eBay UK is suggesting shoppers searching for Star of David t shirts might be interested in items featuring an anti-Semitic term. A reader alerted me to the fact that when you search eBay UK for Star of David T shirt, it comes back with the related term "fuck jews." I was able to replicate the search myself - and not just once. Each time I tried the search on Sunday evening, it came back with the same hateful suggestion.
eBay rolled out its next-generation search engine Cassini in the U.S. in 2013 and has since rolled it out internationally. I emailed eBay PR in the U.S. and UK asking for an explanation of how the anti-Semitic term came to appear in that particular search.
I tried many other searches and couldn't come up with anything similar. Many searches resulted in numerous related terms to try, and only a tiny percentage came back with a single suggestion under the "related" prompt.It looks like eBay fixed this problem quite quickly, as I could not reproduce it on the eBay UK site or any other. But it seems highly unlikely that this was an accident. The Cassini search engine that is mentioned is highly optimized to ensure that search results are relevant, using a large amount of data at the many eBay sellers' sites.
The term could be considered an attempt to send a message to Jewish shoppers on eBay UK - it's not clear whether an eBay employee might have manipulated the "related" search feature, whether eBay might have been hacked, or if there is some other explanation for how eBay's search engine would link a search for a Star of David t shirt with the offensive, anti-Semitic term.
Unlike Google searches, where antisemitic articles can come up high when searching for "Jews," Cassini is meant to fight against keyword stuffing and other techniques that eBay sellers used to use to game the system and increase their search rank. There are no eBay products with the title or phrase "fuck Jews" that would ever be a result of a legitimate search.
The only explanation I can see is that whoever programmed the Cassini search engine, which seems to be an internal eBay product, purposefully hard-coded an antisemitic insult to be a response for specific terms that only Jews were likely to use when searching.
EBay really needs to explain how this happened and to apologize. This was no accident.
UPDATE: A couple of hours before this article, someone posted that question on an EBay UK bulletin board. That question is no longer visible.