The Slatest

The Latest Online Racist Pileup Is About Vaginal-Care Products at Target

A commercial about supporting a Black woman’s business drew thousands of hostile posts to a Trustpilot review page for the company.

In an effort to promote the Black business owners featured in its aisles, Target launched Black Beyond Measure, a Black History Month campaign “designed to amplify success stories and celebrate blackness, an uplifting sentiment to empower future generations.”

Bea Dixon did just that in a 30-second Target commercial. In it, Dixon discusses how difficult it was to start her company, the Honey Pot, which sells plant-based vaginal-care products, and how Target helped her develop her business. “In the beginning, it wasn’t easy to start this company,” she said. “And there was a lot of times that it almost didn’t happen. If Target didn’t take the chance on us, we wouldn’t be in all the retailers that we’re in today.”

The number of women-owned businesses jumped 21 percent from 2018 to 2019, but the number of Black women–owned businesses grew 50 percent faster, according to the most recent “State of Women-Owned Businesses” report from American Express. This is despite a large revenue disparity: Black women–owned businesses earn an average of $24,000 per firm annually, while the average among all women-owned businesses is $142,900. It’s the biggest revenue gap for any group. And, according to Guidant Financial, two of the main issues facing Black business owners are a lack of capital and marketing—which Target helped Dixon with.

Dixon finished the commercial saying: “The reason why it’s so important for Honey Pot to do well is so the next Black girl that comes up with a great idea, she can have a better opportunity.”

The visibility that went with Target’s promotion, however, brought something else with it. Dixon’s statement, and the fact that the commercial focused on a Black woman business owner, became the focus of an online outrage campaign. On Trustpilot, an open platform where consumers can share feedback about companies and products, the Honey Pot was swamped with negative reviews—many of which didn’t comment on the quality of the product but attacked the commercial’s message. The posts ranged from demands to know why the company wasn’t celebrating white entrepreneurs to blatantly racist slurs.

[Warning: Some of the images below contain graphic anti-Black language.] 

A screenshot of a malicious comment left on the Trustpilot page for the Honey Pot.
Screenshot from Trustpilot.com
A screenshot of a malicious comment left on the Trustpilot page for the Honey Pot.
Screenshot from Trustpilot.com

Trustpilot has placed a consumer alert on the page and is preventing new reviews from being posted while it investigates the situation, Zachary Pardes, a spokesperson, told Slate in an email. The platform’s automated fraud detection systems—along with manual flags—alerted the site’s content evaluation team to a potential problem with the Honey Pot’s Trustpilot profile this morning.

If the site’s automated tools flag a review as fake or fabricated, Pardes wrote, it is removed immediately. If a review is marked manually by a member of the platform, it is sent to workers for further assessment. If they find the flags to be valid, they hide the post immediately as the investigation continues.

“In this case, the Content Integrity team would be reaching out to the reviewer and asking for an amendment [or] edit to the content to ensure the review is compliant with our guidelines (e.g. removing coarse language),” Pardes wrote. “Or, the Content Integrity team may reach out and ask for proof/documentation of the reviewer’s buying or service experience with The Honey Pot. If they don’t respond to that inquiry from our CI team, or if they don’t amend the review or provide the documentation, the review is permanently removed.”

A screenshot of a malicious comment left on the Trustpilot page for the Honey Pot.
Screenshot from Trustpilot.com
A screenshot of a malicious comment left on the Trustpilot page for the Honey Pot.
Screenshot from Trustpilot.com

This technology looks for suspicious patterns within reviews—such as multiple postings coming from the same IP address—but doesn’t always adequately catch hate speech. “The reason it’s so difficult to detect this type of speech with 100% certainty and accuracy is because there are so many nuances to language,” Pardes wrote. “Often times people use slang, misspell words, use poor grammar, or write something that violates our guidelines but isn’t easily detectable by automation.” (Pardes added that Trustpilot is currently trying to fix this issue with new technological rollouts this year.)

The investigation thus far has found that some of the reviews for the company, both positive and negative, are not based on genuine buying or service experiences, Pardes said. Any reviews in this vein will be removed from the platform and will not contribute to the Honey Pot’s star rating or TrustScore; posts with racial slurs or other offensive language will be removed as well.

Target is also standing by Dixon and the Honey Pot.

“We’re proud to work with Bea Dixon and the Honey Pot team to highlight Bea’s journey to build her brand and bring her products to Target,” said a spokesperson in an email. “We’re aware of some negative comments about the campaign, which aren’t in line with the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve received from guests who love and have been inspired by Bea’s story.”

Since the backlash began, Dixon told BuzzFeed News, product sales have doubled.