Published: 19 December 2022
E-commerce sites have attracted controversy in isolated incidents for over a decade, being forced to delist merchandise highlighted by media for being egregiously insensitive or hateful. As a result, these merchandise platforms have for the most part developed relatively rigorous guidelines for what items can be sold on them.
ISD investigated five such platforms to determine to what extent these guidelines are being enforced, and whether merchandise platforms are facilitating the sale of, and profiting from, products that promote hate, extremism and harmful misinformation.
Etsy, Redbubble, Zazzle, Teespring and Teepublic each have revenues in the millions of dollars per year, providing infrastructure for independent creators and artists to sell their outputs. Etsy sells primarily handmade and vintage products, while the other four platforms are predominantly t-shirt stores, or ‘print-on-demand’, allowing buyers to choose materials (such as t-shirts, mugs, stickers, and posters) on which to print their chosen art.
In analyzing products sold across these platforms, ISD found a wide range of items promoting everything from harmful misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, to antisemitism and anti-LGBTQ+ hate, to neo-Nazi narratives and symbols. While there is evidence that these platforms are in many cases removing the most egregious and obvious forms of bigotry, it is still extremely simple to find and purchase hateful products across the full range of these platforms.
Policy recommendations for e-commerce platforms are provided, including expanding keyword lists to include coded language and references, three-strike rules for vendors of borderline items, and restricting adverts and sponsorship on controversial search terms.