How Amazon has ended up funding far-right publishers and disinformation websites

Amazon is best known as a sprawling online marketplace where almost anything can be bought and sold, and where almost anyone — including far-right groups — can try and make money. Key points: Amazon is under scrutiny for allowing far-right publishers on its platform The ABC found websites that share hateful […]

Amazon is best known as a sprawling online marketplace where almost anything can be bought and sold, and where almost anyone — including far-right groups — can try and make money.

The company has faced criticism for its bookstore’s recommendation system, which has promoted titles that share vaccine disinformation and conspiracy theories, as well as allowing white supremacist publishers to directly sell on the site.

But Amazon also offers another way to make money: an affiliate program that lets websites point potential shoppers to Amazon-listed products and earn referral fees if those shoppers buy anything.

Websites listing current bestsellers, for instance, might provide Amazon-affiliate-tagged links to those books in the company’s bookstore.

The ABC found several websites based in the United States and Australia that share hateful material targeting immigrants and trans people, as well as climate change and election disinformation, also promoting links to the Amazon bookstore that appeared to use the company’s affiliate program tag.

The ABC is choosing not to name the sites to avoid amplifying their content.

The books promoted by the websites covered a variety of topics, including a so-called “exposé” of climate science, a discussion of political nihilism and an adventure book about manhood.

A sign for Amazon Books above a shopfront.
Amazon is a behemoth in the book industry, and runs one of the largest online retailers.(Getty Images: Smith Collection/Gado)

Claire Atkin, co-founder of the advertising watchdog Check My Ads Institute, said for a company of Amazon’s size, “it’s not just about the ads”.

“When these websites tap into Amazon … they’re getting legitimacy by being an Amazon affiliate,” she said.

The websites examined by the ABC all shared links to Amazon that included an individualised affiliate tag, although it is unclear if the website owners still held active accounts. Likewise, there is no definitive way to know how much these sites may have earned.

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