FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—Amazon yielded to pressure from President Joe Biden’s White House to suppress books that opposed COVID-19 vaccines, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Signal.
The House Judiciary Committee obtained the emails, which demonstrate the White House’s pressure on Amazon to suppress “anti-vax books” and the company’s decision to take action against the books.
Amazon employees strategized for a meeting with the White House on March 9, 2021, openly asking whether the administration wanted the retailer to remove books from its catalog.
“Is the [a]dmin asking us to remove books, or are they more concerned about search results/order (or both)?” one employee wrote.
Andrew Slavitt, then a senior adviser on Biden’s COVID-19 response team, had previously asked, “Who can we talk to about the high levels of propaganda and misinformation and disinformation [on] Amazon?”
Slavitt became notorious when Elon Musk released the internal files of Twitter in 2022 and 2023 after he purchased the company in October 2022. Slavitt appears to have repeatedly pressured social media companies into suppressing opposition to COVID-19 vaccines.
The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Slavitt on Nov. 30.
The committee told Slavitt that it “obtained documents that demonstrate the central role you played in communicating the Biden White House’s censorship efforts to social media companies, including the White House’s demands to censor true information, memes, satire, and other constitutionally protected forms of expression.”
The White House instructed Slavitt not to appear, the Washington Examiner reported on Friday. “Everything is on the table,” a Judiciary Committee spokesman told The Daily Signal about Slavitt’s refusal to abide by the subpoena.
Slavitt had also been involved in discussions with Facebook. That social media company admitted to suppressing “often-true content” because it contradicted the White House’s narrative on COVID-19 vaccines.
On March 2, 2021, Slavitt complained to Amazon staff that “If you search for ‘vaccines’ under books, I see what comes up.”
“I haven’t looked beyond that, but if that’s what’s on the surface, it’s concerning,” he added.
Amazon decided that the company would not do a “manual intervention” on March 3, noting that a move against books expressing hesitancy on COVID-19 vaccines might undermine the company.
“The team/[public relations] feels very strongly that it is too visible, and will further compound the Harry/Sally narrative (which is getting the Fox News treatment today apparently), and won’t fix the problem long-term problem [sic] because of the customer behavior associations,” the Amazon staffer wrote.
The “Harry/Sally narrative” refers to Amazon’s controversial decision to remove “When Harry Became Sally,” Ryan T. Anderson’s book on the transgender movement, in February 2021. Amazon said the book violated its content policy. Anderson serves as president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and had previously served as a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
The Amazon employee had moved to “widen the search light flag for COVID-19 [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] website re-direct so that it comes to the top of the page on more search keys,” however.
The staffer added that the White House will likely not consider any explanation of Amazon’s decisions “satisfactory.”
“The WH will probably ask why we don’t tag the content like FB/Twitter do if we aren’t taking it down,” the staffer wrote.
The company strategized on how to respond to questions the White House might ask, such as, “Why don’t you tag books that are not scientifically sound the way FB/Twitter tags content?”
Amazon staff planned to say, “We believe that retailers are different [from] social media communities” and that “as a retailer, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable.”
After the March 9 meeting at the White House, Amazon staff strategized how to respond to a negative story that Buzzfeed would publish discussing “COVID-19 related books for sale on Amazon.” Staff noted that they were “feeling pressure from the White House Taskforce” on the issue of books “related to vaccine misinformation.”
In this discussion, a staffer noted that “we did enable Do Not Promote for anti-vax books whose primary purpose is to persuade readers vaccines are unsafe or ineffective on 3/9, and will review additional handling options for these books with you, [redacted], and [redacted] on 3/19.”
That March 9 decision to change Amazon’s algorithm to avoid promoting “anti-vax books” appears to have happened after the meeting with White House staff.
The Daily Signal has reached out to Amazon for comment and will update this article with any response.
In addition to taking action against Anderson’s book, Amazon had long relied on the leftist smear group the Southern Poverty Law Center to screen potential recipients for its charity donation program, Amazon Smile. The SPLC is notorious for placing conservative and Christian groups on a “hate map” alongside chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. Amazon continued to rely on the SPLC for years, despite criticism, until it closed the program last February.
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