Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On the bandwagon

I don't know if you've been following the recent Amazon debacle. It seems that Amazon suddenly decided to label all GLBT literature as "adult" and to remove it from its search base. Twitter was flooded with irate tweets labelled #amazonfail and the Internet was filled with far-right conspiracy theories and indignant diatribes against Amazon's evildoing.

Amazon made matters worse for itself by making a statement that
In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude 'adult' material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists.
This wasn't well received as adult toys and straight erotica were not taken off the list.

The waters were muddied further when a hacker named Weev claimed that he had been the one to cause all the fuss with a few lines of code. According to other hackers, his code wasn't capable of that so it looks like he latched on to the situation to get publicity for himself. This didn't stop the comments that Amazon's system shouldn't be capable of being hacked in that way.

Finally, Amazon emailed complainants saying
This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.
Apparently, an IT worker in France made a mistake that affected the whole system. As a Live Journaller called Suaine puts it:
The French programmer did it! This is going to be my new excuse for everything.

What gets me about all this is how we can all be stirred up so easily through the Internet. This isn't the first time someone has used the GLBTQ community for their own ends. There was a similar case that I heard of through Pharyngula, where a college had apparently failed a nursing student because she is lesbian, with the tutor writing in an email that she would not like to be treated by a lesbian nurse. After everyone had expressed their outrage, including sending hate mails to the tutor, questions were raised about the authenticity of the email. It's very easy to enrage us when it seems that a minority group is being done down.

I see two problems with this.

  1. Innocent people are witch hunted.

  2. Energy is wasted which could be better spent on the real issues: like governments refusing to acknowledge gay marriage.

It all comes down to one thing. When we read anything that fills us with righteous indignation, we need to check out the facts before we join in.


Whirlochre said...

Sadly, the internet speeds everything up, including the usual knee-jerk reactions.

Thanks for clarifying this issue btw.

fairyhedgehog said...

Speed indeed! I've barely posted this!

Glad you liked it.

Sylvia said...

I'm glad you wrote this - I could see something full of fail had happened and you gave me a wonderful summary to get up to speed quickly.

Having said all that - I am not sure the overextended reaction was necessarily a bad thing, as it is very easy to dismiss an action as "not intended" once you've gaged the outrage from your public.

fairyhedgehog said...

Hi Sylvia,

It's true that we don't know the whole story and there may be more to it than has come out. It probably wouldn't have hurt if people had taken time to ask Amazon to redress the problem and waited a bit to see what happened, although I admit that their initial response wasn't encouraging.

In this case, I expect Amazon can handle it. The Pharyngula case was more worrying as an individual was getting hate mail.

Bevie said...

Bandwagons and Lynch Mobs. What they have in common is both deal in pure emotion.

Since Amazon is a business, one should view all of its behavior as business behavior.

I don't have all the facts either, but my guess is that this was an experiment gone bad. Someone thought to cash in on the fervor of the Religious Right only to find out they aren't nearly so popular as they used to be.

With businesses, especially big businesses, it usually boils down to money and not social issues.

I do think it's good that people contacted Amazon and made their feelings known. Now Amazon knows this policy is a money-loser. Let them claim it was an accident. As long as they make it right.

That's my take. But then, I'm kind of jaded.

Bevie said...

Oh, Fairy. I hope that didn't come off as implicating you. I thought your post was very good. You got past the emotion of it and addressed the real issues.

fairyhedgehog said...

Bevie, I had that reaction at first and I signed the petition to amazon too.

Maybe they were at fault and like Sylvia says they've just changed their mind now that it's public.

It's just on reflection... Some people say that stupidity is more likely than conspiracy and they could be right. You'd have to be quite stupid to voluntarily take on the GLBT movement. Wouldn't you?

Maybe I'm just over sensitised after the Pharyngula incident. I do hate lynch mobs though.

Elle Scott said...

I wish everyone was as level-headed as you and your readers!

I have to admit that I get stirred up over such issues, too. I've been known to go off on a tirade without properly checking the facts. But when I feel injustice is being done, I go a little crazy sometimes.

Great post!

fairyhedgehog said...

Elle, I think the problem is that we all do that to some extent, or at least I know I do.

Even now, we aren't sure of the facts and as Sylvia and Bevie have said, tackling amazon may have been the best thing to do.

Bevie said...

"You'd have to be quite stupid to voluntarily take on the GLBT movement."

That's the part of this which boggles my mind. What idiot at Amazon was able to convince the others that this was a good money-making proposal?

Sylvia said...

There's a very interesting LJ post pointing out that you can tag books as adult and if X number of people tag a book, it will be removed from public searches automatically. The poster puts forward the theory that a large group actively targeted those books over a holiday weekend to get them removed and cause a fuss before Amazon had time to wake up and see what was happening.

He goes on to theorise that it was NOT religious fanatics trying to get the books off the shelves but a group of trolls, trying to set up a fight between the general public and Amazon (which succeeded).

Original post

writtenwyrdd said...

In my opinion, the Amazon response does not address the delisting of other titles earlier this year, nor does it offer a clear explanation nor apology. My jury is still out with the doubting and sniping crowd on this issue.

I find the explanation more than a little suspiciously specious.

Stacy said...

This is a very level-headed post. I'd be more convinced if it weren't for the authors who have been reporting since February that their books were de-ranked, and have received reasons why from Amazon. I've just decided to take my business elsewhere. Heck, I have a great branch of Powell's right in my city, down by school. Might as well go there. Maybe I'll be back if Amazon issues an apology to those authors, but maybe not.

Robin B. said...

Good Lord! Lolita - is that banned?

I love that book- its prose is gorgeous - and its meaning is not derivative nor is it senseless, nor was it meaningless, but it's banned from many mega-Christian libraries.

Gay or nor - whatever - the whole ban thing creeps my out down to my veins.

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