As some Amazon reviews vanish because Amazon believes the reviewer has a “close personal relationship” with the reviewee, one oft-heard complaint is that Amazon hasn’t been doing anything about activist reviews, such as the “truther” reviews of a book written by the mother of a Sandy Hook murder victim.

However, according to the Seattle Times, that may be in the process of changing. The Times quotes an Amazon spokesman who says the company is considering changes to its policies regarding activism reviews. The article goes into detail about the Sandy Hook book reviews, as well as other cases of review activism—the time environmentalist groups targeted PepsiCo for using “conflict palm oil” in its Doritos products, for example.

Though the Sandy Hook and Doritos cases are recent, activist reviews have been an issue on Amazon for some time. Though prior activist-review issues might not be quite as visible as those cases, Amazon customers have used the “one-star nuclear option” to complain about things they don’t like for quite some time, whether it’s the video game Spore including obnoxious DRM, or publishers windowing or overpricing their e-books. In 2010, Paul Carr complained about the practice on TechCrunch. In 2014, Greenpeace organized a one-star campaign for the Amazon Fire Phone, as a way of complaining that Amazon hadn’t committed to moving to 100% green energy for its data centers. (Given the phone’s overall lackluster performance, they really needn’t have bothered.)

One-star reviews might just be “slacktivism”—something that people can do at their computer just by clicking a button in order to feel like they’ve “done something” about a problem without actually having to put forth any effort—and Chuck Wendig suggests they may even help sales more than they hurt. But they can still be obnoxious and hurtful to recipients who aren’t as thick-skinned as Wendig. If Amazon is looking at ways of reducing those, it could be a good thing.

All the same, Amazon will have to be careful about how it handles it. Suggestions such as restricting reviews only to verified purchasers of products could make Amazon a lot less useful overall. Plenty of people buy things from places other than Amazon, but nonetheless want to share their experiences with other Amazon customers. There are entire communities built around the practice of posting reviews.

Effectively, Amazon needs to figure out how to pull off a tricky balancing act, keeping its reviews as useful as possible while eliminating pointless activism. But the company has proven itself fairly savvy about such things in the past, and this isn’t the first time in recent history it’s rebalanced its reviewing system. Hopefully it will be able to find a way to stay on top of things.

(Found via The Passive Voice.)


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