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Citibank Red-faced After Censoring Fabulis

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Social networking startup Fabulis last week suddenly found its bank account locked and scheduled for termination, based on what several Citibank (s c) employees told founder and CEO Jason Goldberg was an issue of “objectionable content” on the company’s blog. Although no one from the bank ever mentioned it specifically, Goldberg suspected the sanctions were related to the fact that Fabulis is a social network and lifestyle site aimed at gay men. In a blog post, he says Citibank confirmed to him that the site was blocked because a Citibank staffer said it contained porn (which even a cursory check of the site shows that it clearly doesn’t). The bank now says it has “updated and clarified its procedures” to prevent such issues from occurring in the future. Goldberg says:

It was clearly a mistake on the bank’s part — one which highlights the prevailing subtle forms of homophobia and/or lack of understanding we see periodically from some big corporations. Someone there made a misguided decision in reviewing our content and the systems and policies of the bank allowed it to go through.

According to a statement released by Citibank, the institution conducts regular “due diligence” on its business accounts, and says it reserves the right to “decline or suspend an account if we find illegal or discriminatory content, or if the site involves gambling or pornography.” However, it adds that as a result of certain (unnamed) incidents, “we have made it clearer to our bankers what the due diligence process entails [and] beyond that specific due diligence…we do not monitor or evaluate our customers’ web content.”

As far as I’m concerned, the part of the Fabulis incident that makes Citibank look the worst isn’t the blocking or threatened termination of the startup’s account, although that is pretty bad — it’s the repeated attempts to sweep the issue under the carpet and/or change the bank’s story as it was happening. At first, the bank tried to pretend that the affair was simply a “misunderstanding,” and blamed it on some missing documentation. Only after Goldberg refused the initial apology and continued to blog and post to Twitter about it did the bank finally admit that it had made a mistake and apologize.

Here’s a quick tip, guys: When something like this breaks loose in the blogosphere or on Twitter, your best option is to get out in front of it, not to pretend it didn’t happen.

Post and thumnail photos courtesy of Flickr user autumn_bliss

5 Responses to “Citibank Red-faced After Censoring Fabulis”

  1. Andrew Glines

    The comments I posted were made under the original assumption that the Citibank employee decided the site was problematic solely on the basis of seeing a pair of mens’ briefs. I recall seeing that image on one of the news feeds that carried the original story; that’s why I thought it might have been more innocent of a mistake.

    If this was not the case, then yes, homophobia or its institutional version, “values”, may very well have been afoot. I’d prefer to judge the merits of the case after all the details of the story are brought to light.

  2. Sharri

    Sounds like someone is in the 12 century. A pair of briefs do not make it porn. Someone is scared to be associated with same gender folks. Take a step back and look at yourself. This is discrimination. I hope no one find out anything thing that you don’t want known.

  3. Domanik Sabrus

    Are you serious Andrew? Those Kmart porn advertising flyers I get from now on – whoa ho, I need to report them to consumer watchdog and boycott their product because underwear = sex.

    I’m surprised at your stance but it says more about you than it does about anyone or anything else sir.

  4. Andrew Glines

    Didn’t the original splash page contain an image of underwear? Any reasonable person, gay or straight, left- or right-leaning, would see that and immediately think: “this is probably porn, and I’m not clicking anywhere else just to check – especially not while at my job.”

    I’m a gay man, and no prude, and certainly quick to smell homophobes; but frankly, nothing in the story speaks to homophobia here. Any wag of the finger goes to the site designers: a pair of mens briefs says “sex”. Two smiling same-gender people, with their shirts on, says “first date.” Clearly, either very little thought went into the site design, or lots of thought about good ways to drum up publicity did. For what it’s worth, congrats.