Aside from forbidding reviewers to accept money for reviews or have a connection to the author/ supplier, Amazon has long had a laissez faire towards reviews posted to its site, but that might be about to change.
The Seattle Times reports that Amazon is working on a new policy which will address activists reviews like the ones which targeted the mother of a Sandy Hook victim:
Amazon.com is revising its product review system six weeks after The Seattle Times reported on activists posting reviews to push their political and social agendas.
“We are taking a close look at our policies regarding activism reviews and are considering changes,” Amazon spokesman Tom Cook said in a statement.
Dozens of reviewers — conspiracy theorists who believe the shootings were an Obama administration hoax to push for gun-control legislation — savaged Lewis on the Amazon book Web page as a liar and opportunist.
Lewis, among others, called on Amazon to remove the reviews. Amazon has removed some of the most malicious ones. Gone is a postwritten Oct. 16 by “Kenny,” who called Lewis “a real sick human being.” Another no longer there is from “David Weiss,” who branded Lewis “a lying traitor.”
Amazon hasn’t released any specifics as to the new policy (and I’m still waiting for confirmation of the statement), but I have noticed that they’ve changed the review guidelines page. The new page is called a Customer Review Creation Guidelines, and it is somewhat more vague on what is and is not allowed in a review.
But in spite of the statement and the new guidelines, Amazon hasn’t cracked down on very many of the activist reviews that sparked this discussion early last month.
Those reviews targeted Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope and Forgiveness, a book by the mother of a child murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary shooting three years ago.
Some of those reviews have been taken down, but others remain, including a 15 November review by “Jeremy B. Bowers” that describes the book as being “Full of lies and fictional fantasies of a get rich quick Millionaire parent capitalizing on her child’s death to make another million.” Another, posted by “Sarah” on 16 October, says “This women (sic) is a traitor to humanity to publish this kind of trash for money”.
Amazon might be planning to fix their review system but they certainly haven’t done it yet. And some think that Amazon won’t.
“Amazon doesn’t want to shoot the goose laying the golden egg,” said Trevor Pinch, a Cornell University science and technology professor who has studied Amazon’s review system. “Amazon is hoping these issues will go away, and by tinkering with (the reviews system), it will address the issues without having to make big changes.”
One problem with that conclusion is that Glenn Fleishman said on Twitter that when he worked at Amazon, he “had a team of about 5 people who, among other things, monitored reviews. We deleted reviews when they were inappropriate.” He added: “My policy was an Amazon customer review that wasn’t about the book (or item) should be removed, b/c it didn’t aid buying decisions.”
That was in the 1990s, before Amazon got big, so it’s possible that the review policy was changed specifically to encourage more views – even ones without value.
On the other hand, Amazon has already radically overhauled the review system on Goodreads, one of its social networks. Starting in September 2013, Goodreads blocked reviews which focused on an author’s behavior rather than an author’s work.
As a result the Goodreads page for Nurturing Healing Love has only 31 reviews, as compared to 461 reviews on the book’s listing on Amazon. Only about a fifth of the reviews on Amazon were posted by the conspiracy theorists, but there were no similar reviews on Goodreads.
So while the social network might have have fewer reviews, the crap to useful review ratio is much higher than on Amazon. That strikes me as a strong argument in favor of enacting a new review policy.
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