Has anyone else noticed what appears to be the growing frequency with which Amazon.com reader reviews are becoming a 21st century “letters to the editor” forum, but with a social media twist? I don’t have any insight into the whys or wherefores (aside, of course, from Amazon.com’s ability under Section 230 of the CDA to claim immunity from non-IP liability for reckless and false statements by reviewers). There is the apparent unpredictability of the thing; it’s difficult to imagine that Jeff Bezos thought that his company would be put into this sort of intermediary position — an op-ed page to the publishing and product-producing world, for snark and serious commentary alike — when Amazon.com launched this feature. Who knew that people would take resource intended to educate and inform and re-purpose it for social commentary? Plus ça change, and so forth.
Products themselves have been mocked on Amazon.com, at times mercilessly, sometimes for their witlessness and sometimes because reviewers are making more pointed political arguments.
Last but absolutely far from least, there is poor Avery, maker of the Avery Durable View Binder with 2-Inch Slant Ring, which found itself and its innocent product in the middle of a torrent of criticism of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney after his debate remark that referred to “binders of women.”
Apologies if I’ve missed any other good examples of the genre. [An aside: All of this stuff might make an excellent research project for some who studies, er, genre.]
As for implications, I have only this: Jonathan Zittrain has been working for some time on a complex project titled “Minds for Sale,” about the implications of “ubiquitous human computing” and the dark side of crowdsourcing (exploited crowd members, untrustworthy or tainted crowd members, naive crowd members enlisted for dark purposes). The Amazon.com reviewers above suggest to me that crowdsourcing not only has a dark side; it has a sunny side. We just don’t always know in advance which is which. The crowd does know better than we think it does, much of the time. But the crowd may have a mind of its own.
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