Elizabeth Warren asks Amazon CEO to take motion in opposition to Covid misinformation
Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon and then CEO of Amazon Web Services, speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California on October 25, 2016.
Mike Blake | Reuters
Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sent a letter to Amazon on Wednesday urging her to do more to stop the spread of Covid misinformation through dubious products in the market.
In a letter to CEO Andy Jassy, Warren asked for more clarity about how Amazon’s search algorithms and “Best Seller” badge work, saying the company’s recommendation engines may direct consumers to books and other products that reveal untruths about Covid- 19 included.
Warren says a search for “Covid-19”, “Covid”, “Vaccine”, “Covid-19 Vaccine” and “Pandemic” found products promoting false information about coronavirus vaccines and remedies by many of which appeared at the top of the search results.
For example, a book by Ronnie Cummins and Dr. Joseph Mercola, the latter of whom is believed to be the influential distributor of vaccine and coronavirus misinformation on the internet, named “The Truth About Covid-19” the top search result for “Covid-19”. and “vaccine,” according to the letter. It was also recognized as a bestseller in the Amazon Political Freedom book category.
The search for “COVID-19 vaccine” led to other literature promoting discredited Covid cures or vaccine misinformation, including the fact that Covid-19 vaccines “make people sick and kill them,” the letter reads . CNBC was able to replicate several of the examples mentioned in Warren’s letter.
An Amazon spokesman told CNBC in a statement, “We are constantly reviewing the books we list to make sure they are compliant with our COVID content guidelines and safeguards.”
Warren acknowledged that Amazon has taken steps to direct users to accurate information about Covid-19, such as a prominent display of a banner at the top of search results with links to the Food and Drug Administration website.
“But the results of the review of my staff are deeply worrying,” the letter reads. “As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Amazon is feeding misinformation loops through its search and ‘bestseller’ algorithms, potentially leading countless Americans to risk their health and the health of their neighbors based on misleading and inaccurate information provided by they discover Amazon’s website. “
Warren put a series of questions to Jassy for more information about Amazon’s policies.
The letter is the latest example of growing lawmakers’ demands for big tech to rid their services of coronavirus misinformation. Facebook, Alphabet’s YouTube and Twitter were all under pressure to better identify and remove misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines.
Last week, Amazon took steps to limit the spread of the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin as a fake Covid cure. Amazon said it would block some auto-complete suggestions directing buyers to Ivermectin. The company also removed some reviews of ivermectin that falsely touted it as a treatment for Covid-19, the Washington Post reported.
Amazon previously removed products that claimed to be a treatment, cure, or cure for the coronavirus. The demand to restrict ivermectin products makes Amazon more challenging because the drug can be consumed in small doses by humans to treat parasites and is often given to large animals. According to the Post, none of the third party vendors offering forms of the drug for horses claim that it is intended for humans.
Researchers and stakeholders have urged Amazon to do more to contain books that encourage misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Amazon’s content policy for books states that Amazon reserves the right not to sell “any material we think is inappropriate or offensive.” The guidelines don’t mention any medical misinformation, but Amazon has removed books promoting autism cures and vaccine misinformation, as well as literature labeling LGBTQ identities as mental illnesses.