A year and a half after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, snake oil remedies and conspiracy theories remain at the top of Amazon.com’s search results for terms related to the disease, despite the actions taken by the company to try to steer buyers towards legitimate health. information.
Among the first results of “COVID cure” on the online retail platform is a self-published book on the drug ivermectin, which anti-vaccine advocates and right-wing experts have falsely claimed to be. treatment for COVID-19. The Federal Food and Drug Administration has urged people not to take ivermectin, which in its over-the-counter form is commonly used to deworm horses, warning that it is “dangerous and can cause serious damage.”
Amazon did not respond to questions about why unproven treatments and conspiracy theories were at the top of its research results, but instead responded with a statement affirming its commitment to providing “customers with access to a variety of points of view “.
The research findings underscore what some have said is the inability or unwillingness of big tech companies to control their sprawling online platforms as COVID misinformation spreads and mutates.
In July, federal lawmakers introduced a bill to hold social media companies like Facebook and Twitter accountable for the spread of disinformation about COVID-19.
The bill, introduced by American thinkers Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., And Ben Ray Luján, DN.M., would strip social media companies of their current legal protections against misinformation disseminated by their users about a public health emergency.
“For too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “These are some of the biggest and wealthiest companies in the world and they need to do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation.”
The wrath of lawmakers has largely focused on social media companies, not retail platforms like Amazon. But the company has come under fire from federal regulators who have repeatedly called on Amazon to stop selling products that claim to be effective in neutralizing the coronavirus.
Amazon had pledged to remove those ads, but was foiled by sellers who managed to beat the company’s disinformation detectors by putting false information about the effectiveness of the products against COVID-19 in galleries. images of their ads, which are not searchable by keyword.
Both sellers and buyers are adept at staying one step ahead of Amazon’s fraud detection systems.
In product reviews for the formulation of ivermectin for horses available on Amazon.com, buyers describe the use of the product to treat COVID-19, using slight misspellings to fool bots that track down reviews of the horse. ‘Amazon for disinformation and violations of its rules, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
The Seattle-based retail giant has taken some steps to make it harder for buyers to purchase unproven COVID treatments.
Amazon began blocking some autocomplete suggestions that direct buyers to ivermectin on Wednesday, The Verge reported. And when shoppers search for “ivermectin,” Amazon displays a message related to the FDA warning advising “against using ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19.” Amazon does not list any product results for the search terms “ivermectin for humans”, “ivermectin for COVID”, or “COVID vaccine”. And Amazon displays a banner directing shoppers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website in addition to all research results related to the coronavirus.
But Wednesday morning, a book by Bethany Roberts called “Ivermectin: A Cure for Covid 19?” was Amazon.com’s first search result for “COVID cure”. The list vanished on Wednesday afternoon, after racking up several one-star reviews from buyers who thought they were ordering ivermectin tablets.
“I thought I was buying the product, that was very misleading,” wrote one buyer, who said he was trying to buy four cans of ivermectin earlier this week.
Other listings from Roberts’ books on ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, another discredited treatment for COVID-19, were the sixth, eighth and twelfth results of the “COVID cure” research. Roberts could not be reached for comment.
The remainder of the front page of the research results included books on the science of mRNA vaccines alongside books offering unproven COVID treatments like sauna sessions and silicon supplements.
Amazon has already come under scrutiny for selling books and other products containing health misinformation.
A University of Washington study published earlier this year found that about 10% of Amazon products linked to search terms such as “vaccine” contain serious misinformation about vaccine safety, including almost all of them. Amazon’s top-ranked search results.
Amazon. (Dream time / TNS)