Sunday, February 5, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service
Op-Ed

It’s not social media: It’s sociopathic.

May 6, 2022

I’ve had it with sociopathic media, and their “platforms,” and the men who run them.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

I do not “belong” (that’s the correct verb) to any sociopathic media “platform”: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, FactoidsForFascists, ZuckerbergFeedsMoneyToHisKids … none of them.

I know the names of other ones, but I ain’t gonna scratch their itch for me to ejaculate their corporate names in public. (“O, Manchin coal … you’re so … dirty!”)

Here is a true story about “freedom of the press” on the internet, which persuaded me this week that aside from Vladimir Putin, Kim jong-Un, Xi Xinping, Don the john Trump and his remoras Kevin and Mitch, the most dangerous man in the world today is Jeff Bezos — the owner of Amazon and The Washington Post.

As publisher of the Post, Bezos has been great: beefing up reporting staff while most newspapers were cutting down, shutting down, or being bought out and dumbed down.

But as the owner and directing spirit of Amazon, Bezos is a disaster. Here’s an example from last week:

A friend of mine is on a Joseph Conrad kick, reading everything Conrad ever wrote. (I tried that once but gave up after 3 1/2 books. He was a terrific writer but enough is enough.) My pal, though, is plowing on.

So, after calling up the local bookshops and finding that none had "The Nigger of the Narcissus" in stock, my pal ordered it on Amazon.

Next time he went online, his screen was clogged with pop-up ads and solicitations from Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other venomous white racists trying to sell or “share” creepy stuff: all of this, obviously, because he had sent Amazon an order containing a word in the title of a classic book.

These “third-party” sellers were pushing … or the third-party pushers were selling … lies, bigotry and violence, through Amazon.com.

And my pal, who only wanted to read Joseph Conrad, has been exposed — if that’s the correct word — as a guy who once typed the N-word, and wanted to buy something associated with it.

Amazon and Bezos have de facto “outed” this guy as a Klan sympathizer — which he ain’t.

That’s not right. He should be allowed to sue Amazon and Bezos for damage to his reputation.

And this libel is not incidental: It’s an intrinsic part of what Amazon does, and how it makes its money. It’s an Amazon “algorithm,” one of many.

Bezos attaches a guy or a girl to a word, through a proprietary program to sell this algorithmic fiction to strangers. The more strangers the merrier — for Bezos’ bank account.

Listen, I don’t care how much money Bezos can call his own, but neither he nor his company have a right to invade this man and his family’s privacy, and lend his innocent name to violent white racists, because an Amazon “algorithm” associated his name with a single word.

Can Amazon and Bezos be sued in state or federal court for an algorithm? I believe that’s an unsettled area of law, but I believe my pal should be allowed to sue Amazon and Bezos for defamation by algorithm.

What was he supposed to do? Ask Amazon to sell him "The N-word of the Narcissus?"

Here’s another one ripe for abuse. Now that Roe v. Wade is headed to the trash heap, and the Republican Party is doing everything in its power to criminalize anything to do with abortion, what’s to stop Amazon, or a “third party,” from making a searchable database linking women’s names and email addresses to online purchases of Mifepristone, then selling the database to creeps who can get up to $10,000 a pop for turning in a woman, or her husband, or her cab driver, in the Cro-Magnon Republican states that are offering bounty hunters money for this. Nothing to stop them at all that I can see, aside from medical privacy laws, but post-Roe, abortion or anything related to it will no longer be a civil matter: It will be criminal.

Here’s one more problem I have with Amazon and Bezos. After Russia invaded Ukraine, I ordered a bunch of Ukraine flags online, hung one in my window and gave away the rest. Feeble gesture, I know. This week I bought some more, big ones: Gonna fly one and give the rest away. 

Want to drive Vladimir Putin crazy? Why don’t we all buy Ukraine flags and fly them and hang them in our windows and post them on our rooves all over the United States. But here’s the thing:

Couldn’t Bezos, through Google Earth and Google searches, track down most everyone who flies a Ukrainian flag in the United States, and get pictures of our houses, and our names and address and ages and license plate numbers and whatnot — and send it all to Putin, for a price? The money to go into Bezos’ pocket?

I ain’t saying Bezos would do it; I am sure he would not. I’m saying that if he did want to do it, so far as I understand, it would be legal.

I’ve been seeing those beautiful blue and yellow Ukrainian flags popping up all over my neighborhood lately. That’s legal too, in this country. So far.

Subscribe to our columns

Want new op-eds sent directly to your inbox? Subscribe below!

Loading
Loading...