Online retail goliath Amazon has attracted numerous critics for a variety of reasons, including its treatment of workers and its contributions to building a surveillance state. The dangers of one supersized corporation amassing so much power can be felt in other ways as well. When all the eggs are in one basket, it is far easier for those who want to shut out ideas that offend them, and to de-platform wrongthink. Outrage activists are now actively moving in this direction with Amazon Books.
Amazon controls 72% of new adult book sales online and 49% of all new sales by units, according to Codex Group LLC, a book industry research company. Being able to sell a book on the site can make the difference between being heard or falling into obscurity for voices from all sides of the ideological and cultural spectrum.
“Anti-hate” activists see Amazon’s willingness to sell pro-Nazi tracts and books deemed to be racist as being beyond the pale of acceptability. No doubt most people will nod their heads and agree at this. But it’s not long before we get onto scary ground.
Thought warriors are calling on Amazon to stop selling “anti-vaxxer” tomes, painting those who have concerns over the safety and effectiveness of vaccines as radical extremists. Pro-vaccine voices aren’t hiding the fact that they are trying to eliminate dissenting opinions entirely. “What Amazon is willing to do is, for a price, put bad information out there,” says Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, widely known for his advocacy on behalf of vaccinations.
“They should be held accountable … There aren’t two sides to the science. Vaccines don’t cause autism, diabetes, MS, or any of the other chronic disorders anti-vaccination proponents claim.”
LGBT activists similarly want to enact a ban on so-called conversion therapy material, which they say is junk science and hate-promoting. “Amazon has a responsibility to their customers to not profit from or promote self-harm and hate crimes,” British author David Barr told BuzzFeed.
Like Offit, Barr is decreeing that even presenting an argument contrary to his opinion is verboten. “This is not a freedom of speech issue,” Barr bluntly asserts. “Amazon is not being neutral by selling these. Amazon is making a statement about their values by choosing to sell these books.”
Cyber Book Burning
By branding those who do not think in the same way that they do as “radicals,” “extremists” or “haters,” these partisans open the door for a market purge. Given how liberally applied these loaded terms are today, the implications are dire for just about any group remotely out of step with current cultural progressive and establishment scientific thought. Social media giant Facebook at this very moment is routinely banning pro-life postings it labels as “hate speech.” And if anti-vaccine crusaders are expelled from approved social discourse, what is to keep those opposed to the famously “settled” climate change fake consensus from being kicked to the curb as well?
The groups and individuals seeking to remove books they don’t like from Amazon repeatedly cite the company’s own guidelines to further their efforts. “As a bookseller, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable,” Amazon declares on its website. “That said, we reserve the right not to sell certain content, such as pornography or other inappropriate content.”
If these professional outrage purveyors do indeed succeed in getting Amazon to interpret ideas and personal opinions as “inappropriate content” then it will give further credence to those who argue how dangerous concentrated business power can be. A company in command of 72% of new book sales, deciding which ideas are and are not acceptable in the public marketplace, surely presents a clear and unmistakable threat to free speech.