Amazon’s charity program donates tens of thousands of dollars to anti-vaccine groups, move experts say ‘shocking’ as millions of Americans still go unvaccinated in the face of yet another wave of Covid-19 .
AmazonSmile reportedly donated more than $ 40,000 to leading sources of vaccine misinformation in 2020, according to separate analyzes from Popular Information and the Washington Post.
âIt’s really shocking,â said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s amazing that Amazon supports these groups.”
The e-commerce giant’s charity program donates 0.5% of purchases to designated nonprofits, including at least a dozen organizations fighting against widespread immunization in the United States.
Last year, Amazon donated over $ 60 million to nonprofits. The share of anti-vaccine funding is small compared to the total amount, but it can be significant for fundraising efforts of groups with relatively small budgets.
The donations come after continued criticism of the retailer’s role in health misinformation, and raise questions about the role of tech companies in tackling misinformation and potential public harm.
Donations legitimize anti-vaccine groups, Hotez said. âBeyond money he has a lot of power because a powerful organization like Amazon basically endorses them.â
The National Vaccine Information Center has received $ 41,533.71 over several years, according to an anonymous volunteer. Amazon gave them $ 12,675 last year, reports the Post – one of twelve groups to receive such funding.
Children’s Health Defense, led by Robert F Kennedy Jr, received $ 10,969; Physicians for informed consent received $ 3,626; and Informed Consent Action Network received $ 2,970.41.
More than one million nonprofits are registered in the program, and organizations supported by AmazonSmile must not “engage in, support, encourage or promote … any illegal, deceptive or deceptive activity,” according to the participation agreement. Nonprofits can participate if they are 501 (c) (3) registered organizations.
Hate and terrorist groups are banned from the program. But in the past, AmazonSmile has also reportedly funded anti-LGBTQ groups.
In 2019, The Guardian reported on Amazon’s anti-vaccine donations, as well as its “influencer” program that allows those with significant followers – including major anti-vaccine supporters – to earn commissions. on the products they recommend. Amazon has remained home to prominent anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists after other platforms banned them, according to reports.
An Amazon spokesperson said, âWe respect that our customers want to have access to a wide variety of perspectives on the matter, which is why we continue to list the books in question and include these organizations. Charities from the list of organizations that customers can choose from as part of AmazonSmile.
The spokesperson added: âOrganizations that engage in, support, encourage or promote intolerance, hatred, terrorism, violence, money laundering or other illegal activities are not eligible.
Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been criticized for spreading misinformation and misinformation online, but retailers – including Amazon, the world’s largest retailer – have been largely spared the spread of misinformation.
âEveryone’s focusing on social media companies. I also blame e-commerce companies, especially Amazon, âHotez said.
A search for “vaccine” on Amazon.com shows that anti-vaccine books are the third and sixth results, followed by others. In a search for “Covid”, a book on conspiracy theory is the second result. Most books are sold by Amazon itself, not by third parties. âAmazon is currently the largest supplier of anti-vaccine books,â Hotez said.
Amazon is also a trading platform for anti-vaccine t-shirts, herbal supplements, and other products. Over the summer, customers posted reviews of ivermectin as a potential treatment for Covid, despite warnings from public health agencies that the dewormer drug is not effective against the respiratory virus.
And the company doesn’t just host the articles, researchers recently found. Its algorithms actively promote anti-vaccine resources and products, potentially leading clients deeper into health misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Two University of Washington researchers – Prerna Juneja, doctoral student, and Tanu Mitra, assistant professor – found that Amazon ranks disinformation above quality information, according to their report on disinformation on e-commerce platforms.
âAmazon also ranks these anti-vaccine products higher in search results compared to products that debunk vaccine misinformation,â Juneja said.
YouTube, on the other hand, will recommend a debunking video after someone watches a video containing disinformation, Juneja said. “I don’t see Amazon doing something like this.”
âThe most shocking thing is that you only need to perform one action on these anti-vaccine products. You click on it, add it to your cart, and then Amazon will actually start bringing you more related things, âJuneja said.
And authors, including those who write anti-vaccine books, can pay to have their books “sponsored” or placed higher in search results, she said.
âOnce users start to engage with the misinformation of these anti-vaccine products on the platform, they will be presented with more misinformation at every step of their Amazon journey. “
The spread of disinformation has huge public health costs, Mitra said. âThere are some sections of the population that haven’t even received a single dose of the vaccine. Because this thing really has an impact on public health, all of these platforms have an ethical responsibility to take strong action against this misinformation about vaccines. “
âNot only are they benefiting tremendously from the anti-vaccine empire, but they’re now doing everything they canâ¦ to support the anti-vaccine groups,â Hotez said.
âLet’s remember the consequences here: 150,000 unvaccinated Americans needlessly lost their lives to Covid because they refused Covid vaccines. “