Issue Date: 01/12/2021
Re: CEO on Content Policy Issue ‘Camp Auschwitz’ and Rebrand
Today, I thought I would be talking about a very different matter. As today (1/12) was the day we were meant to be publicly announcing our rebrand.
Unfortunately, events of the past 96 hours+ have changed the course for our business and I wanted to take the time to clearly explain what’s happened, why and what we are going to do about it. I believe when situations like this occur transparency, accuracy and honesty are key.
What happened? Legacy Teespring has had content policy violations in the past with troublesome content being created and featured on our site and shared socially. Over the past 4 years, we have invested in building ground up technology and manual processes to police our user generated platform.
On the matters that occurred post 1/6, I requested our policy team to investigate and create a full incident report which includes facts, times, information that has been used for the basis of this statement.
On average, we have 40,000+ listings created daily on our platform, with typically 8.7% being automatically and manually flagged for content policy issues/concerns. Our content policy team has been in the highest state of alert throughout 2020 and into 2021 in what has become and a nearly insurmountable task of interpreting and navigating the social climate.
The deplorable events that unfolded at the Capitol on 1/6, unfortunately, were an accelerant for a number of bad characters who made the decision to replicate the designs of products worn at the events at 1/6.
On the 7th January, an individual came to our platform and created a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ design. We successfully flagged the design within 6 hours of being listed and permanently banned the user. We trained our computer image system and used our AI Keyword Scanning software to detect these designs. We also increased staffing levels from January 7th across the weekend, running hourly manual sweeps and searches and to responding to reported listings.
Between January 7th and 11th, a total of 26 individual users** attempted to use the platform to create ‘Camp Auschwitz’ stores and/or designs (and other hate speech designs). All were blocked, banned and disabled from the platform.
What didn’t work? On January 11th @ 3am ET an individual created the same design but gamed our systems by entering in undetectable product titles & descriptions and masked imagery that resulted in the listing going up live on our platform for a total of 5 hours. As we received reports via social media, we removed the listings and permanently banned the user.
None of the listings had any sales. Therefore, no products went into the manufacturing cycle.
**Given the serious nature of the content. We are open to sharing users’ details with law enforcement should this be requested.
The result: Screenshots of listings were shared on social media and understandably went viral.
The content is truly abhorrent and given the state of the world right now, understandably has caused a lot of upset and distrust of our platform.
We have received many questions from the general public asking why we allow such content on our platform and also had inbound media requests who have covered the story. Also, it’s worth noting there have been some wider confusion in understanding that we are a user-generated platform (content created by others) and have mistakenly thought we have designed or printed these products. We have corrected that in our statement and answers.
Additionally, we have had other members of the general public also share content (past and present) to demonstrate that they believe the problem is more systemic. Whilst the majority of this content is old – there are still issues to fix. Like any other UGC platform, we will not ever be 100% on policing content but we can make improvements.
What have we done about it? (so far) At the first sign of social media complaints that began Friday and spiked Sunday evening, we removed all related content. We issued a public-facing statement across social media on 1/11 at 10am EST. We have also tried to respond to as many questions from individuals as possible.
In addition, we’ve made a $10,000 donation to Auschwitz‑Birkenau Memorial and State Museum. I will also be pulling together a group internally and in our community to generate ideas of how we can make a deeper longer-term commitment to this cause.
What else are we doing? Making a statement is one thing, driving action is another. I have assembled a group in the business who are working with me directly on taking immediate actions across product (specifically fixing technology gaps), policy, communications and other areas of the business to prevent this behaviour. We have made immediate changes and these will continue for the next 12/24 hours.
Our policy and social teams have worked for 24 hours a day for 5 days straight on the issue and will continue to do so in the pursuit of keeping our community and the general public up to date with the situation.
Our collective aim here is to rebuild trust within our community in order to put us in a place to rebrand and elevate our platform to ideals that we have set down as Spring. This will take time, commitment and full buy-in across our organization.
What about the rebrand? We were on the precipice of a new chapter but unfortunately were dragged backwards into a moment in time that has been challenging for so many reasons. Our shift to become Spring is a move to celebrate real creators. A message that spreads love, joy and fandom – not hate. We will not let this issue deter us from doing that.
Given the subject matter at hand and also the heightened sensitivity in the world right now. I am making the decision to (temporarily) delay our public rebrand to become Spring. Instead, I want our team to use this time to think consciously about how we rebuild trust with our creator community and also as part of a progressive society that believes in the new possible.
We will not let hate rule our platform. We need to work hard on that, but you have my promise.
Spring is coming.
At a personal level, the events over the past 4 days have been some of the most challenging of my professional career. I deeply apologise for the upset caused and commit to taking progressive action alongside the wonderful group of committed people who we have in our business.