It’s still Pride month for another week or so, which means there’s still plenty of time for corporations to try profiting off the LGBTQ+ community. Coca-Cola’s latest attempt — a personalized rainbow bottle label — is worse than most. The company seems to have banned certain (unspecified) terms while allowing others to fly, and the choice are… well, they’re bad.
The custom bottle creator includes a field for text, ostensibly meant as a place for a “name or phrase of your choice.” As you might expect, customers have been testing the custom generator’s limits and posting their creations across social media, and the results have been staggering. According to folks on Twitter, “Black Lives Matter” and “BLM” have been entirely banned from the generator, as have “Palestine” and “transgender.”
When attempting to create a bottle with these phrases, the generator returns a message in red text:
Oops! Looks like the name you requested is not an approved one. Names may not be approved if they’re potentially offensive to other people, trademarked, or celebrity names. We’ve worked hard to get this list right, but sometimes we mess up. If you think this is an error, please contact our Customer Care team. Otherwise, please try again, keep it fun and in the spirit of sharing!
What a mess — The list Coca-Cola has created for this project is obviously flawed, to an extent that renders the generator offensive in and of itself. Who at Coke thought it would be a good idea to censor “Palestine” but not “Israel”? Or how about “transgender,” a term that actual trans people use to describe themselves all the time — with a rainbow-clad, Pride-themed label behind it, too.
It seems Coca-Cola has been made aware of the flaws in its banned list; some of the terms reported as banned by Twitter users have now been changed. In Input’s testing, “transgender” did not throw up an error from the custom generator; both “Palestine” and “Israel” are banned, now, which isn’t exactly better.
The mechanism here also has some flaws in how it distinguishes bad from good. The generator will not allow you to create a bottle that says simply “Nazis,” for example,” but “Nazis rule” works just fine.
Just stop doing this — We can understand the tendency toward keeping “politically correct” in user-generated content. The internet is chock full of people hoping to abuse systems like this to create offensive or otherwise harmful content.
If you’re going to create a censorship mechanism to avoid these issues, though, it needs to be top-notch, tested from every possible angle, and made in conjunction with linguistic professionals. We don’t know exactly how Coca-Cola created its list of blocked terms, but it’s apparent from these brief experiments that the company didn’t put enough thought into it.