xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

What I've learned from Amazonfail

More than a week ago, the Internet nearly imploded with rage after it was discovered that books, a majority touching on gay and lesbian issues, were disappearing from search results on Amazon.com.

The phenomenon, and the outpouring of anger it inspired, was soon dubbed "Amazonfail" on sites such as Twitter.com and blogs everywhere.
 
This event -- which an Amazon spokesman described as an "embarrassing and ham-fisted error," and critics have called hypocritical, offensive and just plain moronic -- has inspired righteous indignation as well as just plain confusion from many people.
 
So if you find yourself confused about how this "glitch" became such a hot-button issue in the span of mere hours, and why I think it's important that we don't just forget it ever happened, here are three separate issues that I've identified (which isn't to say there aren't many, many more).

 Censorship

"Amazon.com strives to be Earth's most customer-centric company where people can find and discover virtually anything they want to buy online."
 
That's Amazon's mission statement, and it's an admirable one: Provide people with the products they want, and do so in a way that keeps them happy. Does this mean that parents should be able to filter searches so that sexual toys and books won't be included in their children's searches? Absolutely. Does it mean that perfectly legal products should be suppressed from everyone? No.
 
So when America's largest online retailer (as described in the Top 500 Guide of internet retailers), deranks books by D.H. Laurence, E.M. Forster, Anais Nin and Augusten Burroughs, making it so that they don't appear in book searches, something has gone wrong.
 
I don't believe Amazon set out to censor their customers. But I do believe that regardless of intent, this was indeed censorship, and not the kind that protects anyone. If a child can still easily find the complete collection of Playboy centerfolds, Ron Jeremy's autobiography and dozens of explicit heterosexual romances, the pretense of protection is a thin one.
 
Many of us can happily ignore the threat of censorship in American society, but Amazonfail has proven that you don't need to stage a book-burning for it to happen.

Advertisement

Privilege

One of my most painful revelations in the Amazonfail fallout has been that decent, intelligent people whom I love a great deal have no idea how good they have it, and how to relate to others' experiences.
 
The lesbian/gay/transgendered community is one that has been told time and time again, in cultures throughout time and place, that they deserve fewer rights than others because of who they are.
 
The same can be said of people of color, women, and people with disabilities.
 
But in this case, the precarious position that LGBT authors and readers can easily find themselves in was highlighted.
 
The majority of white, male and able-bodied people in this world never have to worry about walking down the street unharassed, getting inside a restaurant or even whether or not someone will be able to relate to them on a personal level. This is privilege.
 
Being privileged doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't mean you've done anything wrong; it means that you have status in the community entirely independent of anything you have done or said. It also means that oftentimes you won't recognize the struggles of people unlike you, unless they are pointed out.
 
Kinda like what I'm doing right now.
 
And that's why minority groups, such as the LGBT community, are angry. It's not because they're over-reacting. It's not because they are determined to see bigotry where ever they go. It is because throughout their lives they have been told they are lesser, inferior, somehow lacking because of who they love. And this incident, independent of intent, served to underline those facts.

Response

Finally, there is the problem of how Amazon reacted to this error in the first place. The importance of a timely, adequate response to customer anger, especially during a recession, is huge. It speaks to the company's ethics and how much they value their own customers.
 
As of today, Amazon has yet to provide an official statement describing what went wrong, and apologize to the authors who lost business, the customers who lost options and the many, many people who were personally hurt by the error.
 
We are talking about the largest online retailer in the country, and maybe the world. They have a huge audience and access to this audience 24 hours a day. They can post a statement on their Web site. They can e-mail anyone who has ever bought or sold a product on their site. They can explain what happened through their Twitter accounts, their daily blog and who knows how many other avenues.
 
Instead, they had a spokesman e-mail a reporter, with no sign of an apology in sight. This alone angers me. How little must they care about their customers, their selling partners, and those human beings they hurt, that they can't even be bothered to issue a press release on their own Web site?
 
There's still time to make many of these things right. And as a longtime fan of Amazon.com, I sincerely hope they recognize the message they are sending, and re-evaluate both their actions and inactions -- because it's the right thing to do, as well as the smart one.

Advertisement
Advertisement

(Photo by CraigPJ at stockxchng)

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement