The sheriff is in town

ROBERT DeBERRY/Frontiersman Mike Baker created Alaskaslist.com because he was fed up with the way Craigslist.com handled its online postings.

CHUGIAK — If you can’t beat the “Nazi Flagger Witches,” start your own online classified service.

That was the thinking behind Alaskaslist.com, the brainchild of Mike Baker. Nearing its one-year anniversary, Baker reflected on how far the site has come and to what he attributes his success.

Last year, Baker was helping a group of Chugiak High School students build doghouses. The group then tried to sell the completed projects on Craigslist, an Internet marketplace where users offer everything from cars to employment opportunities to personal ads.

Craigslist is policed only by other users who flag ads that are posted in the wrong section or violate the terms of use agreement. If an ad receives a certain number of flags, it is automatically deleted.

The problems started when the doghouses were posted in the pet section, Baker said. The ads were repeatedly flagged for being in the wrong category because they were not offering actual pets. When Baker moved the ads to the section for items for sale, they were immediately buried by other ads selling a wide variety of unrelated things.

The more he used Craigslist, the more Baker noticed a trend of ads that get flagged for removal. The flaggers seem to have an agenda, especially in the pet section, Baker said, where ads for puppies and lost dogs were hard pressed to stay on the site for long.

“The (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) folks think owning pets is slavery,” Baker said.

Without any oversight from the website administrators, groups of users band together to push their views on the site, he said. What’s more, individuals can download software that allows them to register multiple flags.

“It was anarchy, the absence of any government at all,” Baker said. “Once you draw the ire of the Nazi Flagger Witches, you’re done.”

Baker used his background in information technology to set up traps for the most active flaggers. He then tracked the Internet protocol address to see where the flags were coming from.

“There was a large amount coming from Chevron, Providence Hospital and the (Department of Transportation),” Baker said. “These people were at work all day policing Craigslist.”

Baker sent his findings onto the supervisors of the employees and wrote a diatribe blasting the users and identifying them by their e-mail addresses.

“Anarchy is not freedom. If you can run outside naked, that’s not freedom. You are infringing on someone else’s rights,” Baker said. “Freedom is the rule of law … enforced across the board.”

Baker launched Alaskaslist on Jan. 1 as a civilized alternative to “den of snakes,” he said referring to Craigslist. Instead of being a free-for-all, Baker said he runs his site like a traditional newspaper classified service.

Comparing himself to the sheriff, Baker personally reads each one of the 500-plus ads submitted to his site daily. He determines which to post and which to deny, about a 50/50 split, he said. Ads for pets and pet breading services, as well as firearms, are more than welcome on his site, he said.

“I’m not the judge. The only judgment I make is if you are from Chicago trying to sell a parrot in Alaska, you’re out,” Baker said.

Besides, Baker said, he does not buy the idea that selling dogs on the Internet promotes the increase of their population while many sit unwanted at the pound, a traditional criticism of animal activists.

“It’s not the responsibility of the seller. It’s the responsibility of the buyer,” Baker said.

Baker said he still gets complaints from the “bunny-huggers,” as he calls them. This has forced him to block the IP addresses of Chevron and the State of Alaska.

“Someone from the state asked me to allow them back on my site. I said I would only unblock them if they found the person I identified harassing me and make sure it never happens again,” Baker said. “They said OK, but it still makes me wonder. My tax dollars are going to these people while they use my site.”

The ability to block IP addresses has also allowed him to avoid the scammers so prevalent on Craigslist, he said.

In fact, he said, he has blocked the entire country of Nigeria, claiming that this is where many originate.

“I find it doubtful anyone from Nigeria is seriously considering buying something in Alaska,” Baker said.

With the power to edit, allow or deny ads and to block certain users comes responsibility.

The owner of Craigslist, Baker said, set the site up to attract a seedy liberal crowd and then washed his hands of the site and its postings.

“I think (that) flies in the face of personal responsibility. You are and should be responsible for what you publish,” Baker said.

Baker, who runs the site from four computers at his home in Chugiak, said he gives everyone the same opportunities and benefits. While users cannot flag or delete postings, they can send an e-mail to Baker with any concerns.

“They can always contact me,” Baker said. “The sheriff will investigate.”

Contact Todd L. Disher at todd.disher@frontiersman.com or 352-2252.

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