Soon after Jeff Bezos returns from the edge of space, billionaire-turned-astronaut issues a warning to everyone who briefly left him on Earth.
“We live on this beautiful planet,” Amazon.com founder – and, until recently, CEO – Tuesday said. “When you go up there and you see it, you see how small and fragile it is.”
He added, “We need to take all the heavy industry, all the polluting industries, take them into space, and keep Earth such a beautiful jewel of the planet.”
It’s a familiar sentiment from the world’s richest man, who has made environmental protection a key part of his public image. at the top of amazon Last year, he said, people who deny the reality of human-caused climate change “don’t make sense.”
However, on the e-commerce platform he created, a completely different message is being sold – and it is reinforced by the company’s own algorithms.
New research by the non-profit survey group Advance Democracy reveals that Amazon.com’s main search functionality – “Sort by: Featured“View option, which is the default way for Amazon to filter its massive catalog of products when customers are looking for something — gives standout real estate to books that underestimate or deny the reality of climate change outright.
Advance Democracy found that 20% of the top 60 search results for “climate change” returned products with “misinformation about climate change,” including three of the top four sponsored results in the main product list.
The nonprofit also found ads for climate denial books on product pages for more scientific climate texts. For example, the list of “products related to this item” under Bill Gates’ “How to Avoid Climate Catastrophe” included a sponsored link “Exploding Climate Change Myths: A Denier’s View”. Under the title “No Planet B” by Mike Berners-Lee, there was an advertisement for “The Climate Miracle: There is no climate crisis, and nature controls the climate.”
The Times has independently confirmed that climate denial books appear among Amazon’s top results for general searches such as “climate,” “climate change,” and “global warming,” as well as on product pages for mainstream climate texts.
Advance Democracy said it conducted its research while using a VPN and was not logged into an Amazon account, in an effort to ensure that the algorithm’s recommendations were not customized based on who was doing the research. Amazon says it displays sponsored products based on their relevance to a user’s search.
Advance Democracy’s findings “show that misinformation about climate change is pervasive, and even promoted, on e-commerce sites,” Daniel Jones, the organization’s president, told The Times in a written statement. Just this week, Amazon issued a press release “encouraging more companies to take action on climate change,” while simultaneously benefiting the platform. [from] and promoting climate change denial on its platform.”
Jones – Former Senate servant rose to national prominence For his investigation into the CIA’s use of torture during the War on Terror, as portrayed by Adam Driver in the 2019 film “The Report” – he added that “the fact that if you search for ‘climate’… climate misinformation comes up right away is outrageous.” “
In response to Advance Democracy’s concerns, an Amazon spokesperson said that the e-commerce giant is “committed to providing a positive experience for our customers” and that “like other stores that sell books, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints.”
“Our shopping and discovery tools are not designed to generate results geared to a specific point of view,” the spokesperson said in an email, adding that “distinguished” results are chosen based on a variety of factors, including customer behavior, product information, and item availability.
This is a familiar dilemma for the company. Facing accusations that its algorithm prioritized Amazon Basics products over alternative third-party options, Amazon He told the Atlantic, “We offer products that customers want.”
But the idea that algorithms are neutral and unbiased tools is contested. Over the past few years, more and more critics have warned that the computer systems that help filter our news, screen our employees, and pass judgment on our criminals may be riddled with unseen biases. Research has shown that content ranking algorithms of the type used to curate social media channels favor content that elicits a strong emotional response, including conspiracy theories.
Amazon has already criticism To push readers who have searched for a “vaccine” toward the anti-vaccine literature – and she’s not alone. YouTube has found itself in trouble due to algorithms Promoting misinformation about climate change, and Advance Democracy drew similar criticisms of EBay as did Amazon. The organization wrote that “14% of the top eBay search results for ‘climate change’ are for products that contain misinformation about climate change, such as the book ‘Climate Prostitute: The Criminal Insanity of Warming/Climate Change Hoax’.”
Amazon and Bezos have a mixed history when it comes to the environment.
In February 2020, Bezos committed to spending $10 billion to fight climate change; Since then Set 2030 as a deadline To get rid of all that money.
Meanwhile, Amazon owns Committed to becoming carbon neutral By 2040, work to move the delivery fleet away from fossil fuels and Co-founder of the Climate Pledge It encourages companies to decarbonize their businesses and regularly report greenhouse gas emissions. Company accounts for an estimated 40% For all American e-commerce.
But these efforts contrast with Amazon’s environmental impact – its carbon footprint It grew by 19% in 2020 And her actions, including Separation of two employees who were leading the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group, providing cloud computing services to fossil fuel companies and Donate to political candidates who questioned or underestimated the threat of climate change.
Amazon Al-Khwarizmi’s promotion of books disrupting the climate crisis is another thread in this web of contradictions.
“Algorithms are killing the climate,” said Jimmy Hen, director of climate advocacy groups Fossil Free Media and Clean Creatives.
“Amazon’s impact on society isn’t just in the factories and trucks that roam our neighborhoods,” Hein added. “It is the way that shapes or distorts the way people see the world.”
For Amazon users, it could mean seeing a version of the world that goes against what climate scientists — and Jeff Bezos himself — agree is actually happening.