Amazon algorithms are promoting books making anti-vax claims, top Democrats warn

Amazon algorithms are promoting books making anti-vax claims, top Democrats warn
Lawmakers called on Amazon to immediately review its algorithms and reveal extent to which it spread misinformation

Senior Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Adam Schiff have both written to Amazon chief Andy Jassy raising concerns about the e-commerce portal’s promotion of books and products that propagate misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines.

“Recent investigations indicate that Amazon’s algorithms are boosting anti-vaccine products throughout the site over fact-based vaccine information and pushing customers towards content bubbles of extreme disinformation,” Mr Schiff noted in the letter.

He accused the tech giant of directly profiting from the sensationalism of anti-vaccine misinformation, while conspiracy theories about vaccines continue to drive deaths from Covid-19.

“As a member of Congress who is deeply concerned by the prevalence of vaccine hesitancy during this time of crisis, I request additional, more detailed information on Amazon’s policies regarding false or misleading health information in order to identify potential needs for federal regulation,” Mr Schiff added.

Senator Elizabeth Warren also noted in her letter to Mr Jassy that top results for pandemic-related search terms on the platform “consistently included” books based on falsehoods about Covid-19 vaccines and cures.

“When staff searched for terms “Covid-19” and “vaccine,” the first result, presented prominently in the top left corner of the screen, was a book by Joseph Mercola and Ronnie Cummins called “The Truth About Covid-19: Exposing the Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and the New Normal,” Ms Warren noted.

“Dr Mercola has been described as “the most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online,” she added in the letter.

The book, Ms Warren noted in the letter, perpetuates dangerous conspiracies about Covid-19 with false and misleading information about vaccines.

“It asserts that vitamin C, vitamin D, and quercetin—supplements sold on Mercola’s website—can prevent Covid-19 infection – a claim with such little scientific basis that the FDA sent a letter instructing Mercola to cease selling these supplements for the unapproved and unauthorised treatment of Covid-19,” she explained.

The book also claims that Covid-19 vaccines cannot be trusted “when study after study” has shown that they are effective and safe, Ms Warren added.

Both US politicians called for Amazon to perform an immediate review of its algorithms to determine the extent to which the platform is pushing users toward misinformation.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company is constantly evaluating the books the platform lists to ensure they comply with its content guidelines. “… and as an additional service to customers, at the top of relevant search results pages we link to the CDC advice on Covid and protection measures,” Reuters quoted the spokesperson as saying.