On Wednesday afternoon, Etsy removed all items mentioning the coronavirus or COVID-19 after hundreds of merchants posted or tagged items related to the outbreak on the site.
Some of the removed items, like coronavirus-shaped crochet art, were designed for science education. But there were also hundreds of T-shirts and mugs that used the coronavirus as a punchline, displaying text like "I Survived Coronavirus 2020," “Straight Outta Wuhan,” and "I don't have coronavirus I’m just drunk.”
“In order to keep our marketplace safe, our team is prioritizing taking down any listings that claim to protect against coronavirus," an Etsy spokesperson said. "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.”
As of Wednesday, over 95,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported worldwide, with 3,254 deaths.
Tahani Baakdhah, a PhD student who operates the Etsy store the Purple Lilac, told BuzzFeed News that she started making coronavirus-shaped crochet art a few weeks ago, the same day that the World Health Organization announced that the coronavirus was an international crisis. As a science communicator, Baakdhah wanted to make a visual aid so that doctors and parents could educate others about the disease.
She said that her coronavirus crochet listing was not removed from Etsy entirely; however, her product does not appear in coronavirus search results. Baakdhah said that she understands and respects Etsy's decision to take down coronavirus posts, but she's disappointed that it affects educational products like hers.
"Something that's made for fun, like a T-shirt, or things like inappropriate phrases — they should take it off," she said. "But something for education or scientific communication — they shouldn't take that off."