Amazon sees censorship decisions magnified through the social web magnifying glass

Now we all know the effect the Internet and indeed, the social web have on magnifying seemingly small issues or business decisions in record time….don’t we? Well Amazon apparently does not.

Twittering merrily about choccie eggs has been usurped today by the issue of #amazonfail, currently ranking pretty highly on Twitter and attracting interest across the blogosphere.

What is #amazonfail?

The letter here sums it up perfectly:

Somehow, the brain trust of your company has decided to protect the “entire” Amazon customer base by restricting access to content that someone (who?) decided was offensive. In your zeal to protect me from myself, of course, you managed to leave content that I find singularly repulsive online (really, exploring the human condition is bad, but Mein Kampf is just fine?).

This loss of ranking, listing, search functionality seems to be largely, but not wholly!, limited to fiction and non-fiction with themes relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues. Authors affected range from E.M. Forster to James Baldwin to John Barrowman, our beloved Captain Jack on Dr. Who and Torchwood and others, including a host of female authors who write erotic fiction.

Gee, I can buy a book on training fighting dogs (something so offensive my stomach hurts just looking at the cover image), but specific types of human relationships are suddenly taboo?

Whist watching this PR disaster in the making, what is interesting to me is how the story ends up being reported tomorrow and Tuesday as fellow PR, Eb Adeyeri points out:

Fascinating to see the twitter-verse rise up on an issue such as #amazonfail I wonder if their PR gets to it before it makes the nationals

As far as I am aware, Amazon does not have a “rep” on twitter, or not one that is very well known anyway either in house or agency-side.  If they did, this could probably have been nipped in the bud earlier or at least properly explained.  Instead, the twittering-classes have pretty much made up their own minds and the issue (and possible damage to reputation) will no doubt have been done by the time a more damaged piece appears in the press.

Ironic that one of the world’s largest online brands seems to be at the centre of a potentially large online PR disaster and its blog hasn’t been updated for over 24 hours.

What lesson can all brands learn from this about the online world? Even if you don’t contribute very often to the online conversation…at least listen and respond.

{update} great piece by Clay SHirky on the topic here.  I still think that regardless of the issue, organisations are dealing with percepotions and the FAIL Amazon made was not speaking up early enough.


  1. Matt Churchill · April 13, 2009

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the crisis meeting they’re undoubtedly having or about to have – i wonder what their strategy will be?

  2. Pingback: Twitter doesn’t take a holiday; Neither should managing your reputation
  3. Pingback: » Blog Archive » #Amazonfail and a coincidental job advert

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