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Twitter war: Celebs vs Seattle Weekly on child prostitution ads

There’s a Twitter War going on right now that is only peripherally related to my beat here at Humanosphere, but which I learned about from a friend and colleague — or frenemy? — I used to butt heads with at the Gates Foundation.

And now, a former Seattle PI colleague (who writes for Village Voice) has jumped into the fray.

It’s basically an assault on the Seattle Weekly — a cyber-war that reportedly ended up crashing the City of Seattle’s servers last week — based on claims that the periodical, as part of the Village Voice Media chain, publishes ads for child prostitution. Here’s the Weekly’s rebuttal to those claims.

I first learned of this dispute from Trevor Neilson on his Twitter account. Trevor, who was the first media relations chief for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is now an adviser to a number of celebrities, and others, at his firm Global Philanthropy Group.

Trevor and I could tell lots of stories about the early days of the Gates Foundation and how we often did battle over (on my end) the public’s right to know and (on his end) the Gates family’s right not to be pestered by reporters. But that’s not the story here.

The story now is that Trevor’s client actor Ashton Kutcher has taken up the Twitter assault on the Seattle Weekly and other Village Voice publications carrying these ads. Kutcher has millions of followers, which is why Seattle’s computers crashed.

The Twitstorm has prompted Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn to write to Jim Larkin, the CEO of Village Voice, expressing our community’s concerns about child sex trafficking and how these ads may contribute to the problem.

McGinn has asked the Seattle Police Department to look into allegations that the Seattle Weekly and its sister publications do not confirm that the women advertising as “escorts” are actually 18 years of age or older.

Meanwhile, a Facebook campaign calling for a boycott of the Seattle Weekly has now gotten launched as well.

A few more stories/articles that have come in since I first posted on this Twitstorm:

  • Seattle Times story with some nice background.
  • Village Voice analysis (co-written by a former PI colleague Ellis Conklin) challenging the numbers of child prostitutes (100,000 to 300,000 in the U.S.) claimed by the critics. It appears to suffer from committee-writing syndrome and seems, well, a bit self-serving. But the article does appear to raise some legitimate skepticism regarding these numbers.
  • The Seattle PI cites a study that estimated in 2008 Seattle had maybe 500 cases of child prostitution. This doesn’t seem to quite fit with the Village Voice report that found nationwide only about 800-plus arrests for child prostitution every year.
  • Response to the Village Voice analysis from an advocacy group that is working to end child prostitution basically. They agree the numbers are a bit squishy — partly because so little attention is being paid to this crime.
  • Shame-on-You article from challenging Village Voice on its number-crunching analysis as an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue. An excerpt from

The problem is that they used a flaw in a scientific study to demonize people they disagree with, not to ask the most critical question in the fight against modern-day slavery: “How can we make this better?”



About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.