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The Seattle Times had a story the other day about how, while "reviewers have long used Amazon as a platform to vent about products that failed to live up to their expectations" and "even used it to attack authors whose views differ from their own," this trend is gaining a new - and even disturbing - momentum.

Increasingly, the story says, "people are launching coordinated campaigns to push political and social agendas through negative reviews often only tangentially related to the product for sale. They are able to do so because Amazon welcomes reviews regardless of whether the writer has actually purchased the product."

For example ... Scarlett Lewis recently wrote a book entitled "Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope and Forgiveness," to describe her emotional journey after the murder of her six-year-old son in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre three years ago.

But many of the user reviews of her books on Amazon would not seem to reflect the idea that she wanted to write a book about hope and forgiveness.

“This Scarlet Lewis person is a real sick human being,” writes one reviewer, while another writes, “Scarlett Lewis is a fraud and a sellout to all of humanity." From a third: “Scarlett Lewis is a lying traitor."

The rage in these reviews "is fueled by the conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook shootings were a hoax, perpetuated by the government to push for tougher gun-control laws," the story says, and stoked by people who use social media to get others to join in the writer-bashing.

And ironically, much the same thing has happened to “Choosing Hope: Moving Forward from Life’s Darkest Hours,” a book by Sandy Hook Elementary first-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis.

It isn't just books. The Times writes that "a year ago, PepsiCo launched a new mid-calorie soda called Pepsi True exclusively on Amazon. That caught the attention of activists at the Rainforest Action Network and SumOfUs, who have condemned PepsiCo for its use of so-called 'conflict palm oil,' the harvesting of which is causing deforestation, in its snack products such as Doritos. The two groups decided to target Pepsi True through Amazon’s review system because they knew it was a low-cost way to make a high-impact statement ... And it worked. Nearly 4,000 followers gave Pepsi True 1-star ratings and posted negative reviews that, among other things, ripped Pepsi for supporting 'rain forest destruction by buying unsustainable palm oil.' Pepsi was caught so off-guard that it asked Amazon to take down the page."

The Times writes that "these campaign-driven negative reviews may promote agendas, but they often add little to the discussion about the product itself. That’s because the vast majority of reviewers responding to those calls-to-action have never used the products they are critiquing, a point they often acknowledge in their reviews. In the process, those reviews often overwhelm comments from customers who have read the book or used the product."

While Amazon has moved lately to crack down on bogus reviews as violations of its terms of service, these reviews do not fall into that category. Best that anyone can tell, these are real reviews, and Amazon won't take down anything that does not violate its guidelines.
KC's View:
It seems to me that it would be preferable if Amazon's guidelines required that reviews of products actually be reviews of products, as opposed to political screeds ... especially screeds written by a bunch of conspiracy looney tunes with nothing better to do. And maybe they ought to require that reviewers actually must have bought the product on Amazon. (As an Amazon user, I have absolutely no problem with this. An informed review, even one I may disagree with, is much better and more useful than one that is written from ignorance.)

I'll say this. I actually have a copy of “Choosing Hope: Moving Forward from Life’s Darkest Hours" at home, and I'm going to read it. And I'm going to buy "Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope and Forgiveness," mostly because it what these nut jobs are trying to do to these authors disgusts me. (One can object to tougher gun laws without suggesting that somehow the murder of children was a government conspiracy designed to abridge people's rights. At least, I think so. I hope so.)

In the broadest sense, this is about the slow, ineffable decline in and coarsening of civil discourse in America.