Warren urges Amazon to fix algorithm 'feeding misinformation loops'

Warren urges Amazon to fix algorithm 'feeding misinformation loops'
© Greg Nash

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSinema's office outlines opposition to tax rate hikes The CFPB's data overreach hurts the businesses it claims to help Runaway higher ed spending gains little except endless student debt MORE (D-Mass.) is urging Amazon to create a plan to modify its algorithm after her staff found books spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic prominently displayed in searches about the virus and vaccines.

“As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, Amazon is feeding misinformation loops through its search and 'Best Seller' algorithms, potentially leading countless Americans to risk their health and the health of their neighbors based on misleading and inaccurate information that they discover on Amazon’s website,” Warren wrote in a letter sent to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy.

Warren said that when her staff searched for “COVID-19” and “vaccine,” the first result on the top left corner of the screen was a book that “perpetuates dangerous conspiracies about COVID-19,” including claims that lack scientific basis asserting supplements sold on the author’s website can prevent COVID-19 infection.

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One of the authors of the book, Joseph Mercola, has been identified by researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate as part of the “Disinformation Dozen,” a group that can be traced back to spreading the majority of anti-vaccine content on social media, according to researchers.

Searches for “COVID-19” and other similar phrases, including “COVID 19 vaccine,” on Amazon led to other books appearing “prominently” in response that also included scientific misinformation, Warren said in her letter.

The Massachusetts Democrat is requesting Amazon perform an “immediate review'' of the algorithm within 14 days and provide a public report on the extent to which its algorithm is directing consumers to books and other products containing COVID-19 misinformation. She is also requesting they create a plan to modify the algorithm to curb the issue.

A spokesperson for Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.