You want to talk about a bad week? I’d say that prostitution, murder and suicide can pretty much sum up a worst case scenario when it comes to a PR nightmare. Welcome to what Craigslist.com, a popular online classifieds service, is waking up to today. On this past Sunday Phillip Markoff, dubbed the ‘Craigslist Killer,’ committed what was by all accounts a suicide in his jail cell.
The Boston University medical student donned the nickname after going on an alleged murderous crime and gambling spree earlier this year. Markoff was currently being held on charges stemming from the April 14, 2009 fatal shooting, and attempted robbery of Julissa Brisman, 25, at Boston’s Copley Marriot Hotel. Police reports said that Brisman, a model, advertised herself as a masseuse on Craigslist, and the hotel is where Markoff is believed to have met her.
This news comes on the heels of last week’s accusations from two young women, AK and MC, who had placed an advertisement in the Washington Post claiming that they were repeatedly sold through the Craigslist.com site to men who “paid to rape” them. They went as far as to make an open plea to ‘Craig’ to please shut down the adult services sections of Craigslist — which is said to carry thousands upon thousands of prostituion ads daily. Talk about a bad week. Accusations of soliciting prostitution, and a man using your website to find and then murder a 25 year old girl. There is no spinning yourself out of this PR nightmare.
A simple search for the word Craigslist in Google right now is going to yield you with the words Craigslist Killer in the most recent news — the sweet spot for where your eyes first fixate on. Furthermore even if you came from the school of thought that ‘any press is good press’ — THIS kind of press would be an exception to that rule. So where does that leave Craigslist? Do they have any moves they can make, even laterally, to get out of this kind of news coverage? The short answer is unfortunately, no.
A recent quote from Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster sums up the unfortunate circumstances of the former of Craigslist’s two issues:
“scapegoating advertising services is a very unfortunate misdirection of attention and energy from the tough choices, hard work, and significant investments required for addressing actual causes of, and making actual progress against the scourges of trafficking and child exploitation.”
However, the latter is something that no one can spin, explain, or give significant thought to. What would you want to hear Jim and the people from Craigslist say, “We’re sorry he allegedly used our website to find someone, and then decide to kill them?” At what point does that becometoo mundane to even ask? Do we demand an apology from Apple when a 16 year old wrecks into our parked car because he was trying to text on his iPhone and drive?
The lines are blurred, but the actions Craigslist can take are pretty simple:
1 – In the case of the accusations of prostitution on your website, back-link to the blog post by CEO Jim Buckmaster explaining the lengths Craigslist goes to thwart criminal activity.
2 – In the case of the ‘Craigslist Killer’ – stay mum to the entire conversation. You are not bound my legalities to make any comment in any direction.
3 – Wait it out.
The third is basically the only tactic you can take in the situation of bad press that is completely out of your hands. People read based on emotion. So seeing the words suicide, Craigslist Killer, prostitution, etc. is what writers like myself use to draw you into a story. The masses for which journalism is written thrive on the three basic emotional convictions: death, sex, lies. They are what get middle America to turn on the TV and eat their warmed up TV-dinners, or have the tmz.com home page running behind their spreadsheet while at work. Prostitution accusations in their adult services portion is something that Craigslist is going to have to continue to fight, and do so proactively. But the ‘Cragislist Killer’ news will fizzle out — that is, until the next person commit’s a like-crime on someone he found using Craigslist.com. And that folks, is something that they will never be able to thwart 100%. Unfortunately, we seem to shoot the messenger.