Alex Blaze

Citibank shuts down gay social networking site's bank account

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 25, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Citibank, Citigroup, Facebook, make an apology, social networking site, Twitter

Updated three times after the jump.

Fabulis, a social networking site directed at gay men that just started up, is reporting that their bank account was blocked for content reasons:

In a bit of strange and disturbing news, fabulis discovered today that someone(s) at Citibank had decided arbitrarily to block fabulis' bank account due to what was described to us on the phone as "objectionable content" on our blog. In fact, the account -- it turns out -- was blocked a few days ago without anyone letting us know about it by phone or email.

Huh?

Mind you, fabulis is a serious business, backed by some serious players, and for the life of us we can't find anything "objectionable" on our blog besides some good humor, some business insights, and some touching coming out stories from some great and fabulis gay people.

So, what gives?

And wtf. When did Citibank start reviewing blogs to decide who can bank with them?

First off, I don't even see where the "objectionable content" is, and I have a sixth sense when it comes to finding objectionable content on the internet. More importantly, when did a private bank become the final arbiter on how we present ourselves in public?

While it may be reasonable for content to be examined if Fabulis was asking for Citibank to give them a loan or to invest in their start-up, if they're just using basic banking services, then this sounds punitive.

Fabulis stresses that their content isn't objectionable in an update:

A few minutes ago I spoke to an account manager at Citibank. This manager let us know that a compliance review occurred, which Citi says is a standard procedure, and the review officer determined the "content was not in compliance with Citibank's standard policies." They requested the account be terminated.

"Content was not in compliance with Citibank's standard policies." Yes, that quote is indeed correct.

The current status of the situation is this: Citibank management is reviewing the situation and they promise a reply later today. For the life of us we cannot understand how our growing site could be offensive. The whole situation has caused us great frustration.

Regardless of Citi's response we have decided we're taking our banking elsewhere. That is for certain.

But even objectionable content needs banking. We like to think of good writing and video and web hosting as these free entities that should always be available to people, but people need to be paid to create and host that sort of content. Even ManHunt, one of the most objectionable sites on the internet, needs banking to handle what they do, and I'm sure they're getting their banking done somewhere.

What in the world is so objectionable about their content? It's mostly teens and 20-somethings saying why they're fabulous on video. The only thing that could possibly be objectionable about the content is the fact that it's gay. I'm looking for anything other than that, anything other than Citibank thinking that gay content is inherently vulgar content, that would justify this content-level objection.

Fabulis, if you follow the LGBT news closely, was the company that announced recently that it was looking for seed money, and even got invested in by the Washington Post. One media report from a few weeks ago said they had already raised $625,000. That isn't the sort of money they can be expected to keep under their mattress. Business is complicated, and banks aren't supposed to be society's moral scolds, telling people what they can and cannot speak about.

I'm sure they'll have no trouble finding another bank to do business with. Fortunately, this isn't a trend and free speech, while under attack daily, isn't threatened by the banking world pulling services from media outlets it disagrees with. Thank goodness. If there wasn't another bank willing to take on Fabulis, where else would we go to watch all those videos of teens and 20-somethings saying why they're fabulous?

Update: Citibank already pulled out and apologized:

I guess this is how big companies try to defuse social media stories.

A manager from Citi just called to apologize and to say that all 3 of the citibankindividuals who over the past 24 hours each individually claimed that fabulis' account was to be terminated for compliance issues around the content of our site, were all wrong to have said what they said.

Hmph. Something smells.

Something tells me we'll never know what was up.

Update 2: Citibank replies on Twitter:

Today, many asked for our response to @fabulis's recent blog post. Please see the following tweets. Thank you.

Citibank sincerely apologizes to Mr.Goldberg for this misunderstanding.This situation had nothing to do with the content of his website.

...and any comments by our staff to the contrary were incorrect and we're reviewing what happened.

Citi is strongly committed to diversity, including support for the GLBT community, and other organizations promoting diversity.

Update 3: Citibank apologized to Fabulis. This is what raising a stink on the internet will do.


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bigolpoofter | February 25, 2010 2:14 PM

With the way large financial institutions disperse back-office responsibilities to low-paying areas, it's entirely possible that the reviewers had never knowingly met a Gay man and knew nothing about "social networking." Citi has quite a bit splainin' to do.

Personally, I "bank" at Credit Unions- this kind of arbitrary interference is one of the reasons why...

Dominic Collins Dominic Collins | February 25, 2010 3:05 PM

A note: you continually use the word "objective" in place of "objectionable". Incidentally, the word "objective" refers to a concept that is true independent of any frame of reference. Therefore, if there are no opinion pieces on the website, it may be objective, but it is STILL not objectionable.

Don't bank with Citibank. Don't give them a warning, don't give them another chance, don't tell them to mend their ways, just take your money out. Put it in another bank, preferably a local one. Also, file a complaint with the Treasury since Citi received TARP money. Money is the only thing these people understand and until the community is ready to play hardball, there is no incentive for them to change.

A bank can shut you down because they don't like your blog???

Geeze, and people wonder why I don't use my real name on the internet!

At a guess - a misspelling during a google search.