UPDATE: Apparently, a hacker is taking responsibility for the de-gaying of Amazon.com and – if this is true – subsequently also is responsible for making this blog entry kinda pointless. But as Gawker notes in the story: “What to make of people who don’t want to believe this was a prank? They’re left with the notion of Amazon.com pursuing homophobic censorship, which must be pleasing to people who see evil behind every “Inc.” Pick your conspiracy theory: Someone’s playing someone.”
As many of you know, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that Amazon’s new policy of removing “adult” content from its rankings seems to have made some unfortunate choices:
On Saturday, self-published author Mark R. Probst noticed that his book had lost its ranking, and made inquiries. The response he got from Amazon’s customer service explained:
In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.
Probst wrote a novel for young adults with gay characters set in the old West; he was concerned that gay-friendly books were being unfairly targeted. Amazon has not responded to the L.A. Times request for clarification.
I was alerted to this via a former professor’s facebook status (who was loving his Kindle 2 now feels utterly slapped by Amazon for censoring his book). He also directed me to a petition you can sign against the censorship, which included Michel Foucalt’s “The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1,” Dorothy Allison’s “Bastard Out of Carolina,” Rita Mae Brown’s “Rubyfruit Jungle,” Augusten Burrough’s “Running With Scissors,” E.M. Forster’s “Maurice,” and – on a most personally saddening note – Paul Monette’s “Becoming a Man,” a book I stole from a bookstore when I was fourteen because I was too embarrassed to buy it. Monette’s “half-autobiography” explores his coming out as a gay man, and I realize how sentimental this sounds, but it was a huge part of my own coming out process. And had I been fourteen in the Amazon.com age, I would have been able to simply order it to my house (and, of course, spent a week nervously ensuring I was the one to get the mail each day). And had I been fourteen a week or two ago, I would have been able to do so without the suggestion from Amazon that what I was ordering was “adult” material undeserving of a place in searches and best seller lists.
I mean, seriously: porn star Ron Jeremy’s raunchy autobiography is still ranked, but a scholarly bio of Ellen DeGeneres is de-ranked.
Amazon is suspiciously backpedalling today, releasing this statement to reporters:
“We recently discovered a glitch to our Amazon sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed. We’re working to correct the problem as quickly as possible.”
Even if they are actually telling the truth that here was no homophobic agenda here (which to me seems extremely unlikely), I just don’t understand why its not fixed yet. You’d think a company of their size would have the technical man power to get a bug like this sorted out in a second or two. The scariest thing about all of this is that if you go type in “homosexuality” on amazon.com right now (Monday at 5:23pm EST), this is the first book that comes up:
That’s enough to seriously fuck up a curious, questioning and scared young gay who works up the strength and self-disclosure to actually type that in on amazon.com. To think, I once felt guilty about ordering gay-related academic books off Amazon to write my thesis, photocopying what I needed, and sending them back for a refund. Though technically that was from Canada’s version of Amazon.com – Amazon.ca, this is what happens when you type in “homosexuality”:
And for fun: