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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

We Now Have An Answer To "What About Amazon" In the Kyrie Irving Controversy

The CEO of the internet retailer says it won't stop hosting a controversial film with antisemitic themes. But should that be the end of the story?

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Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) runs up the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in New York.
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) runs up the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in New York.
Photo: John Minchillo (AP)

There’s one nagging question that’s been asked since Kyrie Irving started a controversy by tweeting a link to a documentary with antisemitic themes: What about Amazon?

Irving, after all, was criticized for weeks after he tweeted a link to the film, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America”, without context or commentary last month. He ended up apologizing, serving an eight-game suspension from the Brooklyn Nets and making a six-figure donation to anti-bigotry causes. To be clear, I was good with all of it, and I wrote in this space about why I thought Irving and his defenders’ arguments were hollow at best and disingenuous at worst.

But with Irving back on the court, the question remains: What about Amazon? After all, the online retailing giant had hosted Hebrews for years before Irving ever tweeted about it. It’s Amazon’s servers that Irving’s link for the movie pointed to, and with Irving putting the whole thing in his rear-view, Amazon still hosts the movie, its sequel and a book by the same name. It charges money for access to them all and none even carry so much as a warning label.

Today we got an answer directly from Amazon’s CEO, Andy Jassy. And that is: nothing. Amazon is about to do absolutely nothing about the fact that it keeps the movie on its platform, Jassy told the New York Times’ DealBook Summit. And his reasoning looks a lot like the cries of free speech that Irving and his supporters made during the whole fiasco.

From the New York Times

“As a retailer of content to hundreds of millions of customers with a lot of different viewpoints, we have to allow access to those viewpoints, even if they are objectionable — objectionable and they differ from our particular viewpoints,” Mr. Jassy said.

Some decisions are “more straightforward,” he said, like content that “actively incites or promotes violence or teaches people how to do things like pedophilia.”

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The problem here is that nothing is straightforward. An argument could, and has been made that if Irving faces consequences for just tweeting a link to antisemitic material, then Amazon should have accountability for hosting it. That argument, though, has many flaws. First, no matter how loudly Kyrie stans bark, none of them really wants to test the theory that Amazon should be forced to remove the same material that Irving was forced to apologize for. His most convinced defenders argue that the movie wasn’t antisemitic at all (though it literally questions basic facts about the Holocaust), and if that’s the basis upon which they don’t want Irving silenced, they wouldn’t really want access to the Hebrews to Negroes shut down, either.

And there’s a bigger issue: what’s the difference between being a neutral platform for objectionable material, including hate speech, and actually endorsing the material? That question is at the heart of debates over whether Twitter, for example, should even continue to exist as Elon Musk replatforms people like Donald Trump and Kanye West. It’s at the heart of debates over what role government should play, if any, in regulating Facebook and other social media over how much misinformation about politics, elections, vaccines and other issues they allow on their platforms.

To use a crude analogy, is Amazon just the neutral phone company providing a connection between third parties (Irving, the filmmaker behind Hebrews, and Irving’s followers)? Is the act of hosting potentially offensive material enough to make Amazon just as culpable as those who created or shared it? Or is there an answer somewhere in between?