Social Media vs. Amazon in Pedophile Book Outcry

On Wednesday morning, Twitter users and Facebook denizens began sharing a link to an electronic book, The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure, that was downloadable on Amazon Kindle e-readers. Though I wouldn't have wanted to buy it -- and you probably wouldn't have, either -- over the day the book slowly rose from a ranking of worse than 100,000th to 90th in rankings of Paid Downloads. All the while, irate Amazon customers demanded that the book should be pulled off Amazon. They threatened boycotts, flooded Amazon phone, jammed email and fax lines with complaints, and closed their Amazon accounts.

On a Facebook boycott page -- it had over 10,000 members by mid-Thursday -- the sentiments expressed were full of outrage and uncomfortable comparisons. Would Amazon sell a how-to manual on bomb making? A book exploring the "alleged" truth of the Holocaust? A book glorifying rape? "There's only so much free speech!" said one Twitterer. Many, many people bought the book and read it, if only to quote pieces that described in matter-of-fact detail some guidelines for "safely" conducting a relationship between an older man and a younger teen or pre-teen boy.

The Silent Treatment

Throughout most of the day, Amazon made no reply to the thousands of Tweets hashtagged "Amazonfail." Early in the day, it did develop a statement to internet news site World Net Daily, evoking the company's commitment to the First Amendment and free speech.

Amazon's spokesperson wrote that he felt the book is "not a 'how-to' manual for molesting children, explaining that "the author simply expresses his point of view about what he feels are misunderstood relationships between men and boys." That statement was copied in a form email to some of the outraged customers who contacted Amazon.

Amazon pulled the book Wednesday evening, prompting delight. It was then reinstated -- all without a statement from Amazon beyond its early response to World Net Daily. Some who had deleted their account in protest said they'd buy from Amazon again; many said they would not.

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When Amazon finally deleted the book's entry, past midnight Wednesday night, the company told at least one outspoken customer on the phone it "would not happen again." But there was no official comment on the move, or on Amazon's initial decision to offer the book for sale.

Only the Wrong People Win

The absence of response from the company resounded loudly in the social media venues that had sprouted so angrily around the book. It should have been a big day for Amazon; it had just released George W. Bush's autobiography, Decision Points. The New York Times announced it would start a bestseller list eBooks -- surely a huge victory for Amazon's Kindle eBook platform.

Yet I can't help but agree this was a "fail," not just in the appearance of the book in the first place, but also in Amazon's lack of considered response.

In the end, there were two losing parties; Amazon and the concerned citizens who led the outcry. In raising the alarm throughout social media, these offended people gave Greaves and his book far more attention than they're worth and created a robust trade where none had previously existed. In an interview with The Smoking Gun, Greaves said he'd never been involved in illegal behavior, though he had been sexually active as a young child (beginning at seven years old) with other children. He also said he had recently been "involuntarily" hospitalized for manic depression. His voice should never have become so widely heard; it wouldn't have, but for the outrage. He's been on CNN; he's been on TechCrunch.

Incidentally, the book's ranking late last night puts it ahead of the electronic version of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, a fictional literary account of a pedophiliac relationship -- by more than 1,000.