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Should Amazon censor books that peddle ‘disinformation’?

Amazon has a QAnon problem, according to a new report in the European edition of Politico. The website analysed hundreds of books sold on Amazon and promoted by the e-commerce monopoly’s algorithms and found about 100 books written by QAnon cranks. There are also reportedly more than 80 books promoting conspiracy theories related to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines.

In case you haven’t heard, QAnon maintains that the United States and thus much of the world is covertly run by a gang of satanic, blood-swigging pedophiles (including all Democrats) and that Donald Trump is fighting to save the nation from their clutches. This idea has gained quite a bit of traction over the past few years, spreading far beyond America’s borders much like the coronavirus spread out from Wuhan, China. Needless to say, QAnoners wouldn’t pass your standard PPSR check.

Unlike Facebook and YouTube, Amazon has not yet moved to censor QAnon content on its platform. That seems to me to be something for which they ought to be applauded rather than condemned—after all, free speech only matters if it’s available to everyone, not just those who express views with which we agree (Joe Stalin had no problem with free speech for purveyors of Soviet propaganda). But Politico—and I’m sure it’s not alone here—implies that Amazon needs to get with the program and ramp up its censorship practices.

Of course, Amazon already bans plenty of books, just not enough to satisfy the mass media raging appetite for censorship. Even Facebook, the digital world’s leading censor, is said to be too tolerant of speech that “offends.” The censorship enthusiasts won’t quit until everybody is muzzled—including themselves.

Politico spoke to Ciaran O’Connor, described as a “disinformation researcher,” who said that “Amazon is falling short by allowing people to promote these conspiracy theories” and by providing “online influencers with an infrastructure to monetize content and material directly linked to disinformation.”

Okay, but who gets to declare what is and isn’t real information? Ciaran O’Conner? Jeff Bezos? The US government? Are you prepared to let someone else determine whether you’re allowed to read a book? Considering Amazon’s utter domination of the online book market (several of the “alternatives,” e.g. Abe Books, are actually owned by Amazon), this goes way beyond a private company exercising its right not to stock certain books. Amazon, in all of its monopolistic glory, has the power to simply erase a book, and an author, from public visibility. If you think that’s a good thing, you’re very confused.

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By Matthew Jackson

I'm a tech guy who maintains a number of websites. I like to keep up to date on the weird, wild world that is social media, hence this blog. My friends--I have a few--call me MJ.