Elizabeth Warren Accuses Amazon of Peddling Covid Misinformation
In a letter addressed to Amazon’s chief executive, Ms. Warren asserts that Amazon’s search algorithm promotes books riddled with false facts about the pandemic and vaccines.
Senator Warren asks Amazon to ‘stop peddling misinformation about Covid vaccines and treatments.’
Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants Amazon to change search algorithms and stop directing shoppers to Covid-19 misinformation. Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
Sept. 8, 2021, 8:08 p.m. ET
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusets sent a letter to Amazon this week demanding the company do more to stop “peddling misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines and treatments” through dubious products sold on the site.
The letter, addressed to Amazon’s chief executive, Andy Jassy, and dated Sept. 7, asserts that the online retailer’s search algorithm contributes to the spread of misinformation about Covid-19 by promoting books on the site’s best-seller list that are riddled with false facts about the pandemic and vaccines.
Ms. Warren said her staff had searched Amazon using terms including “Covid-,” “”Covid-19 vaccine” and “pandemic,” they found that the top results included books like “The Truth About Covid-19: Exposing the Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and the New Normal,” which contains multiple claims that have been proven false. The book was also labeled a best seller in Amazon’s “Political Freedom” books category.
One of the book’s authors, Dr. Joseph Mercola, was issued a warning letter by the F.D.A. in February accusing him of representing vitamin supplements for sale on his website as being effective against the coronavirus.
The searches by Ms. Warren’s office also yielded first-page results of books that claimed Covid-19 vaccines were “making people sick and killing them” and literature that touted ivermectin, a deworming drug normally used for livestock, “as a Covid-19 miracle cure,” which it is not.
“Collectively, this is an astonishing sample of misinformation that appeared in only a few potential searches relating to Covid-19,” the letter states.
A search by The New York Times came up with similar results.
Ms. Warren acknowledged that Amazon had removed “sponsored” search results for pandemic-related terms like the ones that used to pop up for KN95 masks and has made an effort to direct costumers to accurate information by placing a banner at the top of all pandemic-related searches linking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. “But the results of my staff’s review are nevertheless deeply troubling,” the senator wrote.
“As cases of Covid-19 continue to rise, Amazon is feeding misinformation loops through its search and “Best Seller” algorithms, potentially leading countless Americans to risk their health and the health of their neighbors based on misleading and inaccurate information that they discover on Amazon’s website,” she added.
Ms. Warren asked Amazon to review its algorithms within 14 days and provide public reports on both the extent to which Amazon’s algorithms are directing consumers to books and other products containing misinformation and on a plan to change the algorithms.
“We are constantly evaluating the books we list to ensure they comply with our content guidelines,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to The Times. “As an additional service to customers, at the top of relevant search results pages we link to the C.D.C. advice on Covid and protection measures.”