The day after the violent attack on the Capitol, Shopify announced that it had removed the e-commerce sites associated with President Trump, including his official election store. Sites that have violated a policy that prohibits supporting groups or people who “threaten or tolerate violence for an additional reason”.
The move was initially lauded but soon became apparent that the tech company, which owns more than a million online stores, is still fueling many other websites with presidential promotional merchandise and merchandise. is adorned with phrases like “Civil War MAGA”. Costumes with similar phrases and nod to QAnon’s conspiracy theories are also available on e-commerce sites like Amazon, Etsy, and Zazzle.
Even as companies scramble to get rid of such goods, new goods to celebrate and honor the January 6 attack are on the rise. As of Friday, a “Battle for Capitol Hill Veteran” shirt with the Capitol building drawings can be purchased on Amazon for $ 20, Etsy is selling a “Biden like minors” shirt. I mimicked the look of the “Black Lives Matters” sign and Zazzle put a “Civil War 2020” shirt on its website. Etsy and Zazzle scrapped the merchandise; the “Capitol Hill Veteran” shirt remains on Amazon on Monday.
Just as the violence imposes new scrutiny on how social media companies monitor speech on their platforms, it also underlines how e-commerce companies have allowed anyone. have credit card and email address for online sales.
These companies have largely been built with scale and accessibility, with very little scrutiny of what the vendors are actually selling. But questions about businesses emerged as many rioters wore the equivalent of a uniform that could be purchased online. This includes t-shirts with certain phrases or illustrations printed and flags that not only support President Trump but also promote a civil war, conspiracy theories and peeled election statements. strong. A shirt worn by one of the infamous rioters that read “Camp Auschwitz” was later found on Etsy, leading the company known for its crafts to apologize.
“There’s a lot of focus on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, but in our opinion, these platforms are,” said Danny Rodgers, chief technology officer and co-founder of Global Disinformation Index, a non-profit organization. a lot broader than on social media. focus on the spread of lies online. “There are a lot of platforms that support and allow these dangerous groups to survive, raise funds, deliver their messages. It not only expels people from social media, but also expels people from trading platforms.
Although Shopify, which declined to comment for this article, is not a household name, its technology supports a large number of vendors from Allbirds to The New York Times. These companies use Shopify’s tools to build beautiful online stores where they can easily upload images of their products and sell them to customers. Shopify, valued at more than $ 100 billion, makes money through its software subscription and other merchant services, and says it has the second largest market share in the U.S. e-commerce market after Amazon. .
After removing TrumpStore.com and shop.donaldjtrump.com, the company still powers other websites selling Trump related goods, including shirts and banners with guns and military equipment. . After the complaints, Shopify apparently removed some of the sellers and products, including the “Civil War MAGA” shirt with January 6, 2021.
Shopify has also run into problems with thousands of online stores selling items that have falsely claimed Covid-19 treatment, as well as others that sell Union flag merchandise.
Shannon Coulter said: “It’s great that Shopify has finally pulled out of Trump’s retail store, but what we need urgently is to see a strategy from it and other popular e-commerce platforms on how they will stop benefiting from hatred in general. the president of the Grab Your Wallet Alliance, a non-profit that stems from a social boycott of companies with ties to President Trump.
Amazon and Etsy have also rushed to remove hostile and violent inciting items from their websites this month, including products tied to QAnon, internet conspiracy theories are increasingly influencing. with a segment of President Trump’s supporters.
On January 11, Amazon said it would remove QAnon promotional products and third-party vendors trying to sell items could face the ban, according to NBC. But on Monday, hundreds of products from dozens of vendors were still selling QAnon related goods. Several product reviews expressed support for baseless conspiracy theories with a casual tone. “I accept these in support of # Qanon… I love them,” commented one woman of the “Q” earrings. “I wish they were a little bigger!”
Other t-shirts for sale on Amazon advertised false information related to election fraud, spreading false claims that the election had been “stolen” or fraudulently and saying, “Check your votes”. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
While some sellers appear to be individuals or groups for right-wing belongings, others are selling a broader range of misinformation, including Covid-19’s conspiracy theories. Still others documenting the various types of memes and jokes on the internet, seem to be searching for anything that could prove to be a hit.
For example, the vendor behind the “Battle for Capitol Hill Veteran” shirt on Amazon is called Capitol Hill and appears to start selling on January 1, initially promoting Covid’s conspiracy theories. -19 like the so-called “pandemic”.
A study by the Global Information Index and the Strategic Dialogue Institute, a consultancy specializing in the study of extremism, identified 13 hostile groups supplying products on Amazon in October. Smaller e-commerce platforms like Zazzle, which allows people to customize outfits, also play a role in allowing hostile groups to monetize through product sales, the report found. “On-site retail facilitation platforms appear to be hampered by poor enforcement of their policies or the complete lack of an adequate framework to govern their use by hostile groups,” group write in report.
“The fundamental policymakers are still trying to revolve around the notion of risk of harm,” said Rodgers of the Global Information Index. “When QAnon first emerged, it was seen as an online jumble, but what we’ve seen more and more over the years is the obvious and obvious harm as a result of online conspiracy. This organized route. Tribalism, us versus them, and the story of the enemy was raised by selling people a team jersey. “
Zazzle started more than a decade ago as part of a wave of startups offering consumers new, seemingly limitless options to customize goods to their preferences. Now the company is struggling to balance its original mission with the dark forces of online play.
“As an open market, we face opportunities that allow people to express their creativity and affection, coupled with the challenge of offensive and intentionally confusing wording,” Zazzle said in a statement.
Although Zazzle uses automatic filters and algorithms to try to block annoying designs and tags, they say they have recognized “that technology is not great” and have removed some of the products. products by hand. The “Civil War 2020” shirt was taken down after questions from The Times and Zazzle stated that they have identified and removed QAnon related merchandise since mid-2018.
The challenge of identifying and eliminating those goods – and whether it’s by humans or machines – reflects the problems facing platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
Josh Silverman, CEO of Etsy, said in a January 12 blog post that the company and its people moderators rely on automated tools and user reports to find items. chemical violates company policy. The company has more than 3.7 million vendors selling more than 80 million items. On Friday, after receiving a question from The Times, Etsy took off his “Teenagers like Biden” shirt, which seemed to nod to QAnon and the #Pizzagate plot.
Etsy and Zazzle also admit that they are trying to make a quick decision regarding certain phrases and symbols, especially those that are exploited by fringe groups.
“While an item may be authorized today, we reserve the right to determine based on the developing context whether it is in violation at a later date, such as whether it should be considered. is to cause or harm in the real world or not, ”an Etsy representative said in a statement.
Brooke Erin Duffy, associate professor of communications at Cornell University, says it’s hard to imagine older brands bringing these products in stores. However, she says, accountability is difficult to demand online.
“We are not able to talk back to the platform owner,” she said. “We do not always know who is responsible for the creation of the goods, so that allows people to avoid responsibility for the circulation of these harmful products and messages.”