Plothow
    Editor and Publisher
    Post Register
    Idaho Falls, Idaho

  6. Mathew: You're missing an important element. Newspaper classified departments have trained consultants who must know the identity of the person placing the ad, must adhere to state and federal standards against fraud and discrimination, and through experience learn to sniff out this sort of scam. The very nature of Craigslist list is, indeed, to blame for the high incidence of fraud, spamming, prostitution and other unsavory and illegal activity it supports. Yes, it's possible to fool a newspaper classified ad taker, but not easy. Craigslist is the perfect breeding ground for fraud and other types of illegitimate advertising.

    Roger Plothow
    Editor and Publisher
    Post Register
    Idaho Falls, Idaho

Comments are closed.