Watchdog group urges Yahoo to end racist auctions

An organization that monitors hate crimes sends a letter to Yahoo's chief executive asking the portal giant to ban the auctions of Nazi and Ku Klux Klan merchandise.

3 min read
Yahoo is under fire again for permitting the sale of Nazi paraphernalia on its auction site.

BiasHelp of Long Island, a Huntington, N.Y., organization that monitors hate crimes, sent a letter Tuesday to Yahoo's chief executive asking the portal giant to ban the sale of Nazi- and Ku Klux Klan-related merchandise. Saying that it found nearly 2,000 auctions featuring those items, BiasHelp called on Yahoo to be sensitive to those who have been victims of hate crimes and to the needs of the auction area's diverse audience.

"While we are sensitive to free speech considerations, those interested in purchasing music, toys or antiques via your site should not have to wade through hundreds of Nazi or Klan postings," the group said in its letter to chief executive Tim Koogle. "Furthermore, curious young people surfing your site should not have access to materials that can be used to terrorize their communities, nor should they be left with the impression that Adolph Hitler or the Klan is worthy of memorializing through a merchandise line."

BiasHelp representatives said they faxed the letter to Yahoo yesterday, but a representative for the Santa Clara, Calif., company said she did not know if Yahoo received the letter. Although the sale of Nazi and Ku Klux Klan items does not violate the company's current rules, Yahoo would be receptive to the letter, the representative said.

BiasHelp regularly monitors eBay, Yahoo and other auction sites for racist merchandise, said Jeffrey Reynolds, the organization's chief operating officer. The group sent the letter to Koogle after noticing an increase in the number of Nazi and Ku Klux Klan items, especially knives and other weapons.

Yahoo Auction's terms of service ban the listing of "any item which, in Yahoo's sole discretion, is inflammatory, offensive...racially or ethnically objectionable, or otherwise inconsistent with the spirit of Yahoo Auctions." But Yahoo Auctions producer Brian Fitzgerald declined to say whether Klan or Nazi-related merchandize in general or items such as Klan pocketknives in specific violate those guidelines.

"Anything you see on the site is representative of what is currently allowed on the site as far as guidelines go," Fitzgerald said. "Something that is in violation of terms of service, then we can take it down."

Unlike eBay or Amazon, Yahoo does not actively monitor its auction site, instead relying on its members to notify it of items that go against its guidelines. Yahoo will cancel auctions only after a committee within it determines that the auction is in clear violation of its rules; Fitzgerald said he is not part of that committee.

The letter comes as Yahoo is embroiled in a related court case in France. A French anti-racism group sued the company in April over the sale of Nazi items on its auction site, which are illegal under French law. A French judge ordered Yahoo to block the sale of the items to French citizens but later temporarily stayed the order.

Yahoo is not the only Internet company to be singed by racist merchandise. Earlier this year, BiasHelp sent a letter to eBay asking it to ban Ku Klux Klan-related merchandise. eBay responded to that request and to a similar one from the Simon Wiesenthal Center--a group that fights against bigotry and anti-Semitism--by limiting the sale of items that promote hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation.

Meanwhile, online booksellers Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com have drawn criticism for selling racist and anti-Semitic books such as "The Turner Diaries" and Adolph Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in Canada and Germany.

A search for "nazi" on Yahoo Auctions on Wednesday yielded 1,839 items, including a new Nazi battle flag, a bayonet with engraved swastikas and a postcard of Hitler with German children. Meanwhile, a search for "KKK" turned up 84 items, including a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

A search for "kkk knife" turned up some 15 auctions of pocket knives with the Ku Klux Klan logo on them. Among the 13 auctions of Nazi knives is a replica of a trench knife.

"Items that can be used as weapons, they can be used in the commission of crimes," Reynolds said. "My hope is Yahoo will look at this issue, look at the high number of hate crimes, and realize that it's just not worth it to be in this business."