Amazon is pushing books by a person described as “the most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online” when users make COVID-19 related searches, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has found.
Warren wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy on Tuesday that laid out her findings. Warren noted that when a user typed in “covid-19” into an Amazon search, the first result was a book by Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician in Florida that the New York Times described as “the most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online.”
Mercola’s book, The Truth About COVID-19, was also marked with a “Best Seller” tag, Warren wrote. The Daily Dot replicated the “covid-19” search on Wednesday and Mercola’s book was the first result under a banner from Amazon that directed users to more information “about COVID-19 protective measures.”
“The book perpetuates dangerous conspiracies about COVID-19 and false and misleading information about vaccines,” Warren wrote in her letter to Jassy, adding: “It should come as no surprise that the book is rife with misinformation. One of the authors, Dr. Mercola, is one of the ‘Disinformation Dozen,’ a group responsible for 65% of anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter.”
The Massachusetts senator also highlighted instances where her staff found books about “Reversing the Side Effects of the COVID-19 Vaccine” and books by Alex Berenson, who the Atlantic called “the pandemic’s wrongest man,” who was recently suspended by Twitter.
“Amazon’s search and ‘Best Seller’ algorithms do not produce static results, so the results of my staff’s August 22 review might provide different results if the searches were conducted repeatedly,” Warren wrote. “But the basic problem is ongoing: a search for ‘COVID 19 vaccine’ on September 7, 2021 placed both the Mercola book and ‘Reversing the Side Effects of the COVID-19 Vaccine’ among the first three results.”
In the letter, Warren asks Jassy to have Amazon produce a public report on how Amazon’s algorithms are directing users to books containing COVID misinformation and “a plan to modify these algorithms so they no longer do so.”
Amazon did not immediately return an emailed request for comment from the Daily Dot.
Warren also asked the tech and retail giant to answer a number of questions by Sept. 22, including: what Amazon’s policies were for the listing, promotion, and sale of books and products that have coronavirus misinformation; what actions Amazon has taken to address the spread of COVID misinformation on the platform; and what criteria the company uses to give books a “Best Seller” tag.
Update 8:25am CT, Sept. 9: Amazon provided the following statement to the Daily Dot: “We are constantly evaluating the books we list to ensure they comply with our content guidelines, and as an additional service to customers, at the top of relevant search results pages we link to the CDC advice on COVID and protection measures.”
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