A Chicago fair-housing group has sued groundbreaking Web site craigslist for allegedly publishing discriminatory advertisements, a case that could test the legal liabilities of online ad venues.The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has sued Craigslist, saying that the site carried over 100 classified ads that violated the Fair Housing Act over a six-month period:
The federal suit is part of an emerging attempt by housing watchdogs nationally to hold online classified sites to the same strict standards as the publishers of print classifieds, such as newspapers.
The case is potentially significant because it suggests the rules for an Internet site should be the same as a traditional publisher, in which every ad should be vetted to conform with the law. But that notion contradicts the way the Internet has blossomed, where informal communities tend to police themselves and free expression is valued.
Among the ads cited in the suit: "Non-women of Color NEED NOT APPLY"; "African Americans and Arabians tend to clash with me so that won't work out"; and "Requirements: Clean Godly Christian Male."Many will be watching this case closely. Craigslist, of course, is a popular Web site that connects communities all over America and around the world. It basically serves as a giant bulletin board and classified ad section in each community it's reached and has been seen as a major force in declining newspaper revenues. Lost Remote's Cory Bergman weighs in:
The question is, should Craigslist be held to the same legal standards as traditional classifieds? If you ask me, the answer is a resounding no. Since Craigslist's ads aren't vetted, it should have guarantees under freedom of speech, just like news sites that allow open forums and blog comments. But I fear this will be a tough battle.Should the site eventually be required to comply with federal laws such as the Fair Housing Act, it would certainly add an additional oversight burden to the site, not to mention what it might mean for the future of the Internet as a whole. What do you think, should Craigslist be required to comply?