Thoughts on testing “Bantown”

After reading a theory about how #amazonfail might have happened it is a bit tempting to try and test the theory directly. If the theory is valid and Amazon has not changed their alleged feedback/delisting mechanism then it should be a fairly simple test to run.

I think it would be pretty tempting to initially target something that was similar on the other side of the political spectrum. In the #amazonfail debacle GLBT oriented works seemed to be the primary focus and the obvious knee jerk response would be to target something like ex-gay manuals or other strongly christian or right-leaning publications. I think this would be exactly the wrong target however for some pretty simple reasons.

The first and most obvious is that we don’t know if the theory is actually valid or not. It certainly sounds reasonable but there is no actual proof that I’ve seen yet and several people who seem to think there is evidence against it.

The second and best reason though is that there is no way to currently know who to go after. Flailing about at random targets is only really likely to reinforce any existing persecution complexes that seem to be so common on the other side of the fence. Any authors that might be randomly targeted because they wrote a book you don’t like may be in the exact same position as several of the people impacted by the alleged Bantown that happened with #amazonfail and would really just be censorship on a different group.

I think instead the ideal test target would be for volunteers to publish something via Amazon’s print-on-demand division CreateSpace. One of the options on that service is that for a 40% share of the list price Amazon will list the item in the main directory. Having a volunteer submit a target is really the only way to ensure that someone is not a victim of virtual mob violence. Next step is to get a small number of people to purchase the item thus ensuring that the item gets into the sales ranking system. I don’t know how many would be needed but one would guess that somewhere between 10-100 would be a good starting number. Since this would involve actual purchases I would think that donating the remaining %60 of the price to a charitable organization (The ACLU, EFF, EPIC, or CBLDF would be ideal recipients) would be a reasonable action.

Once the test item has established itself in the ranking system the next step would be to then have a staged attempt to remove the item through the feedback system. While it would be simple to just have everyone hit it at the same time, it might be more interesting to set up a simple ticketing system like a website where people enter an email address and when the test is ready a randomly selected set of the participants would be notified to go submit feedback and then notify the ticketing system that they have done so. Once some amount of time has passed the item’s status could be checked to see if the total number of feedback attempts has delisted it yet or not. If not, run the next batch. Heck, you could even use Mechanical Turk to source the feedback attempts. )For some reason I find it perversely funny to use Amazon’s own systems to test other parts of their infrastructure.)

The obvious downside would be that Amazon would still be making money from the initial purchases of the test item. Good research costs money though and the result might be worth the attempt.

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Author: Cavorter

Recently divorced SWM seeks, um, stuff. (Formerly used the handle: Glyph)