Twitter Lynch Mob and the Amazon Fail Debacle Part 1

In case you don’t know, it has been a rough couple of days for our friends over at Amazon.

If  you haven’t been following the rapidly unfolding drama known as  “Amazon fail” here is a recap.

On Sunday, the twittersphere was aflame with accusations that Amazon had intentionally removed the sales ratings of thousands of gay, lesbian and lgbt themed books. The act of which makes such titles virtually invisible by excluding them from best seller lists and  removing them from  search results.

Author, Blogger, Mark Probst, is credited with kicking off the controversy when he posted a blog containing Amazon’s response to a complaint he had voiced concerning the disappearance of Amazon sales ratings for several popular gay romance novels, including his work titled “Philly.”

Amazon’s reply was as follows:

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.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services Advantage

However, as Probst pointed out

Of course they are being hypocritical because there is a multitude of “adult” literature out there that is still being ranked

Outrage ensued,

“I can’t believe how upset I am over this. As a matter of fact, I think tomorrow instead of going to B&N I’ll head over to my small town, “ma & pa” bookstore and drop some change there.”

greengrey 7:26PM on Sun. Apr. 12, 2009

Thousands and thousands of like comments sprang up across the web, demanding an all out boycott of Amazon. Blogs and Posts tagged with AmazonFail sprung up in every corner of the web.

The mob had been unleashed, and they wanted blood.

Amazon,  finding itself in a public relations nightmare of epic proportions, responded.  Amazon claimed that the stripping of user ratings of gay and lesbian related material was the result of a glitch that unexpectedly excluded gay and lesbian titles and that they were actively correcting the problem.

This did nothing to quell the mobs assembled on Twitter( where a hash tag “#amazonfail” was created) and other social networks. The statement only fueled rage, interpreted as a cowardly partial admission/denial  of guilt, after being caught red handed. Bloggers continued calls for an all out boycott.

Then, a well known Internet hacker/troll known as “weev” stepped forward and claimed responsibility in a Livejournal entry. Publishing a code that he supposedly used (with the help of some cheap 3rd world labor)  to manipulate  amazons own flagging system in order  to remove the user ratings of the aforementioned  books.

Amazon denied the hackers claims, and released a second statement:

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles—in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

It is truly amazing that the entire “Amazonfail” episode has occurred in only 72 hours. While rage seems to have given way to conspiracy theories and a general feeling of discontent, the saga is far from over.

In part two we will explore the deeper implications of “Amazonfail” in terms of  e-business and social networking.


Dr. Doom, Naysayer, Debbie Downer, but that is just what my friends say about me.

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