TeeSpringtime for Hitler? The Uneven Enforcement of Teespring’s TOS
I want to tell you the story of how I uncovered a white supremacist mess under the facade of a popular teeshirt printing company.
On July 31st, I decided to design the worst piece of art I have ever made — a leftist version of those awful, often right-wing oriented shirts Facebook constantly pushes at you. You know the ones, with half the free fonts available in one design and more clip art than a schoolchild’s PowerPoint presentation. It wasn’t meant to be a big political statement, just a silly parody of something I saw wannabe biker dudes wearing while standing in line for a sandwich or whatever.
Knowing that it was very likely to be reported by alt-right whingers, I made sure to keep it non-violent, both in terms of the words and the images. No Nazi punching, nothing about gun ownership, no calls for vandalism, nothing that could be construed as criminal. The text reads “Hey snowflake, I believe: Black lives matter, people over property, gender is a construct, all cops are bastards, America was never great. I’m ANTIFA and I don’t give a fuck if that offends you,” except, all in caps, and with no punctuation.
Within 12 hours the shirt was gone.
Curious, I emailed Teespring to ask why, exactly, my shirt was considered offensive. I mean, the graphic design is absolutely offensive, I agree, but that didn’t seem to be the issue considering the various hideous shirts I dug up offering “free helicopter rides” or “antifa hunting permits”. This whole store is just violent toxic masculinity and white nationalism slapped onto the back of a black teeshirt. Design didn’t seem to be the issue, and certainly far more violent shirts than mine were allowed to stay up.
Turns out, Teespring considers “all cops are bastards” hate speech, akin to racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Cops are, for them, a protected category. I asked on what grounds, but they didn’t tell me. Maybe Teespring decided to take a page from Louisiana.
It wasn’t the first time this had happened. In 2016, Elle Armageddon made a shirt that said, “FUCK OFF NAZI SCUM”, a shirt that, on the surface, should be a sentiment pretty respected by all ethical people in 2020. It was removed by Teespring as a violation of their TOS. The crime? Hate speech. Hate speech against Nazis. In case there can be any doubt, they also removed “NO LOVE FOR NAZIS” and “HECK NAZIS ALL THE WAY TO DARN”. They also removed T.O.M.E’s “Femme Daddy” leggings, though they couldn’t explain exactly how they violated their TOS.
But hey, ok, maybe they actually take down legally defined hate speech. Right? Turns out, no, they don’t. They have not taken down shirts clearly featuring anti-Semitic hate speech despite being reported for years. They also didn’t take down this shirt, featuring a racist Asian caricature in a gun’s crosshairs. No, being a reference to the Vietnam war isn’t a valid excuse.
Maybe it’s the spirit of the thing? Nope, not that either. Hell, there are literal white pride shirts on Teespring right now. The Proud Boys, a known violent gang, have stores on there! Based Stick Man, a felon deified by far right extremists for assaulting protesters with weapons, has several shirts with his image up, no problem.
It became pretty clear where Teespring’s politics lay. So, frustrated by the hypocrisy, I complained on Twitter about it. While I didn’t get a lot of traction on the issue, Teespring did finally shut down the various shirts I had sent their way. I figured that we had finally gotten over the hump, and I moved on to working on my new Etsy store. I requested my payouts, both for my personal store and a professional store that had been dormant, and I closed down my accounts. I didn’t think anything more about it for a couple days.
But then, I realized that while my small payout had gone through for the 6 “Antifa and Unapologetic” shirts Teespring had already committed to making before shutting down my campaign, my almost $400 payout hadn’t processed. I emailed Teespring. A day later, I emailed again. That’s when Teespring told me that they didn’t have to honor my payout as I closed my account while the payout was processing -
Problem with that was, my professional account had not violated any policies, was just text, and the fonts were licensed. I made a fuss, and eventually, they released the funds. Had I not had a large platform, I doubt I would’ve gotten my money.
It felt pretty clearly like someone at Teespring was trying to retaliate because I was holding them accountable to being consistent with their policies. I didn’t have ties to them anymore, the money was in my account at last, I could walk away, annoyed but free of them.
Then, a large antifascist Twitter account, Antifa International, posted that their shirts got taken down. In fact, Teespring was now removing every product with “antifa”, they said:
For good reason, Twitter erupted in outrage. I had sent Teespring long lists of shirts that violated their policies, and they had, to their credit, taken most of them down, including the “antifa hunting permit” ones I was talking about earlier. However, plenty of right-wing extremist dogwhistles remained. And some of it was straight up, blatant fascist propaganda. As people flooded Teespring’s mentions with examples of hateful content they had done nothing about, Teespring flailed for a response, and chose “we’re not a fascist company”.
Now, again, let’s rewind. This tweet (purposefully, in my opinion) suggests that the shirts in question came from antifascists, and were violent in nature. But as referenced above, the shirts that consistently advocated violence and used the word “antifa” came from the so-called “anti-antifascists” — they referenced a right-wing rally at which an antifascist protester was murdered, or glamorized violent alt-right figureheads (figureheads that went on to assault even more people).
Teespring’s response, meanwhile, appears to blame antifascists for promoting violence, when in fact, almost all the examples available seem to point at the opposite being true. Sound familiar? It should —it’s the same party line Donald Trump, the police, and Ted Cruz have all used in recent months. Pretty shady, right?
Normalizing the phrases “violent antifa” and “violent anarchist” in reference to dissent against the current government isn’t anything new, as I’m learning from reading some classic leftist lit with my book club. Even when the side we’re protesting is literally killing human beings, property damage is consistently put at the same (and sometimes higher) level in terms of ethical evils.
Anti-mask laws were put into place to ensure we could be arrested and intimidated for being at a protest or get doxxed into silence by 4chan. Unmarked federal officers (or people who claim to be them) can effectively kidnap someone in their van without explanation or accountability and that’s apparently ok because of “violent antifa”. When the police believed a man in black smashing up an Autozone was “antifa”, they wanted him found — when he turned out to be a white supremacist trying to start a riot, he was let go with no charges. Or the guy who shot a federal protective officer in Oakland — it was one thing when he was suspected to be a BLM protester, but another when he ended up being a Boogaloo Boy. When cops shoved a peaceful 75 year old man down to the ground, paralyzing him, the cops initially claimed he tripped and fell, and Trump claimed the assault was fine, as the elderly man could be an antifa provocateur. Or how about the 4 protesters who are looking at life in prison for purchasing red paint, thanks to calling yourself an antifascist apparently now being considered worthy of a gang enhancement.
We’re in some fucked up times, folks, and it’s getting worse.
I’m curious to see where this goes, especially considering the sheer volume of white supremacist content that’s been allowed to exist on Teespring despite reporting it for the last 4 years. Will Teespring finally deal with it, now that there’s clearly lots of eyes watching? Maybe, at least for a while. But the mask has slipped, and we should trust people when they say who they are. I won’t be buying from Teespring again, and I suggest you don’t either.
Instead, here’s some great places to check out that do the same thing as Teespring, and often do it better. I recommend Printful. Apparently, it’s ok to be an antifascist there, and I like that about them.