Online shopping (illustrative)
Online shopping (illustrative)iStock

Latin America’s largest online retailer has stripped its digital shelves of antisemitic content this year, the result of a push by the regional branch of the World Jewish Congress.

Mercado Libre (“free market” in Spanish) was founded in 1999 in Argentina by a Jewish businessman there; it boasts 76 million users, making it more widely used than Amazon in Latin America, where it operates in 18 countries.

Last year, the company announced that it would purge books such as “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” as well as Nazi coins, posters and memorabilia, from its offerings. This week, it announced that in the first half of 2021, the number of items available for sale that violated the company’s policies related to violence and discrimination was down 89% compared to the year before.

“We are very proud of the collaborative work we have done in this time,” Federico Deya, Mercado Libre’s senior legal director, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He credited the work the company had done with the Latin American Jewish Congress in effecting the change, which a report from the company said also included a 23% increase in the detection of hate speech in publications for sale on the site.

“Viewing with concern the growth of hate speech and violence, and the lack of action by some companies, this joint effort is an example that we can work with internet companies that have the will,” said Ariel Seidler, program director for the Latin American Jewish Congress and the head of its Web Observatory, an initiative to remove antisemitism from Spanish-language websites. “They play a key role in our societies and must assume their responsibility to build plural societies, with coexistence and diversity.”

The availability of antisemitic material through online megastores has been an area of concern for as long as online shopping has existed. Retailers have pursued various strategies to limit customer access to such materials, including by adding disclaimers to historic works and purging them entire.

But some items have remained available, vexing some watchdogs. The World Jewish Congress has been a particular critic of the availability of “Mein Kampf,” Adolf Hitler’s treatise containing his antisemitic ideology; its president, Ronald Lauder, has said the book “should be left in the poison cabinet of history.” And this year, the Anti-Defamation League pressed Amazon to remove a film containing antisemitic ideas from its third-party vendor system after Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving promoted it; the company declined, with its CEO saying it had a responsibility to appeal to an ideologically diverse customer base’s viewpoints, “even if they are objectionable.”