Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusets sent a letter to Amazon this week demanding the company do more to stop “peddling misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines and treatments” through dubious products sold on the site.
The letter, addressed to Amazon’s chief executive, Andy Jassy, and dated Sept. 7, asserts that the online retailer’s search algorithm contributes to the spread of misinformation about Covid-19 by promoting books on the site’s best-seller list that are riddled with falsehoods about the pandemic and vaccines.
Ms. Warren said her staff had searched Amazon using terms including “Covid-,” “Covid-19 vaccine” and “pandemic,” they found that the top results included books like “The Truth About Covid-19: Exposing the Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and the New Normal,” which contains multiple claims that have been proven false. The book was also labeled a best seller in Amazon’s “Political Freedom” books category.
One of the book’s authors, Dr. Joseph Mercola, was issued a warning letter by the Food and Drug Administration in February accusing him of representing vitamin supplements for sale on his website as being effective against the coronavirus.
The searches by Ms. Warren’s office also yielded first-page results of books that claimed Covid-19 vaccines were “making people sick and killing them” and literature that touted ivermectin, a deworming drug often used for livestock, “as a Covid-19 miracle cure,” which it is not.
“Collectively, this is an astonishing sample of misinformation that appeared in only a few potential searches relating to Covid-19,” the letter states.
A search by The New York Times came up with similar results.
Ms. Warren acknowledged that Amazon had removed “sponsored” search results for pandemic-related terms and has made an effort to direct customers to accurate information by placing a banner at the top of all pandemic-related searches linking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “But the results of my staff’s review are nevertheless deeply troubling,” the senator wrote.
Ms. Warren asked Amazon to conduct a review within 14 days and provide public reports on both the extent to which Amazon’s algorithms are directing consumers products containing misinformation and on a plan to change the algorithms.
In a statement to The Times, an Amazon spokesperson said: “We are constantly evaluating the books we list to ensure they comply with our content guidelines. As an additional service to customers, at the top of relevant search results pages we link to the C.D.C. advice on Covid and protection measures.”