Big Tech Platforms: Providing Safe Spaces for Unsafe Actors
Amazon’s recommendations algorithm points customers who search for white supremacist books to even more white supremacist propaganda. The Christchurch killer’s manifesto shows that he was heavily influenced by the white supremacist terrorist group, The Order, which took its name from a novel called The Turner Diaries. Members of the group refer to the novel as their bible, and the novel has inspired more than a dozen separate hate crimes and terrorist plots. The Turner Diaries is readily available for purchase on Amazon. Furthermore, Amazon’s recommendations algorithm points customers who visit the book’s page to even more white supremacist and Nazi propaganda.
The Christchurch killer’s manifesto shows that he was heavily influenced by the white supremacist terrorist group, The Order. He wrote the number 14 on his gun, which is a reference to The Order’s 14-word slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” He also made several references to the idea of “white genocide,” a term that was coined by David Lane, a member of the group. The Order took its name from a novel called The Turner Diaries, and members of the group refer to the novel as their “bible.” The Turner Diaries is readily available for purchase on Amazon, with the sensationalist description:
According to Professor J.M. Berger, the novel has inspired more than a dozen separate hate crimes and terrorist plots, including the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and it “demonstrated how to successfully leverage racial fears and resentments in the service of violence, without a call to specific ideology.” According to Berger, the novel focuses on “the necessity of immediate, violent action and concrete suggestions about how to go about it,” without explicitly invoking white supremacist ideology. As a result, it has helped broaden the appeal of white nationalism by making it palatable to “normal people” who find “flamboyant racism” distasteful. According to NPR’s Morning Edition, “The fictional book is one of the most important texts of white extremist propaganda, and it will continue to be a useful recruiting tool.”
This book is just one of many white supremacist products that Amazon sells. The Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE) and the Partnership for Working Families released an in-depth report in 2017, called Delivering Hate: How Amazon’s Platforms Are Used to Spread White Supremacy, Anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia and How Amazon Can Stop It, that details how Amazon “provides a platform for openly racist writers, musicians, and activists, including some who advocate for violence against Black people, Muslims, Jewish people, and LGBTQ people.”
Although the company promised to remove some of the offending products in response to the report, NPR found that many white supremacist products, “especially books by white supremacists,” remained on the website a month after the report came out.
As with YouTube, Amazon’s recommendations algorithm also points customers who search for white supremacist books to even more white supremacist propaganda that can further cement their bigotry. For example, the Amazon page for The Turner Diaries recommends multiple titles by Matthew Bracken, an anti-Muslim bigot who appeared on three different shows on Infowars- -a right-wing, fake news, conspiracy theory website–the day after the Christchurch massacre to defend the shooter’s motivations and sympathize with his concerns. In 2015, Bracken wrote his own anti-Muslim manifesto, in which he likened Islam to a blight on otherwise healthy societies (for complete quote, see Appendix).
The Turner Diaries page also recommends the book White Survival by Stephen Christopher, another white supremacist. Clicking on White Survival brings up a recommendation for the SS Leadership Guide: Translated from the Third Reich Original. Clicking on that yields recommendations for more Nazi propaganda, including Hitler’s Second Book: German Foreign Policy and The Program of the Party of Hitler: The National Socialist German Workers’ Party and Its General Conceptions.
Not only does Amazon choose to make these titles available, but its algorithm affirmatively recommends even more white supremacist and Nazi propaganda to customers who search for them.
Furthermore, Amazon donates money to hate groups through its AmazonSmile program. Under the program, the company’s foundation donates “0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of [customers’] choice.” AmazonSmile’s terms of agreement prohibit nonprofits that promote intolerance, discrimination, hate, terrorism, and violence.
However, anti-Muslim organizations like the Middle East Forum and the Investigative Project on Terrorism, are eligible for donations on AmazonSmile. A spokesperson for Amazon told Mother Jones in an emailed statement that the company consults with SPLC to determine whether an organization violates the terms of agreement. However, SPLC’s website describes the Middle East Forum as a think tank that is “known for its academic approach to fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment,” and reported that the group and its anti-Muslim leader, Daniel Pipes, funded and organized a violent anti-Muslim rally in London in June 2018. Furthermore, in 2011, SPLC also highlighted a report by the Center for American Progress that named the leaders of both the Middle East Forum and Investigative Project on Terrorism as among five key “misinformation experts” who “are primarily responsible for the dissemination of false facts and materials used by political leaders, grassroots groups, and the media to generate unreasonable fears about Muslims and Islam.” Through the AmazonSmile program, Amazon is directly helping fund a key part of anti-Muslim infrastructure in the US.