Etsy is profiting from COVID-19 misinformation, this time in the form of illegal fake vaccination IDs and other merchandise with misleading or inaccurate anti-mask and anti-vaccine slogans. The company has struggled to take down listings that violate its misinformation policies during the coronavirus pandemic, and the rising interest in forged COVID-19 vaccination cards shows this is a recurring problem that the company has yet to solve.
Etsy is an e-commerce platform that allows users to buy and sell products on its website. The company collects fees from its users, currently charging a 20-cent listing fee, a 5% transaction fee, and a 3% plus 25-cent payment processing fee per item sold. In short, Etsy is making money from every listed item and sale on its website.
The “house rules” at Etsy explicitly prohibit “items or listings that promote or endorse harmful misinformation,” including “misinformation that endangers a member’s or the public’s health or safety” as well as “anti-vaccine claims.” While this policy should include anti-vaccination merchandise and counterfeit vaccination cards, it is abundantly clear that Etsy’s enforcement of its own rules is shoddy at best. Although buying or selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards is a federal crime, Etsy is still hosting fake vaccination documents for sale on its website -- along with merchandise spreading vaccine misinformation and anti-mask messages.
Fake vaccination IDs were for sale on Etsy as recently as June 2
The problem of fake vaccination cards on Etsy isn’t new; a Vice report from April highlighted how easy it is to buy a fake vaccination card on the website. The company responded to the article by noting that “fraudulent Covid-19 vaccine documents are strictly prohibited on Etsy.” Despite this, the sale of fake vaccination documents on Etsy has continued, with Media Matters finding examples available on the site as recently as June 2.
In fact, the first results when searching “blank vaccination card” on Etsy yesterday were fake vaccination cards.
Although the specific accounts highlighted in Vice’s April report were removed, others have since emerged, such as the examples we highlight in this piece. The seller of the items pictured above, COVIDid, sold “official” COVID-19 vaccination ID cards for $19.99, requesting that users provide their name, type of vaccine, date they were fully vaccinated, city/state, and a photo.
Additionally, a label in the seller’s listing read “Ad by COVIDid,” which means that the seller purchased extra paid advertising and Etsy collected money through ad fees on the fake COVID-19 vaccination IDs.
Although the account has since been removed, it already had at least 34 sales as of June 2 at 3 p.m. EDT -- and given Etsy’s past difficulties enforcing its misinformation policies, it seems likely that a similar account could just as easily reappear on the platform.
Other COVID-19 misinformation merchandise for sale on Etsy
Although Etsy may have removed a few of these accounts, the website is still openly selling merchandise that promotes COVID-19 denial and anti-mask or anti-vaccine slogans, profiting from harmful misinformation during a deadly pandemic.
“Masks don’t work'' T-shirts are available in a variety of designs on Etsy. This is objectively untrue, as masks are one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Don’t shed on me” reads another shirt design, picturing a coiled rattlesnake and a vaccine needle -- an allusion to the “don’t tread on me” message of the Gadsden flag. This version refers to the debunked conspiracy theory that claims recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine could “shed” the virus onto others.
“Say no to the prick” reads another shirt, featuring a picture of Bill Gates and a pair of syringes. “Anti V#ccine Vax T Shirt” is explicitly written in the product’s description, using a pound sign in place of the letter “A” -- likely to avoid detection by Etsy.
“I identify as vaccinated #MyBodyMyChoice” is written across another shirt. LGBTQ Nation said the anti-trans slogan implies that “transgender people aren’t really the gender they say they are but liberals accept their stated identities” and that other people should be able to “just say the same about being vaccinated.”
There are countless other examples on Etsy of merchandise perpetuating dangerous ideas about COVID-19, masks, and vaccinations. Etsy’s harmful-misinformation policy and other guidelines appear to prohibit anti-vaccine claims and COVID-19 misinformation, but it’s clear that the company is not actively enforcing them as it continues to profit from misinformation about a virus that has killed millions.