In 2021, ISD Senior OSINT Analyst Elise Thomas found that Amazon’s algorithm was promoting dangerous conspiracist literature to users searching for book titles on their platform. An algorithm meant to uptick popular items like fitness equipment or gardening tools was inadvertently amplifying disinformation and extremist views to customers, especially in the context of the pandemic. Elise argued that although banning books was a difficult approach, turning recommendations off for these products should at least be considered.
Now, more than a year later, Australian outlet ABC spoke with Elise about how Amazon is once again failing to stop the amplification of these books. The media giant hosts an affiliate program that allows websites to point shoppers to products listed on Amazon and earn referral fees for each purchase. ABC found multiple websites based in the US and Australia that were sharing hateful material and disinformation campaigns were also actively using Amazon’s affiliate program tag. The websites, often publishers, were gaining legitimacy by showing their book for sale on the platform.
“It’s the biggest, it’s very accessible, it’s very easy to use,” Elise said of Amazon’s appeal to such groups.
“And evidently [the publishers] are able to do it for a significant period of time without being taken down.”
Amazon did not comment to ABC, but according to the media outlet, its policies “exclude websites from the affiliate program that ‘contain materials or activity that is hateful … or discriminatory (including on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or age).'”
The ISD report “Recommended Reading: Amazon’s algorithms, conspiracy theories and extremist literature” is available here.