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Goodbye backpage … hello bedpage (or maybe not)

This week, we've been concentrating on a couple of things which are not really website based, so if you were hoping that we would post new pics or info, sorry, but that hasn't happened. However, if you've been paying attention to current affairs in the escorting world, then you will probably know that it has been a fairly eventful past few days.

 

Just as the Americans decided to outdo the British decision to vote for Brexit by electing Donald Trump as President, so they've yet again outdone the Brits in the regulation of online adult behaviour. Thus, although the UK recently introduced measures to make Age Verification when visiting adult websites mandatory, the initial introduction date of April has come and gone due to an inability to actually implement a working system for this daft idea. In comparison, the USA has now, in the shape of SESTA-FOSTA, not only passed legislation aimed at combating the trafficking of people into the sex industry, it has actually taken the first concrete measures to enforce it. While the law ostensibly seeks to protect people who are underage or unwilling participants, as so often happen, collateral damage has taken place, affecting, in particular, websites which were popular with sexworkers who were more than happy to work in this line of business. One notable early victim of this legislation has happened to be Backpage, which was shut down at the end of last week (just after the law received legislative approval, but before being signed by Donald Trump into law).

 

For those who are not familiar with it, Backpage was a classifieds directory, similar to other sites like Gumtree and Craigslist (and rather like an online version of The Loot, for those chaps who used to line the boots of their cars with old issues of this newspaper). The key difference between Backpage and the others though, is that in recent years, it served as quite a popular place for escorts to market their services in the USA, given the general lack of other advertising mechanisms there. It was, in relative terms, a fairly new site, which really took off in popularity when Gumtree exited the market for escort ads, and thus left a (lucrative) void that everyone else was keen to fill. Outside the USA though, it wasn't as widely used, given the viable choice of alternatives; so if you're looking at the UK, for example, it would rank well behind AdultWork or Vivastreet in terms of popularity, with the most common users that we encountered being Americans here on business or tourism (although it was a key source of business for some escorts, in particular, the ones who didn't wish to undergo verification elsewhere) .

 

Due to its willingness to provide escort adverts, Backpage experienced a fair bit of controversy predating its recent closure. As it advertised in different states, local authorities conducted numerous on its regional offices, and there were several campaigns to prevent it from running effectively as a business, with the most successful being one to ensure that credit card firms would no longer allow it to use their facilities - without the ability to take card payments for an advert, it would be largely impossible to run a business. Despite this, Backpage survived, moving operations offshore, creating clone sites (notably cracker), taking payments from card issuers outside the USA (as happened in the UK), accepting bitcoin (hardly smart, given its association with the dark web), and, above all, arguing that it was merely a conduit for free speech, which was thus within the ambit of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution (naturally, the Americans are as big on that as they are on the right to bear arms).

 

The problem for Backpage is that it couldn't curb the way in which it was being abused by some individuals who clearly did engage in some illegal and rather nasty exploitative acts. Coupled with numerous lawsuits from aggrieved family members, it was inevitable that there would be a groundswell of support to shut it down, as it served as the focal point for those wanting to counter the growing trafficking of people into the USA (and whose end goal was the passage of SESTA_FOSTA). While some wish to blame Backpage's woes on Donald Trump and the moralising of the American right, the facts don't stack up. First, the initial steps to get this law passed were undertaken well over a year ago, before Trump was even even inaugurated (when many actually thought Hillary was going to become President). Second, the law was passed with almost unanimous support from both Republicans AND Democrats, so it isn't as if one party forced its will onto the country by a razor thing margin (the most notable person to vote against it was the son of America's leading libertarian politician, Rand Paul). Thus, even if Trump did get stroppy and chose not to accept it as law, it would simply be returned to him a second time due to the fact that there was a supermajority supporting its implementation (remember, a supramajority is what is needed if anyone ever wishes to impeach him). As the US works on the basis of separation of powers, some people are hoping that this law could still be stopped via the judicial arm of the state - whether this is likely though is not clearcut, given the way the Supreme Court is currently constituted, so for now, we can rightly expect that SESTA is here to stay, and thus Backpage isn't going to be revived anytime in the near future.

 

So, now that Backpage has gone, where does it leave us? For starters, a number of copycat sites have appeared to take its place, all of which claim to be able to offer the same features. Of these, the most notable frontrunner is bedpage. Although the domain was set up last year, and is hosted by the same firm which ran the original backpage servers, to imply that there is a link with the original backpage is probably coincidental, given that they just happen to employ the services of one of the world's largest registrar and hosting firms. Now that it is up and running, the question is - can bedpage succeed? Well, the answer is probably a qualified yes, although in order for it to be successful, it will need to resolve  a couple of niggling issues. First, there is an issue of trust - to some loopy American escorts, it is a front for the police to get their details, while to others, it is probably a scam which has been set-up to get their credit card details. Either way, until the reputation of the site is improved, it will probably be used by only the most desperate of escorts. Second, we have technical issues - at the moment, bedpage is hardly the most reliable of platforms, going offline on a fairly regular basis. While part of this may be due to the unexpected spike in usage, in the long term, if its owners expect to run it properly, they're definitely going to have to improve its reliability, otherwise end users are just going to give up on it. Finally, there is the question of user numbers - for it to be successful, it is going to have to draw in large numbers of both escorts AND clients, for in this line of work, you can't have one without the other. At the moment, not many people know about it, so there is not much of an incentive to use it, but as word spreads about it, particularly on the punting boards (for better or worse), expect its usage to grow,

 

Concluding comments? Well, there are none. Just expect to see more upheaval in coming weeks as more sites with any form of tenable link to the USA close down or move to more adult friendly environments. It will be a slow process, and it will affect all of us in rather unexpected ways as more info comes through.

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