Etsy is escalating its response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak by removing merchandise on the platform that mention the virus or COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes in human beings, according to a new report from BuzzFeed News. Hundreds of listings have already been removed under the new policy.
The decision is aimed, it seems, mostly at combating misinformation, as countless items listed on Etsy have been falsely claiming to protect against the virus, the company says. As a result, however, BuzzFeed News notes that a fair amount of innocuous and parody merchandise like t-shirts that read “Straight Outta Wuhan” and even science-related and educational products like coronavirus-shaped crochet art are also being flagged for removal.
Etsy says this is because it’s also including items that may be exploiting the outbreak for financial gain as part of its ban. It is unclear how Etsy is determining whether something is purely education or violating its new policy, or whether a human moderation team is reviewing individual listings for compliance. We’ve asked the company for further details about its process in this regard.
“In order to keep our marketplace safe, our team is prioritizing taking down any listings that claim to protect against coronavirus,” the company said in a statement given to The Verge. “In the past few days alone, we have removed thousands of items that make such medical claims. We have also taken down hundreds of items that attempt to exploit the developing coronavirus situation. Our teams continue to automatically and manually review and remove items that violate our policies.”
Etsy is taking down all product listings that mention "coronavirus" or "covid." The takedown process isn't finished yet, but hundreds of listings have already come down.— Caroline Haskins (@carolineha_) March 4, 2020
In some cases, as BuzzFeed News notes, the items aren’t being removed but are no longer showing up when you search for “coronavirus” on Etsy. So far, the coronavirus has infected nearly 100,000 people worldwide from nearly 80 countries, and it has a global mortality rate of 3.4 percent, the World Health Organization announced on Tuesday. After initially showing up in the Seattle area of Washington state in the US, the outbreak has since spread to California, New York, and other states, claiming 11 lives so far.
Update March 3rd, 8:30PM ET: Added statement from Etsy.