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Stupid PR Watch: Shamelessness in Listings Land

03/01/11

By Ken Magill

In a brazenly disingenuousness marketing ploy, Craigslist wannabe Oodle commissioned a study recently examining crimes committed by and against Craigslist users.

The result: the shamefully titled whitepaper “Crime and Craigslist: A sad tale of murders and more” prepared by an outfit called the AIM Group on Oodle’s behalf.

“Sadly, Craigslist has become a cesspool of crime. Murders. Rapes. Robberies. Hitman-for-hire. Assault. Fraud. Rental rip-offs,” began the introduction by AIM principal Peter Zollman.

“Unfortunately, these are everyday occurrences involving people who use Craigslist to buy or sell, or for worse,” the introduction continued.

“And the old rules — ‘meet in public;’ ‘always tell someone where you’re going;’ ‘know who you’re dealing with’ — often don’t work on Craigslist.

The report linked Craigslist to 12 deaths and 330 crimes in one year. Why the old rules often don’t work wasn’t addressed—probably because they do.

Yes, the crimes listed in Oodle’s “study” were committed after the perpetrators met their victims through Craigslist. But to imply that Craigslist is in any way responsible for them is ludicrous.

And to say that 12 deaths and 330 crimes in a year involving millions—possibly billions—of transactions makes Craigslist a “cesspool of crime” is either brazenly dishonest or stupid, take your pick.

And just as asinine as Oodle’s report were the media outlets that covered it with straight faces.

“Craigslist can be dangerous, so much that a recently released study—commissioned by rival Oodle, which runs Facebook app Marketplace—calls it ‘a cesspool of crime,’” led a piece on MSNBC.

At least it pointed out the study was commissioned by a competitor.

The fact that the crimes in AIM’s report were committed after the victims and perpetrators met on Craigslist is irrelevant. If two people met in a tavern, left together and one killed the other, would we refer to it as a tavern killing?

Then there’s the whopper of a quote Oodle CEO Craig Donato reportedly gave to MSNBC: "We were doing some focus groups, how they used online classifieds and it was pretty clear that interactions that began anonymously led to face-to-face encounters, and flaky behavior. What really struck us in all the focus groups was that everyone cited a close call, or where they felt really scared," he said, according to MSNBC. "We just asked [AIM, the research group] to look at problems and crimes associated with online classifieds, and it quickly zoned in on Craigslist, which has the lion's share."

Stunning. The largest online classifieds service draws the most online-classified related criminal activity. And let’s give Donato the benefit of the doubt that he’s being accurate when he says “everyone” in Oodle’s focus groups had frightening encounters when responding to online classifieds. It would be interesting to learn the criteria under which these folks were selected.

Meeting strangers is potentially dangerous no matter how the meetings are arranged. And Craigslist isn’t remotely the only place where potentially dangerous meetings take place.

A Google search yesterday for the exact phrase “met his victim online” brought back 900 results, many if not most of which were about crimes committed by perpetrators who met their victims on dating sites.

Are dating sites cesspools of crime?

Everyone at Oodle and the AIM Group who took part in this farce of a study should be ashamed of themselves. But the fact that they could engage in such shamelessness to begin with probably means they’re incapable of it.

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