How Did Amazon End Up Selling T-Shirts With Ridiculously Offensive Slogans?

Blame it on automation run amok

Amazon has taken some heat for offering T-shirts with extremely offensive, upsetting slogans—"Keep calm and rape a lot," "Keep calm and grope a lot," "Keep calm and knife her"—from a merchant called, appropriately enough, Solid Gold Bomb. The T-shirt maker apologized profusely and deleted the shirts, claiming the phrases were automatically generated by a computer script from thousands of dictionary words. It's tough to fathom how language referring to raping and groping could find its way via algorithm onto $20 T-shirts playing off England's "Keep calm and carry on" World War II mantra. Yet I doubt the company would try such a boneheaded stunt for publicity. (After this fracas, it might not survive.) Most media coverage has portrayed the episode as a complex, cautionary tale of technology gone awry, pointing out the need for greater human oversight in our age of cost- and labor-saving automation. Fair enough. It's not like the machines could comprehend such phrases. But if they could, it would mean only one of two things: it's their idea of a sick joke, or they're taunting us about the rapey, knifey tech-mageddon to come.