The Justice Department is trying to ban the sale of “adult” escort ads on Backpage, a controversial online marketplace for prostitution.
The Justice Department said it will block the ads if it is able to prove that the ads violate federal obscenity laws, including the section on promoting prostitution.
The ads appear on Backstreet.com and other sites, which have also been flagged by regulators in recent weeks for the presence of sexually explicit material.
“If we cannot prove that these ads promote prostitution, then we will take action against Backpage and other websites that advertise these ads,” said Michael Cohen, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“We will work with our partners across the industry to address these ads before they reach consumers and we will continue to aggressively prosecute offenders who seek to circumvent these laws.”
Backpage has denied wrongdoing and has said it is cooperating with the government’s investigation.
The website was the focus of an earlier federal investigation.
As a result of the government action, the Justice on Monday announced it would require that all ads posted on Backroom.com, as well as any ads on other Backpage.com websites, be posted in an “adult-oriented” section.
This will prevent ads from appearing on other websites, and it will prevent anyone from creating or using ads in Backroom, which has hundreds of thousands of listings.
Cohen said that the new rules will make it more difficult for those who have paid for a listing to circumvent the law by creating or changing the address of the ad.
The new rules also require that any “adult oriented” advertisements be posted on a separate website, with a separate user agreement.
The Justice on Tuesday also ordered Backpage to delete its adult ads from its website by March 10.
Backstreet was the subject of a series of federal investigations into the ads in October and November that revealed how the sites operated.
In the early days, Backpage was a major conduit for trafficking in drugs and pornography.