Monday, December 07, 2015

The Case of the Cowardly Credit Cards

On November 30th an interesting court ruling was posted. It seems that the Sheriff of Cook County, one Tom Dart, had been on a campaign to shut down a classified publication with an extensive "adult" section called Backpage(.com).  Dart told Visa and MasterCard to stop doing business with Backpage, and these credit card companies heroically... totally caved in and did what he said.

Dart was found to be violating the First Amendment in that he used his role as a public official to attempt to suppress all advertisements placed on Backpage, at least some of which must have fallen under the category of "free speech".

 shawnzrossi via / CC BY
The judge refers to several weaknesses in Dart's claims about how damaging the adult advertisements were to women, including a charmingly naïve description of what a dominatrix is--one of the services being advertised.

In the judgement the credit card companies are referred to as "victims".  But it seems just as easy to see them as collaborators. In fact an letter stating the official position of Visa asserted that they did not feel threatened by Dart's letter, effectively undermining Backpage's case. (Meanwhile internal staff communications at Visa referred to the letter as "blackmail")

Backpage won nothing more than an injunction against Dart threatening credit card companies. No word yet as to whether either credit card company has resumed doing business with Backpages who is currently giving away heir advertising for free.  Backpage has the law on their side, but that is probably not going to save their business.

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