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Last June, I wanted to sell a bicycle. Where else to unload it but on Craigslist, right? A potential buyer emailed me within hours asking for details beyond what I’d posted on the site. After receiving the new information, he said he’d come over to view the bike. Did he intend to haggle? I coached myself on how to hold the price firm. But he never showed up. When I tried to expand my initial wording that evening, I found that the post was gone despite Craigslist having promised that it would remain on the site for seven days. Bewildered, I clicked on the link the company provides to ask after the fate of disappeared postings. What happened? No answer after several tries.

Several days later, I sold the bike to a used-bike store for a third of the price I’d first sought, grumbling all the while about Craigslist’s flawed free service (the company also offers paid ads). Those were my last thoughts about the company. Until recently, that is, when Nick Nascimento emailed me his own complaints. “Craigslist is now out of control,” wrote Nascimento. “What was once the friend of small business has now become a tool to put small businesses out of business.” (For full disclosure, Nascimento once worked in advertising sales for the Reader.)

Five years ago, Nascimento started AGeek2Go, LLC, a computer-servicing business operating throughout San Diego County. The company struggled at first because “in the good old days, when people had money,” Nascimento tells me, “so many just went out and bought a new computer when their old one gave them trouble.” He put the business on hold until a year and a half ago, when customers began to call asking where he’d been. At first, they turned up through word of mouth. Then, by advertising on Craigslist, Nascimento says he began to make a killing. But last summer, that changed, as Craigslist began to remove his posted ads.

Nascimento and I are meeting at the On the Border restaurant on Mira Mesa Boulevard. He is lunching on a fish taco between service calls, while I sample his guacamole hors d’oeuvres. We talk for a half hour before repairing to the Barnes and Noble next door, where the store’s Wi-Fi allows us to look on Nascimento’s laptop at the history of his Craigslist postings. What they show is a long series of successful posts, followed suddenly by continuous messages from Craigslist saying that the submissions were deleted.

As soon as the deletions started, Nascimento says, he immediately began asking, “Where have I screwed up? How can I suddenly be breaking the company’s rules when I’ve successfully posted the same ads previously for months? Then, to make matters worse, when I complained to Craigslist, saying that the site was running many ads that were breaking the rules while mine were not, they banned my account for 90 days.”

Last November, Craigslist reported that only 30 employees run the site from its headquarters in San Francisco. The company relies on its users to flag ads that break its “Terms of Use.” Such violations include posting too frequently or in the wrong category. But an ad that users deem “too commercial” also invites flagging, although how much commercialism will be tolerated is not specified.

In an October 10, 2007 interview in Freakonomics — a blog that was then on the New York Times website — Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and chief executive Jim Buckmaster responded to the issue of ads being mysteriously flagged off the site with no subsequent explanations by the company. “With over 30 million people per month visiting our site,” said Newmark, “the most effective way to deal with bad stuff is to enlist the community in self-policing. So if you find an ad that’s wrong, please flag it, and if others agree with you and flag it themselves, then it’s removed automatically. Almost always, flagged ads that were thought to be legitimate later proved to have violated community-requested guidelines.… What works for us is the culture of trust our community has built with us. We have two core values: treat others like you want to be treated, and live and let live.”

“I am continually impressed by the wisdom and fairness of Craigslist users in setting community guidelines and then enforcing them,” added Buckmaster.

That “wisdom” seemed to be a no-show when Nascimento entered Craigslist’s “Help Forum” shortly after his posting troubles began. He shows me a number of responses he received from users, whom Craigslist allows to comment in the forum. One commenter wrote, “There you go again, blaming your FREE…ad on the entire failure of your business. Perhaps a flaw in your business plan????” Another, “Who ever you are just go away please.… TRY GETTING A LIFE.” And, “Really? Your business plan…is so tied in to free ads on CL that you’re blaming the flagging of your ads on having to let go employees? I’m stunned.”

Nascimento is hardly the only complainer. There are scores online. “It’s always the same,” he says. “Just the names are changed.”

Take this cry for help on Yahoo! Answers. “My competitor is flagging me mercilessly on Craigslist.… How can I fight back? I own a small mattress company and pay someone to run it for me. My main competitor is a larger company.… When I started, I’d post 3, maybe 4, ads daily, but he would flag them all. I know it’s him because my best friend works for him and has told me that he does flag all my ads, so I’m 100% sure it’s him. He will post 40 to 50 ads daily. This is not an exaggeration, I counted. Some days I’ll post 15 to 20 ads just to get up there but my competitor will flag them all down.… One night I stayed up and posted 10 ads. They all stuck. By 9 o’clock in the morning they were all gone.

“How on earth is he doing this?

“I’ve tried everything to stay up there but he flags every single one of them down every day and I can never take down any of his. I’m not trying to put anybody out of business or damage somebody’s business. I’m happy sharing the pie with everybody. But this guy is literally taking food off of my table by doing what he’s doing. In the beginning I tried to fight the good fight and just post more ads and not flag his…two wrongs don’t make a right, right? The more I posted the more he flagged and now I’m probably less than 3 months from going under.… I’m not one to do something like this but he’s not going to stop until I’m out of business. Can somebody please tell me how to flag this guy so he stops flagging me?”

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Comments

geebocom March 30, 2011 @ 10:22 a.m.

Several days ago, I penned an open letter to my counterparts in the classified ad business, challenging them to follow me in imposing new policies to make their sites safer.

Not surprisingly, none of them has yet to respond to my letter. After all, the changes that I’m suggesting are not easy ones for the site owners to make. Ridding their sites of personal ads and other adult-oriented categories that run amok with criminal activity could impact their bottom lines. More...

http://blog.geebo.com/2011/03/16/my-challenge-to-craigslist-keep-criminals-off-your-site/

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SurfPuppy619 March 30, 2011 @ 11:03 p.m.

Hopefully online porn will put the porn shops and strip clubs in neighborhoods out of business too

Already has, even Playboy is close to BK.

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geebocom April 1, 2011 @ 8:38 a.m.

I don’t think you and I want separate things. You wanted the police to do their job in monitoring your streets to keep yourself, your family, and your friends, safe. Geebo wants online classified sites to do their job in monitoring their sites to keep yourself, your family, and your friends, safe. I am glad that prostitution has decreased in your community. However, Geebo is a community as well. Aren’t we equally entitled to want something done to clean up our online community? I believe so.

The problem, whether online or out your front window, might never truly disappear. But this isn’t a reason to do nothing to prevent or preempt its facilitation. I trust you didn’t stop calling the police and requesting action to be taken. Similarly, we won’t either.

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Javajoe25 March 31, 2011 @ noon

Cordedpoodel,

So how do you sell your stuff thru CL if you don't have the person come to your house? I take it you sell things that are small enough to fit in your pocket and you meet them somewhere? For anything bigger than a breadbox, I don't see any way around having the buyer come over, pay, and leave with the item.

Suggestions?

Thnx.

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GreenAl March 31, 2011 @ 2:14 p.m.

Craigslist is just another cyber-giant operating behind a firewall. They will do what they want, when they want, and how they want to do it. If you don't like it, or voice an opinion they don't care for, your account will be banned: http://greenalsgasses.com/censorship/banned-conservatism-censored-on-the-craigslist-community-political-forum/

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4k9dk1h5e0a3s6m2fr7l8b4w7g6z2p April 9, 2011 @ 11:10 a.m.

He's not a cry baby. He's got a valid point. CL has caused a lot of people problems and that's a fact. They have a virtual monopoly on classified ads and thus people are virutally forced into using CL. I have seen people go into their Help forum to get help with tech-related problems and it was there where their employees treated some people like garbage. And they, the CL crew, at times talk disrespectfully to people by posting anonymously with fake names.

There's no call for that.

They do jerk people around and it appears as if the boys working for them do it for kicks and giggles. People who go to their Help forum are simply trying to accomplish tasks, trying to get things done. It's bad enough that people have to write notes back and forth to each other in order to try and solve some tech issues that are a little complex or frustrating in nature. Passing notes takes up a persons time and it, depending on the severity of tne problem, can be a bad way to try and convey technical information that is meant to troubleshoot a problem.

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Hedda April 15, 2011 @ 6:27 p.m.

More slime from 4k9dk1h5e0a3s6m2fr7l8b4w7g6z2p.

The forums are for users. One in a million posts from staff are clearly marked as such. You have never seen a staffer do what you allege to be a common problem.

Many posts in help desk forum are from pranksters, trolls, and just plain incompetent surfers. That's in addition to some legit issues. It's a relatively open forum.

As for monopoly, that's not even laughable.

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PartyTime Jan. 27, 2012 @ 9:22 p.m.

"You have never seen a staffer do what you allege to be a common problem."

Haven't "seen it" cause you're in a remote location in a room only god knows where. Which is why you can pull act like a troll towards users and get away with it. Not to mention the sockpuppets you use. Don't be stupid cause we're not.

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Hedda March 31, 2011 @ 10:08 p.m.

An amusing story which bears little resemblance to the facts in general and fails in some facts in particular. Congratulations on a trivial hit piece written from ignorance if not worse.

Your star witness is the one who wrote “Who ever you are just go away please.… TRY GETTING A LIFE.” http://craigslist.org/forums/?ID=181020257 Right? Yes, flag help can be rowdy but it DOES represent "folk wisdom". Also, your star witness failed to follow forum guidelines both times he started a thread there. That never helps a serious request for help. It also seems from what little you both say that he had been abusing the site for some time while he was "making a killing" or some such.

Your own anecdote is amusing but ambiguous or worse. You were trying to sell a used bike on craigslist for 3x what a bike shop would pay for it?! Surely you jest, Shirley! And you gave up when you say your post "disappeared" after you got one flakey inquiry (to your grossly overpriced "item")? This is literally unbelievable, as are other things you wrote.

"As of this writing, Craigslist has not responded to my questions about what, if anything, they are doing to address the situation."

Which situation? That there is a lot of trash talk on the web? LOL! That you couldn't post a new ad for your bike? No staff support for free ads. That your star witness evidently had been abusing the site for a long time and was "banned" (his term which doesn't fit common craigslist terminology at all) for 90 days? To paraphrase his own words, "Get a life!"

I invite you to post on the cl-help desk forum under a registered handle, to discuss any problems you have, or had, using a craigslist site. http://craigslist.org/forums/?forumID=9

Sign me,

Not On Staff

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PartyTime April 9, 2011 @ 12:49 p.m.

You're HelpfulHedda

the one, the only

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ruth3186 March 31, 2011 @ 10:36 p.m.

Hedda's all wet.

I posted 'on the help forum under a registered handle' and got nothing but snide remarks along with the insistence that the problem was with me, not the site. They're absolutely incapable/unwilling to address the issue of underhanded tactics employed by those who're out to silence their competition's posts. And just like Hedda's smarmy off-point response, the only help you'll get in dealing with auto-flaggers is denial, deflection, or distraction.

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Hedda April 1, 2011 @ 1:36 a.m.

Sorry, ruth, but you don't say what handle, so your allegation is not credible. Also please don't mis-attribute -- the cl-flag help forum is not the same as the cl-help desk forum, and neither forum claims to be anything more than a user to user forum. So, don't expect other users to be able to solve any alleged problems of craigslist management.

In point of fact the odds are that flagging complaints are unjustified. So the "burden of proof" is on the complainer. People who complain about a free service, without even bothering to follow forum or posting guidelines and the formal TOU ... just what kind of respect do they deserve when they show up with assumptions, arrogance and "attitude"?

Anyway, the offer is open to Mr. Deegan or any other user of craigslist. YMMV but try not to poison the well. Say hello if you "see" me in the cl-help desk forum.

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4k9dk1h5e0a3s6m2fr7l8b4w7g6z2p April 9, 2011 @ 11:33 a.m.

"Sorry, ruth, but you don't say what handle, so your allegation is not credible. Also please don't mis-attribute -- the cl-flag help forum is not the same as the cl-help desk forum, and neither forum claims to be anything more than a user to user forum. So, don't expect other users to be able to solve any alleged problems of craigslist management."

And you're not very credible either.

Some of the "helpers" in their Help Desk forum answer questions around the clock morning and night five to seven days a week and some of them have been doing that since 2005.

So just how do their so-called "volunteers" support themselves if all they do is answer questions in their Help forum?

Ruth didn't say who she was not because she's not credible but because she wouldn't want to experience retaliation from any one CL team member who works their Help Forum. CL knows who people are thanks to personal information we have to provide CL with. Retaliation means problems that could affect a persons ability to use CL. Unfortunately she, like most people, needs CL due to CL's virtual monopoly.

Your statement is not credible. Your statement is intended to get average people to buy into the idea that there are no CL representatives who work in their Help forum therefore they should not be held accountable for any exchange(s) that might be defined as a bad exchange i.e. a personal attack, name calling, ridicule, cyber-harassment, etc, etc.

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Hedda April 15, 2011 @ 6:21 p.m.

"And you're not very credible either."

I'm not the one complaining, and I did offer to meet "ruth" in that cl forum with any real help issue. "ruth" may use any registered handle she likes, as may you, "4k9dk1h5e0a3s6m2fr7l8b4w7g6z2p". But you're obviously only about slime and smear tactics, so good luck with those.

In fact, no personal info is required to post in cl-help desk forum (unless you're on a subnet being used to attack the site). Beyond that the only info needed is a disposable email address with which to open an account. Paranoia ain't pretty, bud.

There are no staff posting in the forums except the very rare gold/amber handles readily identifiable as staff -- one in a million, roughly (yes there are stats). So "CL team" is a fiction on your part, but yes some users do drop in often, though I doubt you can prove 24/7.

What's your angle anyway -- for all that trash talk??

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PartyTime April 9, 2011 @ 12:55 p.m.

Hedda is HelpfulHedda

THEE HelpfulHedda

the one and only HelpfulHedda

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dorod April 1, 2011 @ 7:29 a.m.

"Cars and trucks" is one example of where the crooks are taking over the site. Try typing in and searching for tacoma, and you will find numerous instances that are constantly updated, of ads that have trucks worth $10,000 - $15000 that are being offered for less than $5000. When you contact them with the email address your told that they will ship the car to you and you need to give all your personal info to some paypal site.

Craigslist is becoming a joke!!!

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ruth3186 April 1, 2011 @ 10:29 a.m.

Post my handle and then be ridiculed like YOU did with the subject of this article? (e.g. making unwarranted comments about his business practices while suggesting that no one should expect much from a "free" site.)

Putting the onus on the "complainers" instead of investigating their allegations resolves nothing. There's nothing "helpful" about defending a system that's broken.

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PartyTime April 9, 2011 @ 1:06 p.m.

How did Craigslist allow you to support yourself during the two year period when you took care of your mother?

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Ponzi Jan. 27, 2012 @ 11:37 p.m.

I have hired employees, found chit, and everything else on craigslist for the last decade. One thing I can say is never try to “give away” anything on CL. It’s a hassles and waste of time. Some people want you to deliver it. Others ask too many questions about something that you’re offering for free instead of sending to the landfill.

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