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So to Speak: The Free Speech Podcast takes an uncensored look at the world of free expression through personal stories and candid conversations.
New episodes post every other Thursday.

Dec 21, 2023

We’re joined today by Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Robert Corn-Revere, and Ronnie London to discuss the history and verdict of the Backpage trial. was an online classified advertising service founded in 2004. As a chief competitor to Craigslist, Backpage allowed users to post ads to categories such as personals, automotive, rentals, jobs and — most notably — adult services. In 2018, the website domain was seized by the FBI and its executives were prosecuted under federal prostitution and money laundering statutes. The trial concluded this year, resulting in the acquittal and convictions of several key executives. 

Some First Amendment advocates are concerned that the Backpage case represents a “slippery slope” for the prosecution of protected speech and the rights of websites that host user-generated content.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown is a senior editor at Reason Magazine, where she has written about the Backpage case in detail. 

Robert Corn-Revere is FIRE’s chief counsel and a frequent guest of the show. Prior to joining FIRE, he represented Backpage in private practice.

Ronnie London is FIRE’s general counsel and another frequent guest of the show. He also represented Backpage when he was in private practice prior to joining FIRE.


00:00 Introduction 

06:55 The origins of Backpage 

10:40 The significance of classified ads 

14:52 Are escort ads protected? 

19:07 Federal memos indicating Backpage fought child sex trafficking

23:19 Backpage content moderation

34:44 Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

42:59 “De-banking” and NRA v. Vullo

52:24 The verdict 

1:00:34 Could these convictions be overturned? 

1:02:49 Outro

Show notes url

2018 Backpage indictment

Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s 2018 Backpage profile

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

NRA v. Vullo

The Travel Act