Amazon’s Big Brother Policy Is At It Again

Have you ever decided to follow one of your favorite authors on Twitter? If so, you may now be ineligible to review their next book, at least according to Amazon.com’s new standards.

As detailed in her blog, writer and blogger Imy Santiago’s case is the most recent in a mysterious line of Amazon censorings. After posting a review to another writer’s book on Amazon, Santiago received a message declaring her ineligible to review a fellow author’s work. During the correspondence with Amazon, they made several vague references to their customer review guidelines. She was sure that there must be some sort of mistake—she had not used an expletive or tried to market a product.

Finally, word came from Amazon that she was ineligible based on her relationship with the book’s author.

The problem? She doesn’t know the author.

If this sounds familiar, you’re probably not crazy. Similar situations have arisen multiple times over the years, with Santiago’s experience just the latest example of Amazon’s censorship policy. Every few years, the issue raises eyebrows in the book-publishing community.

Perhaps it was the force of her response or the repeated nature of Amazon’s practices, but something about Santiago’s experience seems to have reignited the conversation about what’s happening and why it’s important.

Why Was She Blocked?

Well, honestly, nobody really knows. Since Amazon is a company, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they hide proprietary information such as tracking algorithms. We’re left without a solid idea of what technically constitutes a violation of Amazon’s policies, in much the same way that Google silently presides over the labyrinthine rules of website rankings.

According to those who have attempted to crack the code, Amazon acknowledges attempts to track family connections and similar IP addresses. However, as neither of these situations apply to many censored reviews, writers are left examining their other associations.

The prevailing theories have to do with data mining involving correspondent transactions, social media connections, and sharing consumer information with outside companies.

What’s the Big Deal?

You might be wondering why this matters. Okay, so she can’t post her review—big deal. The world will go on turning, right?

But if the idea of data mining and removing reviews based on unfounded connections doesn’t ruffle your feathers, consider the effect this has on the industry as a whole. The way most independent and small-house publishers reach new readers is through social media connections and reviews on sites such as Amazon—in other words, networking. While some might argue that the use of these free services does not entitle writers to a restriction-free platform, it completely ignores how publishing, marketing and, if we’re being honest, regular human interaction happens in modern society.

Social media has become an integral part of publishing for all writers, from large publishing houses to independent writers. What message is Amazon sending to authors? Don’t connect with your readership. Avoid gaining online notoriety or else you will not be reviewed on our site. Does this really outweigh the negatives they’re trying to fight?

Why the Censorship?

In all of this, I think it’s important that we remember that (as far as we know), Amazon is not purposefully trying to break the publishing market. In the past, the writing community has occasionally given cause for Amazon to protect itself against unnatural or biased reviews.

However, this seems to contrast the message that they send through creating an invitation-only reviewers’ club that receives free products in exchange for reviews. If the idea is to generate organic reviews based on natural experiences, Amazon is violating its own code of ethics by passing off solicited reviews as genuine customers.

Does Amazon Actually Care About Any of This?

With the ways that this process limits the marketability and interactions of authors, we might be led to consider whether Amazon truly cares about any of this. Of course, customer traffic and overall purchases matter to a company, and they’d rather have someone buy a book from their site than from another.

It’s interesting, though, how Amazon has positioned itself as the alternative to traditional publishing, in many ways situating itself as the hero for small-market writers. However, it’s worth considering that Amazon may not be an alternative to the traditional publishing monopoly—just a variant form of it.

While some independent writers will decide it’s time to consider other options, some will still continue to do business with Amazon. For those destined to make a difference, it may be worth taking a visit to the “Change the ‘You Know this Author’” petition. After all, the review you save may be your own.

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