White supremacists have the right to sell Nazi-themed action figures, music with lyrics that are both misogynist and racist, and onesies for babies emblazoned with burning crosses. But Amazon, one of the world’s largest retailers, shouldn’t give them a platform to traffic in this filth.
Last week, the nonprofit groups Partnership for Working Families and the Action Center on Race and the Economy released a 30-page report detailing all the hateful merchandise on offer at Amazon — in its online shops and digital music store, and through its publishing and Web services businesses.
The e-tailer has policies prohibiting “products that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views.” And within days of the release of the report, it removed much of the offending material.
But the racist propaganda never should have made it onto the company’s enormously powerful platform in the first place. And it has to do better going forward.
Policing a site as large as Amazon is a challenge, of course; we can’t expect perfection. But we can expect a more effective filter, and the company clearly has the resources to build one. Amazon reported more than $1.6 billion in net income in the first quarter of this year — more than double the tally from the same period last year.
The Partnership for Working Families and Action Center report recommends partnering with groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which study hate movements, to develop something more robust.
That’s a good idea — and a proven one. Earlier this year, Spotify tapped the center and other civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and Muslim Advocates, to help identify “hate content” on the music streaming service.
For years, big Internet companies deflected responsibility for the text, sound, and commerce that appeared on their sites, arguing that they were simply platforms. But the weaponization of those platforms by Russian hackers, terrorists, and hatemongers has made it clear a new approach is required.
Facebook and Twitter are taking steps now to marginalize truly vile views — just as traditional mainstream media have long done. It’s time for companies that have been largely overlooked, companies like Amazon, to step up their own efforts.
White supremacists and other bigots will always be able to express their views online; free speech is not at issue here. But there’s no need for Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg to hand them a megaphone.