On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon asking him to stop the spread of misinformation about COVID as the website recommended products that perpetuated falsehoods about the infection. CNBC obtained the letter where she also asked for an explanation on how the algorithms worked as they recommended dubious products through “Best Seller” badge and more.
The senator said that searches with common keywords such as “Covid,” “Covid-19 vaccine,” “vaccine,” “Covid-19” and “pandemic” send browsers to links that promoted literature full of false information, to cures that were unscientific or discredited and to misinformation on vaccines in the top results.
Warren acknowledged that Amazon has taken some steps by directing users to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other factual sites but there were also links to sites that peddled misinformation making it dangerous as it could affect countless Americans. She has framed a huge list of questions for the CEO and has asked Jassy to reply by September 22.
Lawmakers have been asking all Big Tech companies to get rid of misinformation on their sites and platforms. Amazon is not the only site whose algorithms direct users to false information. Alphabet’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have also been asked to refine their algorithms so that they can remove misinformation about Covid-19 as well as about vaccines.
When asked for comment by CNBC, Amazon representatives have not as yet responded.
Amazon has taken a few steps to limit content that spreads misinformation in the past, but researchers and advocacy groups also believe that it is not enough.
Amazon has content guidelines which state that it has the right not to sell book that has material that they consider to be “inappropriate or offensive.” However, it has no guidelines for misinformation.
It has taken action in the past on the following issues:
- It removed books promoting cures for Autism.
- It removed some books with vaccine misinformation.
- It removed literature that called those who identify as LGBTQ as mental illness.
All the major tech companies have struggled with swaths of misinformation on their platforms. Accounts have been banned or suspended but more has to be done as there’s still a lot of misinformation circulating on different social media platforms.