MOAR THEORIES! Some douchebag on Livejournal is taking credit for the brouhaha, but I’m incredibly skeptical over his claims, because it sounds a little bit too pat and because not only “fag books” were affected (among other things—my bullshit alarm went WOOP WOOP WOOP when I read that post); somebody else tried the exploit and it doesn’t seem to work in the way the douchebag claims.
And now, via Lilith Saintcrow, the Seattle Post Intelligencer blog has a statement from Amazon about how this is a “ham-fisted cataloguing error” as well as some statements about how it may have been a massive editing cock-up from former Amazon employee Mike Daisey, but there are other variations on the theme flying around—Jessica of Feministing heard from her agent who heard from an Amazon rep (QUICK HOW MANY LEVELS OF HEARSAY IS THAT) about how this adult content de-ranking policy was basically an experiment that blew up in their face.
Feel free to scroll below to read my somewhat stale (and rushed—I composed the entry during Con Law II) speculations below. Wish I had more time to write about why Amazon is trying to implement an adult content filter in the first place, because that, my friends, is some sweet sassy bullshit.
The rampant inconsistency of the Amazonfail situation has puzzled me since yesterday. The Wilder Publications’ paperback edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was de-ranked, for example, but the Penguin Classics edition wasn’t. Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol. 1 was de-ranked (and still is, unlike Lady Chatterley, which has had its rank reinstated), but Volumes 2 and 3 weren’t. The incredibly obnoxious A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality wasn’t de-ranked, but Heather Has Two Mommies was (rank has since been reinstated).
Jane at Dear Author, through the power of spreadsheets and analysis, theorizes that the books were likely filtered out using the metadata—and looking at the information, I think she’s hit it bang on. Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Making Light has come up with a plausible explanation of the process that probably led Amazon to instituting blanket exceptions that resulted in the pattern of nonsensical de-rankings we’ve seen. LJer Dely comes up with two other plausible alternative theories, one involving trolls and another involving the systematic flagging of “adult” content by people with agendas. The official word from Amazon, as far as we know, is still that it’s a “glitch,” which falls in line with Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s theory.
I especially appreciated this snippet from the Making Light post:
None of which means that anyone shouldn’t be mad at Amazon, or that Amazon shouldn’t be embarrassed. Rather, it means that this is how the world works. A great deal of racism, homophobia, etc., happens not because anyone particularly wants to be racist or homophobic, but because the ground has been tilted that way by arrangements made long ago and if you’re not constantly on the lookout it’s easiest to roll downhill.
What irritates me most about the whole mess is that if the glitch theory is true, it still means that somebody, somewhere within the organization approved that big sweep approach. In terms of flagging for “adult” content, I can understand (even if I don’t necessarily agree with) filtering out terms like “erotica” or “pornography”—although a commenter on Making Light pointed out that bestiality hasn’t been filtered. But “Gay and Lesbian”? REALLY? This sort of blanket exception didn’t ding anybody’s radar? (And let’s not even go into the wisdom of implementing a policy to exclude “adult” content in first place, because I’m not sure my blood pressure can take it.)
Fail, Amazon. You’re doing it wrong.