Etsy is changing its prohibited items policy after a public relations crisis erupted over some offensive items listed in the handmade goods marketplace.
Etsy is a warm, fuzzy, generally adorable brand. The knick knacks they sell are cute. Their name is cute. The DUMBO office where they host their cutesy craft nights is cute.
When users browse Etsy they do not expect to find snark about rape and breast cancer. Yet one Australian woman stumbled across some greeting cards for sale on Etsy from YouStupidBitch.com with sarcastic congratulatory messages like “Congratulations! You Got Bad-Touched” with the description, “Get creeped on, get raped? Know someone that has? Then this card is for them.”
Other cards included messages like “Congratulations! She’ll make a great starter-wife,” “Congratulations! You Have Breast Cancer” and “Congratulations! Your Kid Has Down Syndrome.”
Etsy responded to the woman’s shocked email to say, essentially, these cards don’t violate our policy (which at the time prohibited the disparagement race and religion, but not misogyny or remarks about disabilities). “It is important to us that we allow members of the community to express their own sensibilities, and to develop their shop identity to suit themselves and their market,” a representative wrote. “What is offensive to some may be intended as a statement about culture by an artist.”
That exchange started making the rounds on blogs across the Web. Three weeks later, Etsy is taking a stand. The offending YouStupidBitch cards are gone from Etsy, and COO Adam Freed posted a letter on Etsy’s blog today:
A few items listed in a couple of Etsy shops recently sparked an intense debate about what kinds of items should and shouldn’t be allowed on Etsy. I won’t go into the details of the items, but they clearly denigrated women and people with some disabilities. When some concerned members brought the items to our attention, we generally agreed that they didn’t feel like they were in the spirit of Etsy and our community. But they also didn’t directly violate our policies. So we did what we felt was right. We allowed the items to remain on Etsy and we took a cold, hard look at our policies.
Etsy’s policy now prohibits items that promote misogyny or homophobia, or disparage people with disabilities. The revised policy also now prohibits “items or listings that promote or support illegal activity or instruct others to engage in illegal activity and items or listings that promote, support or glorify acts of violence or harm towards self or others.”
The post already has more than 500 comments from Etsy users, most of whom support the change. But there were some who worried that the move could squash some of the creativity that has made Etsy a vibrant alternative to mainstream retailers.
“I totally agree some items and images that promote hate can be harmful,” user redtruckdesigns wrote. “Yet, the censorship of artistic expression is a scary step and deciding what is offensive is very difficult. I just read through many of the comments from other Etsy shop owners and some people find artistic photographs of nudes offensive and degrading. Will Etsy censor these items too?”
Content moderation is something all ecommerce sites face at one time or another, like how every so often someone will try to sell a baby on eBay. Perhaps a racier marketplace will arise out of Etsy’s new purism. Rejectsy, anyone?
ajeffries [at] observer.com | @adrjeffries