Amazon: Defender of Free Speech?
by Joel Naoum - November 11th, 2010
I’ve written about Amazon and censorship in a past post, lamenting the possibility that Amazon would begin censoring its top lists of erotica for fear of annoying conservative shoppers. To their credit, Amazon hasn’t yet censored the erotica, but they have gone in the other direction, and allowed a book titled The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child Lover’s Code of Conduct into the store.
Now, when you read a title like that, you tend to have an automatic reaction. Probably disgust. In the realm of moral arguments, pedophilia is pretty much an absolute – like Nazis. But if you’re like me, you might have thought … well, it can’t possibly be what it purports to be. Pedophilia, although completely unforgivable and disgusting, is a kind of mental illness, isn’t it? And perhaps this is a guide (with an unfortunate, and perhaps deliberately inflammatory title) that purports to help people suffering from this illness. A niche product, you might argue, certainly distasteful, but presumably not inciting anything illegal. The book’s description is somewhat confusing on this point:
This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian [sic] rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter [sic] sentences should they ever be caught.
Amazon responded to the massive outcry on its forums and in the reviews section of this book, claiming:
“Let me assure you that Amazon.com does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts; we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”
“Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable.”
The outcry is probably what caused the book, when I last looked, to shoot to #60 on the Kindle charts within the day, as people who wanted to know whether this book was as objectionable as it seems paid money for it. Nonetheless, I still hadn’t read any of the book, and had only read the bile-filled rants of the people who wanted it taken down.
And then I read this. I should warn you that the link will take you to an extract of the book, which may disturb you. The gist is that this book is not a helpful guide for repentant pedophiles, but a how-to guide on how to commit pedophilia without getting caught or harming your victim too much. That’s right. In the hours since this debacle, Amazon seems to have removed the book from its database, put it back up and removed it again. It hasn’t been posted up since.
So, in the most unambiguous example that I can think of – what do you think about the principle of free speech in this instance? Was Amazon right to take this book down? Or should they have stood up for the principle despite the outcry? I was a vigorous opponent of the ‘Clean Feed’ that the Australian government was attempting to inflict on the Australian public, which was (however half-arsedly) trying to stop Australians from accessing information just like this (along with actual images of child pornography and the websites of dentists). It seems, to me, to be a separate issue, but there are probably those who would argue it’s all one and the same. There’s also a big difference between a private company deciding not to sell a product because it offends paying customers, and the government banning a book. What do you think? Did Amazon do the right thing? Should this book be banned altogether? And if it were banned, do we honestly think we could block the content of the book from leaking? Or that there isn’t already information just as bad already out on the internet?
And after you’re done commenting, why don’t you watch this unicorn chaser. It will make you feel much better.