Dear Amazon: Nazis are bad

Why is Amazon still “the world’s largest purveyor of original Nazi propaganda films”?

An Amazon office building in Silicon Valley. Credit: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock.
An Amazon office building in Silicon Valley. Credit: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock.
Mark Goldfeder
Mark Goldfeder

Politicians are often asked to expressly condemn Nazis, and to disassociate themselves from any groups that might have Nazi sympathies. Usually this is not a problem, because everyone across the political spectrum worthy of support agrees that Nazis are bad.

Apparently though, for a mega-conglomerate like Amazon, committing to that idea still remains a task unworthy of serious investment.

Amazon’s official policy guidelines include an “Offensive Content” warning, which gives the website the right to remove any:

“Content that contains derogatory comments, hate speech, or threats specifically targeting any group or individuals; [or] Content that promotes hate speech, incites racial or gender hatred, or promotes groups or organizations that support such beliefs.”

Why then, in 2022, is Amazon still “the world’s largest purveyor of original Nazi propaganda films”? Why are movies that glorify Hitler’s words and ideas readily available to watch, with nary a trigger warning or disclaimer in sight?

It’s not because Amazon is unaware of the problem. In 2018, the Partnership for Working Families and the Action Center on Race & the Economy released a joint report titled, “Delivering Hate: How Amazon’s Platforms Are Used to Spread White Supremacy, Anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, and How Amazon Can Stop It.” The report looked at Amazon’s unprecedented and unparalleled reach and influence in the U.S. online shopping market, and examined how its various platforms and services provide a number of channels through which hate groups can generate revenue, propagate their ideas, and grow their movements through new recruits.

Among other things, the report found that Amazon enables the celebration of ideologies that promote hate and violence by allowing the sale of hate symbols and imagery on its site (including products targeted at children), and facilitates the spread of hate ideologies, by publishing propaganda materials, including Nazi materials.

These findings caused enough of a stir that Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking “whether Amazon is committed to ceasing the sale of all products that promote hateful and racist ideologies.” Amazon responded by removing the items listed in the letter.

In their response Amazon also noted that they “have developed sophisticated, automated tools that use machine learning to scan listings on Amazon, automatically removing listings found to be in violation of our policies, before we are ever notified by an external party. These automated tools are supplemented by teams of investigators that conduct manual, human review of our listings on a regular basis.”

But apparently, those tools and investigators still have not learned to identify Nazi propaganda.

In 2019, only after a wave of criticism, Amazon removed holiday ornaments featuring the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.

In 2020, The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum and the Holocaust Education Trust had to jointly call on Amazon to stop selling “The Poisonous Mushroom,” an illustrated children’s book with an anti-Semitic caricature on the cover. This particular book, which was used as evidence of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials, was designed to brainwash children into hating and fearing Jews; it likens them to the devil, “warns” about how difficult they can be to identify (like poisonous mushrooms), and describes the dangers Jews allegedly pose to the children themselves and to society in general. Amazon responded by removing that book.

Just last year, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a Jewish organization focused on social justice, introduced a shareholder proposal asking for a comprehensive report on Amazon’s “efforts to address hate speech and the sale or promotion of offensive products throughout its businesses.” Amazon responded by asking federal regulators to block that proposal, among others.

There is of course an argument to be made that a private marketplace like Amazon should not police ideas. Indeed, they have the First Amendment right to publish (or not publish) anything they want. But having decided that they will actively regulate hate speech and remove what they find to be societally dangerous, in the quest for equality, consistency is key. There should be bare minimums for what we can all agree is dangerous and offensive—and the danger of promoting Nazi propaganda is real.

In 1978, after a fatal school shooting in Lansing, Michigan, police searched the teen killer’s bedroom and found a cache of Nazi propaganda, including a diary that the boy had titled “My Struggle,” after Hilter’s “Mein Kampf.” Just two days before he shot his classmate, the boy wrote: “I almost abandoned Hitler last night—out of being pushed too far by my colleagues. I almost went to school without my Nazi pin in my jacket. But luckily again I had a burst of courage and never again will I think about abandoning Mein Fuhrer and Nazism.”

A little over a month ago, a 15-year-old boy opened fire at a Michigan school, killing four students and injuring others. After the fact, people came forward to say that the warning signs were everywhere; among other things, the boy was obsessed with Nazi propaganda, which he kept in plain sight in his room. Who knows where he got it from, and while I am not implying that he got it from Amazon, it is also true that the vast majority of online shoppers in the United States do begin their product searches on Amazon.com, and so Amazon must be more careful and more proactive in taking down these dangerous materials before they have to be told to do so.

As the joint report found, whether they intend to or not, Amazon has enabled hate organizations and ideologues to spread their ideas, generate resources, and find new adherents—all while taking a cut of the revenue. Now another nonprofit organization, Americans Against Antisemitism, led by former Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, is leading a campaign to have, at the very least, over 30 films that glorify Nazism removed from Amazon’s platforms. It is high time that Amazon invested some of that revenue back into updating their hate tools. And, if they don’t have the time, they should immediately partner with an organization like Hikind’s that is ready and willing to help.

After all, how hard should it be to disassociate from Nazis?

Dr. Mark Goldfeder is the director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center.

This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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