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Online store CafePress clobbered for racist merchandise

CafePress.com

If, for whatever reason, you feel the need to diss the Canadians (or any other nationality or ethnicity), CafePress has the shirt for you,

CafePress, the online store where independent artists and merchants can sell T-shirts, mugs and other collectibles, has removed pages promoting anti-Mexican products after Latino bloggers and news sites brought them to public light this week.

It's not the first time CafePress — one of the biggest online retailers in the world — has wandered into critics' cross-hairs for selling merchandise that would generally be considered racist or otherwise offensive, and given the way the site works, it won't be the last.

First, some background:

CafePress this week pulled down 10 pages offering merchandise with explicitly anti-Mexican themes after Latino media outlets picked up posts by the blogs Tex(t)Mex and Latino Rebels, which noted that CafePress had an "Anti-Mexican Gifts" section.


"Looking for the right funny gift to express your hate and racism towards Mexicans? Well, CafePress has got the goods for you," Latino Rebels observed.

CafePress removed the pages, as well as pages in a second section called "Anti-Mexico." It said it regretted "any problems or concerns caused by the images in question."


M. Alex Johnson

M. Alex Johnson is a reporter for msnbc.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


Case closed, right?

Wrong.

Quick searches of CafePress on Thursday evening showed hundreds of pages offering merchandise explicitly labeled "Anti-French," "Anti-Arab," "Anti-African" and so on. And there's still plenty of anti-Mexican merchandise on CafePress, like this bumper sticker:

CafePress.com

So what's going on?

What CafePress did was to disable the specific search terms "Anti-Mexican" and "Anti-Mexico" in response to this week's publicity. Much of the merchandise is still there. 

The same sort of controversy came up before, for example in October, when CafePress removed merchandise that appeared to promote violence against illegal immigrants.

And it will keep popping up, because CafePress is largely an automated site. There never was a dedicated "Anti-Mexican" section. What there was was a search results page for the term "Anti-Mexican," generated dynamically by its computers when someone asked for it.

You can test it yourself. On the CafePress homepage, plug in any keyword you want plus "anti" into the search field and you will get back a page generated on the fly from CafePress' database of products. 

For example, try "Anti Canada." Among the many T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs and so on is the T-shirt at the top of this post.

CafePress confirmed in a statement that it doesn't pre-review what merchandise sellers sell there:

The range of user-designed products varies widely in topic, taste and political opinion. CafePress' independent design community spans the globe, with users representing multicultural and multinational ideals and sentiments. As such, users may upload designs that some find distasteful or offensive, but are nevertheless consistent with our policies for expressions and content on our website.

The company said customers could notify it of objectionable content at cup@cafepress.com. "We review all requests for content review, measure user-uploaded images against our policies and determine a plan of action if any is appropriate."

Adrian Carrasquillo of NBC Latino contributed to this report.

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