Craigslist ain’t working.

Spam, unrestrained flagging, and ineffective management are transforming Craigslist into a rubbish heap.

Craigslist headquarters
Craigslist World Headquarters
Photo by: Calton

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, evidently believes in minimal structure. Most of Craigslist is policed by “the community”. Off-loading the police function has allowed Craigslist to keep its payroll to a minimum: reportedly it employs only 34 people, all based in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, discipline in many areas of Craigslist has broken down. In some areas, such as South Florida’s Computer Services section, flagging of messages makes it impossible to keep an ad published for more than an hour or so.

The flagging idea exists so that “the community” can flag an ad as spam, mis-categorized, or as containing inappropriate content. If enough flags accumulate for one ad, Craigslist deletes it automatically. Who can flag an ad? Anyone, even a visitor with no Craigslist account. How many flags result in ad deletion? Who knows?

Forums and blogs have raised a chorus of complaints. Here are a few:

Craig’s List’s Dirty Little Secret: Who’s Policing the Flagging Police?
“. . . I discovered that Craig’s List has been taken over by a handful of self-appointed police who flag ads arbitrarily. Anyone can get an ad deleted on Craig’s List by flagging it a couple of times from different ip addresses (say, work and home). There is no recourse, no higher authority to appeal to. Your ad is gone and, aside from a curt email notification, that’s the end of it. Try re-posting, and you’re likely to get deleted again, except now that you’ve been flagged once, you’re penalized: one flag is enough to immediately delete your ad.”

Craigslist and the lonely road to Irrelevant Land

“I am not sure why my ad was flagged for removal. They do not share that information with you, and there is no accountability for the person doing the flagging. You are just rejected like Forrest Gump looking for a seat on the school bus and left to figure it out for yourself. . . The one thing they cannot do is sit on their laurels and let the community police itself without giving them guidance and implementing restrictions. A world where no one abuses each other and everyone lives in peace and happiness is called Utopia. The road Craigslist is on does not lead to Utopia; it leads to Irrelevant Land.”

Hey, Craigslist, Where Did My Ad Go?
“Craigslist will finally have to take steps to control the flagging that is making a joke of its free service.
All Craigslist would have to do is charge a dollar for each ad. I’d pay it, no problem. Then they could afford to hire company moderators of all the flagging that takes place on their site. They know exactly what’s going on. After wiping out so many advertising sellers by now, they need to be responsible. Originally, we all thought Craigslist was a hero, standing up for the little guy. But now the big guys have turned everything around, and Craigslist doesn’t care.”

Craigslist Sucks
“. . . And ad flagging? It didn’t take long to find the pattern:
1. Someone posts an ad for an item for sale similar to yours.
2. A few minutes later your ad has been flagged for removal.
3. Repeat step 1.”

Craigslist flagging and ghosting

“. . . you have an army of people firing the ‘flag’ button for any reason at all and often even for no good reason. It means that not only do you have a forum of people ready to take your ads down but you also have other marketers (your competition) having your ads removed using flagging software. And you even have some people who just have nothing better to do and find it to be fun.”

What’s the answer?

Maybe eBay (who own something like 26% of Craigslist) will impose some sanity and discipline on Craigslist. Backpage looks decent, but it has a similar spam / flag problem. Whenever a need for something has arisen on the Internet, some clever entrepreneur almost always rushes in to fill the void. Maybe that person is cooking up a sane replacement for Craigslist as I type this.


Visit my website:
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

16 thoughts on “Craigslist ain’t working.”

  1. Pay careful attention, Russ. I’m going to demonstrate to you why flagging exists:

    8/21 – **** 2004 HONDA ACCORD!! $8,9995! ****
    8/20 – **** 2004 HONDA ACCORD!! $8,9995! ****
    8/19 – **** 2004 HONDA ACCORD!! $8,9995! ****
    8/18 – **** 2004 HONDA ACCORD!! $8,9995! ****
    8/18 – 2005 Honda Accord, low miles, $6,700
    8/17 – **** 2004 HONDA ACCORD!! $8,9995! ****
    8/16 – **** 2004 HONDA ACCORD!! $8,9995! ****
    8/15 – **** 2004 HONDA ACCORD!! $8,9995! ****

    So, without flagging we would have the above.

    I hope flagging makes better sense to you now. And the reason flagging is handled by the ‘community’ is because, as CL staff explain on their FAQ, this is more cost effective and just more effective functionally as well.

    Have a good day.


      1. That obnoxious sarcasm is correct, however this was but a hint of the reality behind this , I commend your perception, seems either the people who go there care less what is there or they are paid spammers or and bots.
        Any forum say automotive, or fix it or motorcycles, there is a core of “experts” that hang out 18 hours a day 7 days a week and almost never miss a day, they are all obtuse and argumentative and have some type of pull or at least a seemingly endless supply of ancient accounts , many are 3000 days old! while the “regulars” the 7-10 handles that LIVE on Craigslist forums use the 400 day old accounts, they protect the older accounts as they have more neggging and plussing powers, are les likely to be looked at as a troublemaker etc.
        They allow the posting of names and phone numbers and amzing cruelty even wishing death upon a person who learned they had a tumor!

        Some guy who spends every day there discovered this on Leonard Nimoys birthday! lol!!

        you can’t post
        L e o n a r d N i m o y
        without separating the letters. (Its his birthday today.)

        You can compose the post, hit commit, and you are given the standard message that your post will appear shortly … but your post will never appear.

        It is indeed most illogical!


  2. I’ve flagged folks as well and understand why it’s necessary. For many of us casual users, the current system works well.

    However, Russ is talking about an abusive flagger, not an abusive ad. This is where someone with either too much time on their hands or a competitor is flagging ads that are otherwise compliant. In this case, the advertiser is targeted by the abusive flagger. I assume that CL has software that could track and prevent this type of abusive flagger (or at least not delete the ads targeted by such abusive flaggers) but that they’re just not doing it at present. For some advertisers, it’s a real problem.

    I guess all that one can do is continue to complain to CL and hope that they control it in the future; perhaps if CL charged a few bucks for such ads, they would stop that nonsense.

    CL has worked well for me thus far but I’ve only run a few ads and purchased a few things over the past 4 years or so, so I’m a pretty casual user.


    1. “Russ is talking about an abusive flagger, not an abusive ad.” – Triple AAA+++ for your discernment. Any comment that demonstrates “why flagging is necessary” shows poor comprehension skills with regard to the subject of this article. B.T.W., I am one of those South Florida Computer Service ad posters this article mentions in the 2nd paragraph.


  3. Good post and I wholeheartedly agree. It seems the “big guys” who know how to post hundreds of ads using cheap overseas labor and different IP addresses get away with it. Small valid hard-working business owners get their accounts “put on hold” which means axed and they’ll never come back. I’ve read and re-read the terms of use and swear I was within the terms but still have had 4 accounts yanked. I give up with Craigslist.


    1. looks like a promising alternative to Craigslist. I like what geebo’s founder, Greg Collier, seems to be aiming for. Read his blog: Unlike Craig Newmark, Mr. Collier seems to have both feet firmly planted on planet Earth.

      I just tried to post my small computer service ad in geebo’s Fort Lauderdale Computer Services section. One encouraging sign is that geebo advised that my ad would be reviewed before geebo published it. That’s refreshing!

      If you try geebo, please report your results to us.

      – Russ


  4. I found this brief history of No wonder Craigslist has degenerated into a rubbish heap — where flagging abuse is concerned, its management is AWOL.

    Like most rubbish heaps, Craigslist attracts vermin. One species of rat is the Craigslist phishing scammer, who tries to hijack legitimate accounts.

    I guess that I’m lucky: in the Computer Services section, Craigslist’s failure to moderate its forums merely results in lost business opportunities. According to, Craigslist’s failure to moderate its other forums results in robbery, rape, prostitution, and murder.

    – Russ


  5. If anything, Craigslist has now gone in the complete opposite direction. At least on the Vancouver, BC version.

    All relationship categories are now overrun by hookers. The pet forum is dominated by backyard puppy sellers. And flagging no longer seems to work AT ALL.

    Very disappointing.


  6. A greedy person flagged our “free” ad so he had little competition for an apartment filled with free furniture and household goods that had been left behind after our son moved. We couldn’t figure out why only a few people had called to find out the address. We later on realized our Craigslist ad had been flagged.


  7. I’ve been posting CL ads for 3 years and never had a problem. Just a simple ad letting people know about my computer repair and tutoring services. All of a sudden, I’m getting flagged ads as soon as I post. I tried to visit their flag help forum, only to find the most immature, abusive people I’ve ever encountered. They insult and ridicule with no provocation and refuse to believe anyone can abuse their flagging system. I believe it’s a competitor who doesn’t like my low prices. I’ve used the flagging system a few times when I see someone advertising to sell bootleg or company owned copies of microsoft products for dirt cheap (e.g. Windows 7 for $60). It’s illegal and they shouldn’t be given a forum for that.


    1. “I’ve been posting CL ads for 3 years and never had a problem. Just a simple ad letting people know about my computer repair and tutoring services. All of a sudden, I’m getting flagged ads as soon as I post.”

      I had a similar experience on the South Florida Craigslist. Which city’s Craigslist were you using?


  8. We’re a couple that posts occasionally in the Casual Encounters section. CL used to be fun and we expected flagging to some extent as that’s the way it’s always been. You’d just change your ad and repost with different pics and it would stay up long enough to find what you wanted at some point.

    You know, if you have any standards at all you expect it some because of those that aren’t chosen or have some perceived beef with your ad (you asked for only White people, only Black people, people within a 20 minute drive, people that bather or have teeth… you get the idea)

    Alas, those days seems to be over. We got flagged down repeatedly and blocked for a week. We already had another account from when this happened a couple of years ago so we felt prepared.

    In the mean time I had been doing some reading on the net about the problem and decided I would use my wife’s phone to set up another, “fresher” account, unencumbered from when I used to argue politics in the R&R section as I understand that the more you’ve been flagged the easier it is to be flagged, at least to some extent.

    Later I used the “fresh” account to post an ad for us in the personals… an ad that had stayed up for sometimes as long as several days before… nothing objectionable at all. (over time I’ve found that there are some things that just get you flagged quickly even though there’s nothing at all wrong and one thing is posting a “wordy” ad that is too long for some people’s attention span) and I posted new, very good pics with it.

    The ad was flagged down in 29 minutes.

    CL just isn’t any fun anymore. being able to hide you email and not have a profile is really a good format for personals as you can simply ignore the clueless that can’t follow instructions, send no pics and a one-line response to your carefully worded ad… you know, detailing what you’re looking for without being too long or whatever.

    We desperately need an alternative for adult personals. We’re on some pay sites and some other free ones as well. Problem with those places is they all rend to be somewhat cliquish and once you’ve been there a month or so you’ve met everyone there and many times have determined that there are few good matches for you, or most on that site are too far away or whatever… The anonymity of CL overcomes that to a great degree and you can post or read ads in your area and if you’re away from home you can still use it as usual.

    But just like everything else, the stupid people have to ruin it for everyone.


  9. I sold a few things on Craigslist a few years ago, and was lucky, However in their forums its as dysfunctional, moronic and abusive as one could imagine even if writing a Hpllywood screenplay.
    It seems each forum, Fixit , Auto,Housing, flag and feedback forums especially, have its own embedded “troll” This person uses that word TROLL more than anyone else, usually after being corrected, which is almost every post, as its unbelievably ignorant and pedantic while being 98% incorrect, yet officiously and confidently attacking others who in fact are accurate! Its like Road runner/Charlie Brown/Lucy kind of I’ll get you some day! but the poor saps just about 100 IQ points too low for that to ever happen, It wont even Google after years of humiliation it simply is unaware of, for example:
    THIS TROLL Kenzz alleges to be a refrigerstion tech, however says a fridge isnt a heat pump and not troubleshot as one, which is false and easily verified by wiki and google.
    He asserted a 29F freezers ok to make ice, which is also wrong and on it goes endless.
    He said he has 125/250v electrical service to his home which to anyone even remotely familiar with power knows plus or minus 10% puts him at 275 max and 220v equipment,which is what we use is 220v plus or minus 10% making 242 volts max, yet since I sdaid I never saw 245v in the field he says this idiocy, and heat pumps are 6,000% efficientlol!!!! I sadi 300-700% which is astounding enough, 6000% is science fistion a $600 power bill would be $10 if a 6000% efficient unit existed lol that should be obvious to anyone even if you know zeroof power but math and reality tells us that a 60 times cheaper unit to run is not existant!
    This troll has 500+ accts many 6-8 yrs old, this allows it to act as if numerous persons limited only by how sick he is logging in with IP proxies and new accts flagging 3 times with 3 IPs and edits entire pages or votes and negs and give positive points toitself lolits sick really dysfunctional, I see the troll is gay too and thats likely whyhe is immortal regardless of what he does says, while anyone else is banned easily and new accts are actually made fun of as if a troll bybeing new and not embedde dtroll!


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