The Internets have been full of panic and outrage today over Amazon allegedly instituting a new policy that any book with GLBT content now counts as an "adult" title and therefore cannot be included in its sales ranking.
Unsurprisingly, Amazon claims it's a glitch and is being fixed, and that there is no new policy. (It's unclear whether they're saying there's no new policy for GLBT content, or whether they're saying there's no new policy at all. If they intended to leave GLBT titles alone but derank erotica, that's unfortunate too, but it's a different kind of unfortunate.)
I imagine we'll know more by tomorrow. But it certainly seems to me quite unlikely that Amazon, a company headquartered in one of the most liberal cities in the US, and a company that has happily sold GLBT books for years, and a company that got a score of 80% on the HRC's Corporate Equality Index (rating companies' policies and practices regarding GLBT employees--the two areas where Amazon didn't do as well have to do with gender identity, which is unfortunate but at least suggests they do well with GLB employee issues) would suddenly decide to consider all GLBT titles to be smut.
Mark Probst has an email from an Amazon rep claiming that it's not a glitch--but first-line customer-service people often don't know what they're talking about when they claim something is company policy.
I just called Amazon's customer service number (1-800-201-7575) to get more information. The guy I talked with said that he couldn't give me any information, and that they're telling customers to check the website over the next day or two. That, too, is annoying and unfortunate; on the other hand, it means that they're no longer leaving their PR on this issue in the hands of first-line customer service people, which means they may have some kind of unified message to present.
Anyway, my real point in this entry is that this kind of thing happens a lot these days:
A change occurs in a major corporation or organization's website, and suddenly the Internet is ablaze. People start calling for boycotts and petitions and canceling of memberships. Within hours, outrage has engulfed the civilized world.
And then the corporation or organization finally notices that something's wrong, and it turns out that it was a glitch, a misunderstanding, a case of poor phrasing, or some other mistake. The thing that everyone was outraged about turns out not to have been intentional, and the company fixes the problem, and life goes on.
The Internet is great for spreading the word fast about truly outrageous awfulness. But it's also great for spreading the word fast about things that turn out to have been mistakes. Sometimes it's important to spread the word about something even if it's a mistake; other times, waiting until the company has made an official statement on the matter might result in less stress for everyone.
Many years ago, I posted a web page recommending that people not forward mass-forwarded emails; in that page, I wrote, among other things:
Here's another good rule of thumb: if you receive a piece of email which demands that you panic without thinking, it's probably not a good idea to follow instructions.
The situation is a little different now, with blogs and Twitter and Facebook and so on, but the general principle, I think, remains relevant. Often in today's panic-inducing situations, you can easily verify that the basic claim is true (it's easy to check for yourself that certain books on Amazon aren't ranked), but it's harder to verify that the reason for that situation is that the company in question is composed of pure evil. Generally, the only way to determine the company's Evil Quotient is to wait for the company to make a statement about what their intent was.
And if it turns out that Amazon really did intend to de-rank books like Brokeback Mountain and Giovanni's Room, then I'll be happy to join the protests--I agree that that would be outrageous (but it sure does seem implausible to me). (Heck, I'll even be happy to join the protests if it turns out they really did intend to de-rank Aqua Erotica, which seems more plausible to me.) But for now, I'm gonna wait for them to explain what they intended to do, and to fix the problem if it was unintentional.