December 8, 2015

Book spotted in San Bernardino shooting suspects’ home inspires Amazon review battle


Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 6.58.45 PMWe recently wrote about how Sandy Hook truthers use Amazon reviews to harass an author and mother of one of the victims, and how this is due to lax review screening standards on Amazon’s end. One month later, in the aftermath of another horrific mass shooting, an Amazon book page is being used yet again as a platform for harassment. Polly Mosendz at Newsweek reports:

A book that briefly appeared on live television while media representatives were in the home of the San Bernardino shooters has received more than a dozen negative reviews on Amazon. Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook’s landlord allowed media into their home on Friday, two days after the attack that killed 14 people during a holiday party at the county public health department, where Farook worked.

Authorities had made a sweep of the space before the landlord allowed the media inside, but ethical and legal questions arose as cable television journalists rifled through the family’s personal belongings. Among the items to appear on the broadcasts were personal effects including identification of non-suspects and toys belonging to the couple’s infant.

In one instance, a CNN anchor held up the book, Common Mistakes Regarding Prayer, in a live shot. As was first pointed out by a Twitter user, the book has recevied [sic] 13 one-star reviews on Amazon in the last 24 hours.

The book, which is described as “a valuable aid to Muslims hoping to perfect their prayers,” is written by Jordanian author Shaykh Mashhur Hasan Salman. But all of the book’s currently fifteen reviews were written after the book’s appearance on CNN, so it would stand to reason that none of them were written by readers of the book.

If it seems like a consumer review section shouldn’t be taken over and turned into a reactive comments section by non-consumers, it shouldn’t. But that’s the case, and it’s not the first time it has happened.

Product reviews that intentionally don’t engage with the product can sometimes create delightful comedy, but the reviews of this book—including the 5-star reviews that have recently popped up in opposition to the 1-stars—aren’t funny, nor are they helpful. Amazon has sued to make sure vendors don’t game their reviews system in their favor, and claim that any review that their algorithm decides is valid is one that is of use to the customer.

This recurring problem reflects a central issue with Amazon’s increasing stranglehold over the book business; When all eyes are encouraged to go to a single place to get information about a book, it should mean that editorial standards matter a great deal. But in practice, they effectively don’t.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.