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A victory for child advocates or a victory for censorship?
Following a barrage of complaints and more than a few threats to boycott the site, Amazon has removed a how-to guide for pedophiles from its listings. The hubbub has ignited a maelstrom of debate over free speech and e-commerce, with lofty principles being bandied about on both sides of the argument. But what is really at stake here?
It is worth noting that while Amazon removed the book after 3,000 angry comments and a number of threats to boycott the company, several other books containing offensive material remain on the site. If you go on Amazon.com and search for “C-4 explosives,” a plethora of titles crop up, including one called “New and Improved C-4: Better-Than-Ever Recipes for Half the Money and Double the Fun.” I like the idea of writing a book on how to make bombs on the cheap. (Tired of settling for store-brand? Make your own!) Other titles include “Homemade C-4, a Recipe for Survival,” “Homemade Semtex: C-4’s ugly Sister,” and more.
In February 2009, Amazon banned an excessively grotesque PC game called “Rapelay” from its marketplace. The objective of the game was to have the gamer’s character rape a mother and her two daughters in an underground station. The game was one of a number of sexually violent games produced by the Japanese production house, Illusion. A spokesperson for Amazon commented at the time: "We determined that we did not want to be selling this particular item.”
With such material already making its way into consumers’ hands via Amazon, why has so much controversy erupted over Philip Greaves’ “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure”? Initially, Amazon defended its decision to keep the title, arguing that to remove it would amount to censorship. A number of good points have been made in defense of Amazon’s initial move to keep the book (which was self-published and had only sold one copy prior to the fury that later arose over the title…which makes you wonder who bought that one copy…).
For one thing, several observers have noted that reading a book on how to molest children cannot suddenly turn an average, everyday reader into a ravenous child molester any more than reading a book on how to be heterosexual can turn a gay reader straight, or vice versa. Furthermore, it has been noted that all of the attention that the book has received has boosted its sales into the top 100 Amazon best-sellers list, which would not have happened if we had all simply ignored it. And more importantly, a number of observers have pointed out the fact that far worse material is circulating under the surface, in the dank cellars of the Internet—which is, sadly, very true.
But we, as consumers, have a responsibility to say that this kind of material is not acceptable, if only for maintaining a culture that responds to such content with revulsion (I do think TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington was a bit bombastic in his vitriolic blast of Amazon, but I get his point). This is not to say that certain groups should be allowed to cut off the speech of those they disagree with (although it should be noted that speech has never been free; free speech has always only been enjoyed by those in power). Rather, consumers have the right and the responsibility to say that material that encourages the abuse of any group of people will not be accepted in any mainstream discourse (like the market).
Child advocacy group Enough is Enough has commented to reporters that efforts like this are attempts by child abusers to convince themselves and others that what they are doing is mainstream and acceptable.
True: the removal of one title advocating for child abuse on Amazon’s marketplace does not equate to a victory against child exploitation, and it certainly won’t keep predators from finding other (worse) how-to guides online, but it does reaffirm our commitment as a society to protect vulnerable groups from abuse, which starts with identifying and rejecting material that encourages such abuse.
Image source: southpark.gen.tr
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