Nascimento invites me to place the simplest ad I can think of in Craigslist’s computer “Services” section. “It’ll be gone in 10 minutes,” he says. “You watch.” So we place an ad with a generic promise to help “with your computer problems at a reasonable rate.” Then we wait. At about the 20-minute mark, Nascimento says, “This reminds me of going to the doctor for a pain that doesn’t hurt once you get there.” But sure enough, just as we are leaving, the ad is deleted. Since it takes a number of flags (no one is sure how many) to prompt Craigslist to delete, I wonder how it can happen so fast.
“These companies that are flagging off their competition have to be hiring somebody to do it,” Nascimento says. “If I, the little guy, spend all my time reposting, then I can’t get anything else accomplished. Obviously, I don’t want to do that. But the bigger guys? They just pay somebody to watch Craigslist all day long and do the flagging.”
Still, there have to be a number of flaggers, right?
Nascimento calls my attention to 16 YouTube videos that explain how it’s done. Craigslist determines whether flags are coming from different sources, he says, by automatically monitoring their internet protocol numbers. “So all the bad guys do,” says Nascimento, “is keep changing one number in their [internet protocol] identities before they flag. That’s what one video tells you how to do.”
When I bring up the first video, which is oriented to the real estate industry, the narrator is talking about “the ultimate in the art of war. I’m going to show you,” he says, “how to dominate your Craigslist market.” The technique relies on the use of “proxy” internet addresses that prevent Craigslist from seeing that the flags are coming from one location only. This “Craigslist flagging tool” allows you to have new flags, close to 50 of them, sent from a different address every ten seconds.
But the video Nascimento wants me most to see, called “How to Flag Unlimited Craigslist Ads,” advises against the use of proxies. “They suck,” the new narrator says. “They’re too hard to find.” What he describes instead is a multistep method, using a number of software tools, of changing your internet protocol number. He admits that what he is doing is controversial. Some people will see it as only helping the crooks put more people out of business. But he feels that he must blow up the phenomenon. If enough people start doing it, he believes, Craigslist will finally have to take steps to control the flagging that is making a joke of its free service.
“It would be easy,” says Nascimento. “All Craigslist would have to do is charge a dollar for each ad. I’d pay it, no problem. Then they could afford to hire company moderators of all the flagging that takes place on their site. They know exactly what’s going on. After wiping out so many advertising sellers by now, they need to be responsible. Originally, we all thought Craigslist was a hero, standing up for the little guy. But now the big guys have turned everything around, and Craigslist doesn’t care.”
As of this writing, Craigslist has not responded to my questions about what, if anything, they are doing to address the situation.