Amazon shoppers get conspiracy theory and recommendations from books on extremism


From Amazon delivered Recommendation algorithms that help customers discover new titles can have a dark side.

A new report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue says these algorithms direct people to books on conspiracy theories and extremism, sometimes introducing them to the work of conspiracy theorists who have been banned by other online platforms.

People browsing a book about a conspiracy on Amazon are likely to get suggestions for more books on this topic as well as books on other conspiracy theories on everything from QAnon to the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the report.

Other features, such as autocomplete in the search bar and content suggestions for the author or similar authors, can also lead users into an extremist burrow, said Chloe Colliver, chief policy and research officer. digital strategy at ISD.

The pattern is similar to the problems seen on other major online platforms like Google’s YouTube, whose algorithms were found at direct users to extreme content, sucking them into violent ideologies.

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“Given that vaccinations and issues related to Covid-19 are currently the focus of many concerns, the potential for recommending false or extremist information on these topics is certainly concerning,” Colliver told USA TODAY. “The kind of false information recommended by Amazon’s algorithms has been shown around the world to contribute to real harm.”

Colliver says the scale of the threat is difficult to assess without more transparency from Amazon, which dominates the book sales industry.

“However, these referral systems are a central cog in Amazon’s business model, so their potential negative or dangerous effects need to be better understood both by the company itself and by independent researchers and authorities.” , she said. “Given how vital recommendation systems are to Amazon’s sales functions, it’s safe to assume that recommendations for dangerous extremist or conspiratorial content could be extremely pervasive.”

In a statement to USA TODAY, Amazon said, “We take the concerns of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue seriously and are committed to providing a positive experience for our customers. Like other stores that sell books, we provide our customers with access to a variety of points of view and our shopping and discovery tools are not designed to drive results oriented to a specific point of view. . “

The company mentionned On Thursday its first-quarter profit more than tripled from a year ago and, for the second quarter in a row, its revenue exceeded $ 100 billion.

Social media and other tech companies have taken increasingly aggressive steps to eliminate recommendations of disinformation or extremist content that pose a public threat.

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On the book pages, Amazon recommends other books to users in several ways, including “customers who bought this item also bought”; “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed”; and “what other items do customers see after viewing this item?” Paid ads sometimes also appear to promote “products related to this item”.

“For most users, these recommendations are at best a useful way to find new content that interests them, and at worst an irritation to be safely ignored,” the report said. “For conspiracy theorists, white nationalists and users perhaps curiously dipping their toes into the murky waters of extremist or conspiratorial content, these recommendations could serve as a gateway to a larger universe of conspiracy theories and conspiracy. disinformation, or towards an increasingly radical universe. straight and white nationalist content. “

SumOfUs parked trucks outside Amazon stores in Seattle and New York City to promote Thursday's report that the company's book recommendation algorithms are steering people toward conspiracy theories and misinformation.

For example, people who peruse a book claiming vaccines are not safe are pushed to other anti-vaccine titles and COVID-19 conspiracy content, including a book by Judy Mikovits, author of the video widely. denied “Plandemic,” who alleged that Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, made the virus responsible for COVID-19 and shipped it to China.

“A bookstore is not obligated to host content that it deems to be outside the interests of most of its customers. It is also in the power of Amazon to set clear guidelines on what kind of content it is that it is not comfortable enjoying, ”said Colliver. “Even without completely removing this content, Amazon would be able to reduce the accessibility of potentially harmful content on its site.”


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