Amazon goes on offense against controversial products, content

Amazon is using a combination of automated and manual review of products and content on its site to flag and remove offensive items.

In a corporate blog post, Amazon explained how it actively enforces its Offensive and Controversial Materials policies and Content Guidelines for Books. The e-tail giant has an offensive products policy it applies to the hundreds of millions of goods sold via its online platform, prohibiting the sale of products that promote, incite, or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual, or religious intolerance, or promote organizations with such views. Amazon also bans listings that graphically portray violence or victims of violence. 

Examples of Amazon enforcing these policies include a decision in July 2020 to remove merchandise associated with what was formerly known as Washington Redskins NFL team (which has since temporarily renamed itself the “Washington Football Team” and stopped using its previously controversial name and imagery). In another high-profile decision, Amazon stopped selling Confederate flag merchandise in summer 2015.

According to Amazon, it periodically reviews and updates offensive product policies based on experience, current events, and other relevant developments, and in consultation with internal and external resources. Internal resources include an offensive products team that is responsible for developing and updating policies, refining and maintaining systems and processes, continuously monitoring its store, and manually evaluating questionable products. 

This team covers global operations and regularly consults Amazon leaders from around the world to refine policies when needed. Amazon says it also routinely consults resources issued by civil rights and anti-hate organizations as guidelines.

To enforce its policies, the company has proactive mechanisms in place to catch offensive listings before a customer ever sees them. 

Amazon technology continuously scans all products listed for sale looking for text and images that it has determined violate corporate policies, and immediately removes them. In addition to reviewing information from sources such as customer service contacts, social media posts, and the press, Amazon teams "walk the store" every day, proactively looking for potentially offensive products. If the company determines a product violates company policies, Amazon removes it immediately and take action on the selling partner involved, including suspending or banning their account or withholding payments.

During 2020, Amazon says it reviewed almost 10,000 product listings each day to ensure compliance with our policies, and removed over 2 million products for violating its offensive or controversial guidelines, with more than 1.5 million (more than 75%) of these products identified, reviewed, and removed proactively by automated tools, often before being seen by a customer.

“We exercise judgment in allowing or prohibiting listings, and we keep the cultural differences and sensitivities of our global community in mind when making a decision on products,” Amazon said in the blog post. “We strive to maximize selection for all customers, even if we don't agree with the message or sentiment of the product itself. Our offensive and controversial products policy attempts to provide a clear and objective standard against which to measure the products we permit in our store.”

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