November 12, 2010

Amazon decries censorship, then censors pedophile guide book


Amazon has caused outrage among customers after it emerged that the online retailer was selling a self-published guide for pedophiles on the Kindle section of the website on Wednesday. The company responded to the outrage by issuing a statement saying,  “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable”.

A few hours later the book disappeared from the site (replaced by the screen shown to the left), as a Reuters wire story details.

It’s possible that the wrath of customers threatening a boycott through Facebook and Twitter campaigns prompted this move. The book in question is titled, The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct, by Philip R Greaves II. With the book gone from the site, it’s not possible to know what kind of advice this book could possibly contain, but its appearance and subsequent disappearance on has left people feeling understandably uncomfortable and confused.

I, along with many others, am horrified that anyone would even take the time to consider writing a book on this subject, let alone that a large corporation would choose to sell it, and thereby give it the appearance of a mainstream viewpoint. For their initial statement regarding censorship, I guess Amazon deserves some credit. However they haven’t stuck to their guns and quickly undermined themselves and caused confusion as to what their principles of free speech actually apply to. Complicating this matter even further, it is the authors themselves who are allowed by Amazon to upload their ebooks for customers to buy — for a share of the profit, of course.

It’s hard not to reflect on September’s Banned Books Week and to take a look at titles that have previously caused outrage and scandal.One of the most famous is D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which, although being published in 1928, caused most of its controversy in the 1960s. Today, the sauciness of this book seems rather tame, and it is now celebrated as a great work of literature. However it’s a flawed comparison; Lady Chatterley’s Lover caused a scandal because of its depiction of a secret sexual relationship between two adults, not an adult and a child.

These events have also re-opened an uncomfortable and murky discussion surrounding not only censorship, but the sexualization of children, which is a debate I’m not going to address here, save to say that we inhabit a world in which girls as young as 8 can still be married off to much older men, and recent claims indicate widespread and institutionalized pedophilia within the Catholic Church spanning several decades, to name but two examples. There is no doubt that this is an extremely complicated area, which leaves many people asking themselves where protection for children ends and where censorship begins. If Amazon can withdraw the sale of a book due to public outcry, will they also stop selling books that other groups object to? As a Los Angeles Times editorial notes, “Amazon made a bit of a hash of this issue … giving precious little insight into how it was making its decisions.”

Where do you think the line should be drawn? Let us know in the comments.