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Does Amazon’s Near-Monopoly Justify Its Use of Censorship?

Caitlin Basset looks at the little-known Seattle law that might make Amazon’s censorship much more costly

Recently, Caitlin Basset told Stream readers about the Seattle law that could give Amazon — currently big on censorship — pause for thought:

Last week Amazon spiked a [2018] book critical of transgender policy. The book — When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement, by Ryan T. Anderson. Amazon removed it without warning or explanation.

“I hope you’ve already bought your copy,” Anderson wrote on Twitter, “cause Amazon just removed my book.”

Amazon has breached free speech principles before. In the past two years, they banned products, films and ad campaigns for ideas it deems “objectionable.”

Caitlin Bassett, “Could an Obscure Seattle Law Be Big Tech’s Undoing?” at Stream (February 28, 2021)

Under an apparent new rule, Amazon now bans books that the corporation regards as “hate speech.”

One book that might be next on the Cancel list is bestselling Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters (Regnery 2020) byAbigail Shrier (pictured). However, a book advocating transgenderism for kids, Let Harry Become Sally (Hypothesis Press, 2018), has cleared Amazon’s standards.

A frequent response to this increasingly common turn of events is, “Amazon is a business; in a free country, it can sell — or not sell — whatever it likes!”

Unfortunately, the picture is not so simple. Amazon controls 83% of the book market. As the many Cancel lobbies are well aware, publishers will not want to sign a book that Amazon might Cancel. In that case, the author’s research does not come before the public if it is inconvenient to a powerful Cancel lobby.

Last year, an industry group of U.S. publishers, authors, and booksellers decried Amazon’s “extraordinary leverage” in the book market to the House Antitrust Subcommittee. Over a century ago, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt became famous for dismantling such near-monopoly “trusts” (as they were called) because they actually work against, not for, a free market.

But more people are aware of and talking about Cancel Culture now, which is a start. Last week John West, a political analyst with the Discovery Institute, was interviewed at NTD-TV (a media offshoot of The Epoch Times) on the 1999 Seattle legislation that might force Amazon to listen to voices other than those of Cancel Culture:

In the news segment, West said, “Seattle is one of the only places in the United States that has banned discrimination, in its civil rights laws, based on political ideology.” The former political science prof told NTD, “The biggest Big Tech company that is headquartered in Seattle is Amazon.com. Anyone who is discriminated against by them can sue. It’s not just a Seattle resident; it’s not just a Washington State resident.” (February 23, 2021)

He notes that punitive damages, pain and suffering, attorney fees, and injunctions are all allowed under the law.

In the meantime, what can readers do to stay informed in an environment where Cancel Culture seeks to be the only source of news?

  • Buy directly from the publisher’s site, as many have done with When Harry Became Sally. You can find out who published a book from Amazon but then a simple search will likely turn up the publisher’s site. Most publishers now enable ordering online.
  • Support a continuing Congressional investigation into whether anti-trust actions are needed again.
  • Buy (though not from Amazon) hard copies of classics and any items you remember fondly. Both Shakespeare and the Muppets are on the way out now; there will be many more casualties.

The novelist and essayist Walter Kirn tweeted the other day that now is the time for people to start buying hard copies of books that might be “problematic” — that is, books that the progressive censors might want to disappear from the culture’s memory … They will be precious before you know it.

Rod Dreher, “Amazon Cancels Ryan T. Anderson Book” at The American Conservative

Walter Kirn has a point. One risk that all-electronic systems face is bowdlerization — changing the text of the work to avoid offending Cancel Culture or progressive sensibilities in general.

It’s already beginning. As Rod Dreher also recounts, Bon Appetit Magazine and the Epicurious website are rewriting 35,000 recipes going back to 1965 to remove words like “exotic,” “authentic,” and “ethnic.” One outcome is that, if you are doing any kind of research, you need a paper copy archive of what the older documents actually said, as opposed to what current lobbies think they ought to have said. The trend toward rewriting history and literature will likely spread.

A wise man with top hat and pipe and a speech balloon.

When deprived of monopoly power, Cancel Culture does not always succeed immediately. Dr. Seuss’s books, recently deplatformed from school systems, spiked hugely at Amazon: “Dr. Seuss’s books were among the leading 17 on the top 50 list of Amazon’s ‘movers and shakers’ on Tuesday morning after the ban was announced.” (Breitbart News, March 2, 2021).

The ban, by both the publisher and school systems, is odd, considering that former president Obama was a big fan. But that’s what Cancel Culture is. It exists to Cancel things. That’s also why independent thinkers need our own stashes of ideas.

In any event, the spike in sales at Amazon only enriches Amazon. That enables it to go after some other target — hardly the best strategy in the long run.


You may also wish to read:

Could a Seattle law hobble Amazon’s unaccountable censorship? John West discusses Amazon’s vulnerability in Seattle with Kara McKinney at Tipping Point. Amazon’s recent forays into delisting books based on political considerations could be considered viewpoint discrimination in its home town.

and

Little-known civil rights law could bring Big Tech to its knees. John G. West: Many tech giants have considerable assets and many employees in Seattle’s jurisdiction. An existing Seattle law could provide grounds to sue Amazon, Facebook, Apple and other big tech companies if they engage in political censorship.


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Does Amazon’s Near-Monopoly Justify Its Use of Censorship?