I first learned of this story via a single-word tweet from journalist Soledad O’Brien last night in response to a link from NBC News. It’s a story dealing with Amazon book sales and an unexpected, anonymous author.
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) March 5, 2019
The NBC News story in question describes how a Qanon book has been soaring up the sales charts and beating out most of the competition across multiple categories. Part of this surge in popularity may simply be driven by public interest in the subject matter, but the high volume also may have been triggered by some of the arcane algorithms the sales giant uses to suggest books to shoppers.
A book that pushes the conspiracy theory Qanon climbed within the top 75 of all books sold on Amazon in recent days, pushed by Amazon’s algorithmically generated recommendations page.
“QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening,” which has no stated author, ranked at No. 56 at press time, was featured in the algorithmically generated “Hot new releases” section on Amazon’s books landing page. The book claims without evidence a variety of outlandish claims including that prominent Democrats murder and eat children and that the U.S. government created both AIDS and the movie Monsters Inc…
The book, “An Invitation to the Great Awakening,” is currently No. 9 in all books about politics, and No. 1 in all books about “Censorship,” one slot ahead of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and immediately followed by classics “Lord of the Flies,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “Of Mice and Men.”
We don’t know who the author of the book is (which, I suppose, is in keeping with the whole “anonymous” thing), but a few people have already taken credit for writing individual chapters in it. These include YouTube conspiracy theorist “JoeM,” Reddit user CaptainRoyD, and 4chan moderator Patriots’ Soapbox.
They’re getting seventeen bucks a crack for this book. I’ll confess that I almost ordered a copy myself last night just out of morbid curiosity (I could have excused the purchase by blaming it on research for Hot Air), but restrained myself from hitting the purchase button at the last minute. That’s mostly because I know how their algorithm for suggesting what “other shoppers also bought” works and dreaded the flood of recommendations that would no doubt follow.
Without having a copy, I have to rely on NBC’s reporting as to what’s inside this tome. It supposedly covers the concept that prominent Democrats kill and eat children. I’d probably give this one more credence were it not for the fact that children as a food item has to be verboten to vegans. Their claim that the government created the movie Monsters Inc. is simply preposterous because the federal government rarely rises beyond the level of being mediocre at anything it does. Monsters Inc. was a fantastic movie and Washington could never have pulled it off.
I would also challenge the book’s premise that “the world is run by a Satanic cabal helmed by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.” Seriously? The woman was barely able to beat a socialist in a U.S. presidential primary and lost to Donald Trump. You really want us to believe she’s running the planet? And the claims that the government created AIDS, polio, and Lyme disease have been around for far longer than Qanon has. Those are just retreads of conspiracy theories from the disco era.
So does this story say something about Amazon’s algorithms? I suppose it might, but what’s really the harm? You can only expect a limited AI system such as that to hit the mark just so often. I’m sure clever people have figured out ways to inflate their own numbers on the Amazon charts to push sales, but that’s the nature of the business. And is there really any harm in a book like this being out there? People can choose what to spend their own money on and I hope we’re not yet at the point where we’re going to start burning books like some scene out of Fahrenheit 451. (And just for the record, this Qanon book was beating Ray Bradbury’s classic in sales as of last night.)