Like all of the major internet sites—notably Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google—Amazon.com has an ongoing problem with not only providing a platform for violent far-right extremists, but helping to monetize their operations. But Amazon has developed a particular reputation for obtuseness, slowness to respond, and corporate silence when it comes to dealing with the issue and rooting it out—one that makes the other platforms, as bad as they can be, look downright sensitive.
The rise of the far-right “Boogaloo” cult agitating for a second civil war in America has provided the latest example: Hundreds of movement-related items are available for sale on Amazon.com, largely through third-party sellers, and the company silently leaves them there, even when they are reported. Oh, and there are “Boogaloo”-related books you can buy for your Kindle, too.
Nick Martin at The Informant recently reported how readily “Boogaloo” merchandise—T-shirts, patches, flags, ballcaps, and Hawaiian shirts intended to signal participation in the cult—can be found on Amazon. The problem, he notes, emerges when “simply searching the word ‘boogaloo’ on Amazon brought up a series of related search terms that show the website’s algorithms have been able to identify some of the symbols associated with the movement.”
The depth of the spread of the material becomes even more apparent when you search using any of the mnemonic “alternate” names for the cult such as “Big Igloo—which also provide a full menu of identifying clothing and accessories. As Martin notes, most if not all of these items are marketed through third-party sellers.
On Kindle, you can buy a number of “Boogaloo”-related books, too, with titles such as Boogaloo: The Beginning: A Second American Civil War Survival Thriller, and Tyranny Rising: An FBI Conspiracy Action Thriller (The Collapse of America Series Book 1).
Moreover, as Martin observed on Twitter, that’s not the half of it: Amazon’s algorithms direct buyers to similar and sometimes even more radical material. Neo-Nazi paraphernalia such as “Totenkopf” patches remain readily available.
The merchandising of far-right movement paraphernalia and literature is nothing new for Amazon. It continues to host a library of white nationalist books and magazines, including such bibles of hate movements as Hitler’s Mein Kampf and William Pierce’s The Turner Diaries. It also continues to make far-right “QAnon” conspiracy cult material readily available. A 2018 report by Partnership for Working Families on Amazon’s ongoing sponsorship of hate group material offered a plan for the company to stop the platforming, but its response to date has been muted at best.
Seth Cohen observed that the company’s longstanding business practices are likely to blame, in a June Forbes piece calling the company out:
So why are the boogaloo and related products still available? It may be that since Amazon stocks millions of products online, they simply have too much inventory to review and rely, in part, on customers to flag offensive products. But with enough media attention on groups like the boogaloo movement that are seemingly inciting violence, shouldn’t Amazon be more proactive in making sure its platform is free from the very products it bars?
Like Facebook, Amazon faces a balancing act of making a profit while also making sure its platform isn’t one that allows hate and incitement to flourish. By leaving some incitement-related products in its marketplace, it may be unwittingly helping those who are spreading violent messages to not only find one another, but find a broader audience as well. And that is something that is as dangerous as it is careless.
As Martin observes, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been vocal in support of Black Lives Matter and opposing the racist backlash against it. However, the company he oversees has, in contrast to Facebook and Twitter, done little to nothing to make its opposition to racist and extremist organizations either clear to the public or manifest in how it conducts its business.