Posted on November 16, 2004

EBay to Ban ‘Racially Derogatory’ Search Terms

Nathan Burchfiel,, Nov. 15

The Internet auction giant eBay plans to implement a “pop-up” notification when “racially derogatory” search terms are entered on the website. EBay will formally announce the change on Wednesday, which the National League of Cities has been pushing.

John Pionke, a media relations official with the National League of Cities (NLC), declined to offer specific examples of the derogatory words in question, but explained that the campaign was started about a year ago by a member of the organization.

Philadelphia Councilwoman Marian Tasco “was doing a search on eBay and something came up that offended her greatly,” Pionke said. Tasco chairs the NLC’s National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials.

A search of certain “racially offensive” terms on the site did produce a page of items for sale containing the “n” word. Most of the results were in the form of book or artwork titles.

When asked if such items or their titles would be prohibited from eBay listings, Pionke explained that, “There’s going to be like a pop-up on eBay saying that . . . the words are not acceptable for usage on eBay.”

Pionke said his organization was not pursuing the censorship of sexually or religiously derogatory search terms. The search produced items for sale that contained the phrase, “bible thumpers,” as well as a derogatory term for homosexual.

“I think at this stage we were concerned about certain words that were popping up,” Pionke explained. “They might expand that themselves, eBay, but we’re targeting this particular area (racially offensive terms) right now.”

David Almasi of the conservative Project 21 said the move could restrict the buying power of customers.

“Certainly you don’t want to have people using the n-word in an eBay listing,” he said, “but if it’s something that has to deal with it . . . someone can’t sell that anymore,” he said. Almasi used the example of Randall Kennedy’s book “N****r,” which bills itself as a scholarly study of the word. Kennedy’s book came up during the search of the eBay listings.

“If you’re just making words illegal simply because of their past, especially in eBay’s regard, they’re potentially knocking themselves out of some commerce,” Almasi said. While you’re trying to save some people’s feelings, you’re hurting some other people’s collectible options,” he added.

While eBay’s current listing policies prohibit “profanity or patently offensive language,” they do not apply specifically to “racist” words.

Neither Marian Tasco of the National League of Cities, nor representatives from eBay returned telephone calls from seeking comment for this report.