In a letter to Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized the company for failing to control the spread of disinformation regarding the coronavirus and its vaccines, noting that titles containing medical misinformation and conspiracy theories about the virus were readily accessible on the online retailer – and in some cases had been featured as bestsellers or top picks.
After searching for books on the coronavirus, Warren’s staff discovered that popular search terms related to the pandemic—“COVID,” “COVID-19,” “vaccine,” and “pandemic,” among others—in some cases led to books containing falsehoods and misinformation. The letter noted, for instance, that searches for “COVID-19” or “vaccine” led directly to a book titled The Truth About COVID-19: Exposing the Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and the New Normal—a book that Amazon classified as a “best seller.” The book is by Dr. Joseph Mercola, who the New York Times described as the “most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation.”
Other books on the coronavirus included books by former New York Times writer Alex Berenson, described by The Atlantic as “the pandemic’s wrongest man.” Warren also expressed concern over titles praising ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug mostly intended for animal use, as a miracle treatment for the virus.
The letter noted that it was the “second letter in six months” to Jassy regarding the issue of coronavirus misinformation, citing an earlier letter that Warren had sent to the Amazon CEO in April. In the letter, Warren asked Jassy to lay out a plan regarding how to correct Amazon’s algorithm to exclude titles that contained coronavirus misinformation and create a public report on how the algorithms directed consumers to misinformation. Warren claimed in the letter that she found the prevalence of such misinformation “deeply troubling.”
Amazon has long grappled with coronavirus-related falsehoods on its platform. In February 2020, prior to the advent of the coronavirus in the United States, Amazon pledged to remove products that provided false information about unscientific cures for the virus, including many on hydroxychloroquine, an early alternative treatment for the virus whose misapplication led to at least one death by poisoning in 2020. The platform has also prominently included links to accurate information about the virus, including to the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—a fact that Warren’s letter acknowledged.