Amazon.com as Free Speech Platform

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.

Here’s a recent story from the NYTimes about the reader reviewer wars over a recent biography of Michael Jackson.

Here’s the Amazon.com page for that book, ‘Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson,’ by Randall Sullivan.

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.

Here’s the Denon AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cable, for example.

And the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer.

Lest we forget: The BIC Cristal For Her Ball Pen.

Here’s the The Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee.

Believe it or not, you can buy Uranium Ore on Amazon.com, and the reviewers won’t let us forget it.

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 someone 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.

UPDATED (Feb. 22, 2013): Maisto Fresh Metal Tailwinds 1:97 Scale Die Cast United States Military Aircraft

UPDATED (March 15, 2013): Passion Natural Water-Based Lubricant – 55 Gallon

UPDATED (March 19, 2013):  AudioQuest K2 Terminated Speaker Cable – UST 2.44 m Plugs 8′ Pair

ADDING THEM AS I FIND THEM (updated Dec. 30, 2013): How to Avoid Huge Ships (book)

PLUS (updated Jan. 16, 2014):  Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz