Once again, Amazon is being put on blast for racist and anti-Semitic products that third-party sellers are funneling through the retail giant’s platform.
The nonprofit Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote a letter to Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos one year ago urging the massive online retailer to take down a number of anti-Semetic and neo-Nazi products and films being sold or put up for streaming on its platform. A year later, they’ll still calling on the ecommerce giant to do more to moderate what’s being sold on its site.
Amazon, alongside fellow digital shops from Google and Wish were also called out in 2020 for allowing these symbols to be sold. In a Thursday press release, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Amazon previously removed 20 Nazi propaganda films that were either available for sale or streaming.
Many of the movies listed by the Center were made by Leni Riefenstahl, the infamous director of Triumph of the Will and other Nazi propaganda films created in the 1930s. Though some of the listings have been taken down, many of Riefenstahl’s movie listings still remain up. Several either come up as “out of stock,” or appear with “This video is currently unavailable to watch in your location.” All the other movies pointed out by the center have since been removed.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Center, told Gizmodo in a Zoom interview Friday that with the rise of anti-Semitism online, especially with influencers like Ye (formerly Kanye West) coming out as a major hate figure, there’s a new spate of smaller retail sites selling anti-Semetic garb. He said it’s not enough that Amazon should silently remove these products from its site. Instead, he said the company needs to reconfigure its algorithms and third-party seller polices to make it harder for people to market racist and anti-semitic products.
While Amazon says it regularly removes items that violates its policies, certain products evidently still slip through. Cooper said Amazon has not yet responded directly to his organization despite the company having taken down some of the mentioned products. He said the company needs to craft some kind of system that would prevent it from monetizing hateful products.
“It’s simply not acceptable for the biggest economic giant on the block to play games of Wack-a-mole rather than fix things,” the Rabbi said. “We don’t need to know what your algorithm is. What I’m interested in knowing is if this is something that could be fixed easily by Amazon, without making any significant dent in their bottom line. And the fact that they haven’t done so on their own is bad enough.”
One listing pointed out by the Simon Wiesenthal center was a swastika sold by the brand listed as “vogueteen.” That product listing appears to be no more, but a cursory look into the store page shows vogueteen sells other symbols often employed by neo-Nazis including the black sun symbol. The store sells other kinds of cheap biker chique fashion including chains bearing the Iron Cross, which is another common symbol employed by some white supremacist groups. The store does sell one Jewish Star of David pendant.
Gizmodo reached out to Amazon for comment on the removed products and how such products end up on the site, but the company declined to provide a statement. The company’s offensive and controversial materials policy does mention it prohibits products that promote intolerance toward race, religion, or sexual orientation, though Amazon did not answer questions on how these products keep getting posted to its platform.
Other products noted by the nonprofit include flags bearing the black sun symbol. The Simon Wiesenthal Center also pointed to a number of products often bought alongside these hate symbols. One was U.S. flag cut in half and pieced together with the Norse Mjolnir symbol, which the Anti Defamation League has noted has been appropriated by neo-Nazi groups. One of the most common items bought alongside the Nazi paraphernalia are skull masks. These masks are often associated with far-right groups like the Proud Boys and was a common sight at events like the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Amazon works on a three-tier system for its sellers. First-party sellers sell their products directly to Amazon who then turns around and sells them to customers, while second-party sellers are the kind of products labeled as “sold by brand, ships from Amazon.” Third-party sellers, on the other hand, use Amazon’s online marketplace to market their products but they themselves handle the shipping. Amazon has said there are over 2 million active third-party sellers who, for years, make up over 50% of total sales on the platform.
After years of dealing with scam seller accounts and bad products from some online storefronts, Amazon has said it has a multi-layer verification system to validate the identity of third-party sellers, including video conferencing. Amazon does require that sellers share product IDs and images before they can start listing products, so it puts more of the burden on the online retailer to make sure racist products don’t go for sale on its platform.