Tuesday, April 14, 2009

#amazonfail - Amazon Goes Homophobic, then says it's a glitch. Or maybe it's a conspiracy AGAINST Amazon??? The Power of Bloggers and Twitter

Okay, here's the scoop:

Over this past weekend, Amazon Went Homophobic: They removed the rankings from MANY books with GLBTQ content, even children's & YA, saying the books were too "adult"

It actually started on Thursday, when suddenly all these authors of GLBTQ books discovered that their Amazon sales ranking had disappeared.

One author of a book featured on this blogsite, Mark Probst (who wrote "The Filly") contacted Amazon and was told that

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

(see the full story on Mark's blog, here)

Mark's book "The Filly" isn't "adult." It's a YA book with Gay characters. But for Amazon, their new "filter" excluded it!

Jane, over at the Dear Author blogsite has a great rundown of how this was shaking out, showing that some books, Like a Playboy Bunny Centerfold book (pornography) was NOT excluded, while "Heather Has Two Mommies" (a children's picture book), WAS excluded! Another great blow-by-blow with commentary is here at Hayden Thorne's blog.

Outraged like me?

Ben Rattay started an online petition to send a strong and clear message to Jeff Bezos (CEO, Amazon.com) and Amazon Customer Service!

I signed it here! And wrote them this letter:

Policies of giant companies like yours set the tone of our culture. Deeming ALL books with GLBTQ content as "adult" disenfranchises millions of children and Teenagers from seeing any reflection of their own GLBTQ lives - and robs them of a sense of hope. There are over 200 books on my blogsite, "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" that are books with GLBTQ characters and themes written FOR Teens and children. Don't participate in a homophobia that helps keep these books in the dark. Please re-visit this new policy and prove that Amazon doesn't discriminate against the GLBTQ community!

People began twittering about this over the weekend with the tag #amazonfail and momentum built... Bloggers ran with it, newsgroups and listserves fired up, I got a bunch of emails from friends and colleagues (Thank you, Tricia and Greg and everyone else!) to let me know what was going on, and on Sunday critical mass seemed to have been reached...

Amazon, in a article in the online Publisher's Weekly that ran on Sunday, said that what had happened was a programming "glitch" and denied there being any new policy. Another statement came later, which you can read here on Wired's blog.

A new Twitter stream, #glitchmyass, started up, for those doubting the truth behind Amazon's denial.

When I searched Amazon Monday Morning, most of the egregious cases seeemed to have had their rankings restored (including "The Filly") yet there were others that still didn't have their rankings back.

WOW. The power of the net, of blogs, and of twitter. It's great to see how so many mobilized so fast to stop this in its tracks. The power we have as a community is impressive.

But there's a conspiracy theory here, saying that Amazon itself fell prey to an internet attack, designed to destroy the trust the Gay community had in the giant online retailer... (that some conservative group used a complaint loophole to target certain books and get Amazon's system to automatically de-list them since they'd passed a certain number of complaints that their content was too "adult." It's a fascinating theory, one that reveals another, darker, side to the power of the net.

What do YOU think happened? Was it a conspiracy? A Homophobic policy that backfired? Or just a "glitch?"


fairyhedgehog said...

I tend to doubt conspiracy theories, whether the conspirators are large companies or the far-right, but the alternative explanation of a glitch seems inadequate. The jury is out.

I do worry about the power of the Internet, though. If amazon is in the wrong, then this has been a victory for the good guys. But a similar scenario could so easily set off a witch hunt.

(I signed the petition. These are my second thoughts.)

Unknown said...

I'm not big on conspiracy theories either. But crackers have done this sort of mischief before. My question comes to this: if this is such an easy hack, what does that say about Amazon's security? They were slow to react, slow to find and fix the problem -- would they have ever done so if the so called cracker not come out bragging? Why was Amazon so quick to say glitch, ham-fisted or otherwise? A responsible company would have been front and center with visible efforts to find out what was going on, instead of hiding behind rote email responses and basically pretending nothing was going on. Anyone remember the horrible cyanide Tylenol deaths several years ago? The company was right out front and made it clear very quickly they were going to deal with making sure this didn't happened again. And this was before the power of the Internet was available. Amazon prides itself on being at the forefront of technology, but this proves that is a fallacy. Right now I'm reluctant to trust them with my credit card information. The fact they are still being so secretive and reticent isn't making me feel all warm and fuzzy. I think I'll still look for other places to buy my books.

MotherReader said...

I think that the top people at Amazon aren't sure what happened exactly, leaving them to explain it as a "glitch." In this case "glitch" may mean "some idiot took our policy to remove sales ranking from pornographic material and threw the cataloging for gay and lesbian in there in either a) his/her own personal diatribe or b) complete and utter stupidity."

I think that they didn't come out stronger on this hoping that it wouldn't become a big story. We Internet and Twitter folk tend to think that everyone's all wrapped up in the Internet/Twitter world, but they really aren't. Amazon went for the low-key response hoping that it wouldn't gather steam and break out of the online world. Now imagine trying to figure out what happened, with who, and what to say as everyone checks out for Passover, Spring Break, and Easter weekend.

Unknown said...

I posted on my blog about why I don't believe Amazon's various stories. You can see it at http://pabrown.livejournal.com/48401.html if you want.

Jacob said...

Confession of a known (he's hacked things before) Anonymous hacker: http://pastebin.ca/1390576

Still don't know what's what, personally, but Amazon has displayed homophobic tendencies before. This lacked the subtlety they usually employ, though, seeing as how making money is more important to them than anything else.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Just a quick note on Jacob's link to the anonymous "hacker" that's claiming responsibility for this event. If you go there, be aware that there's some homophobic language used, and that the content is very mature. I struggled over whether or not to include the link, but ultimately decided to simply give you all a heads-up so each reader could decide for themselves if they wanted to go there.
Fascinating and disturbing.