During Amazon.com's annual shareholder meeting last week, the National Center for Public Policy Research's Horace Cooper asked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about why the company bans the sale of weapons parts, but not the sale of violent games and movies. Bezos reportedly side-stepped the question, but was then faced with similar questions from three of Amazon's own shareholders. Amazon, it seems, has inconsistent policies towards the sale of violent media and guns.
"I won't even tell you what is in the film 'Cannibal Holocaust,' but if you're curious, you are selling it for $22.50," Cooper told Bezos (pdf) in a prepared inquiry. "If you want the most violent video game, 'Manhunt,' you're in luck. What Amazon describes as an exploration of 'the depths of human depravity in a vicious, sadistic tale of urban horror,' is not only available on Amazon, you sell 'Manhunt 2' as well. Apparently it is the go-to game for people who want to, as Amazon's product page puts it, 'execute their kills in 3 deadly threats - Hasty, Violent and Gruesome.'"
Later Bezos said that Amazon wants to improve its policing of controversial content, but it can't come prior to the actual products – which are offered by third-party sellers – before they hit the market. "It needs to be self-service," he said, regarding the marketplace. "If it was gated, that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
He went on to state that Amazon has millions of items, and it's both a technical and an organizational challenge to police terms that would ban the sale of violent media. However he promised that Amazon would continue to work on a system with the goal of making its process "statistically indistinguishable from perfection".
But that wasn't good enough. One of the shareholders asked Bezos for specific steps, pointing out that parents cannot always control what their children are doing. "I think that you hold some responsibility for this."
To some degree, Amazon is no different than any other retailer. These retailers are at the point of sale, and should know whether a game or movie is inappropriate for minors based on their ratings. The problem with Amazon is that there are "millions" of products, and there's no personal one-on-one transaction. What's to stop a teen from signing on to mom's account and buying a violent game with her permission but without her investigating the actual product?
There's also the definition of "appropriate content", as different people have different opinions about what is appropriate and what is not. One parent may allow a group of kids to keep their phones and tablets at a sleepover while another may confiscate all gadgets until the morning. One parent could give the thumbs up for a gory, violent movie while another one may not.
In Cooper's prepared question to Bezos, he said that many could make the argument that selling an item does not make the seller responsible for it. "If a teenager plays hundreds of hours of games that consist of never-ending gun massacres, becomes desensitized to the violence, and becomes a mass killer, that's his fault, not the fault of the retailer," he said. "I'm not here to argue with that philosophy, but to ask: how is Amazon.com deciding where its responsibility lies?"
He went on to conclude his question to the CEO, saying that there's no dispute about Amazon's right to sell any of these items. "But as staunch defenders of the Second Amendment, we would like to know how Amazon made this decision: Selling legal guns and ammo to adults, no; selling vicious, sadistic torture and murder depictions to adolescents, yes. What is your thinking?"
But, as previously stated, Cooper's question and the subject of Amazon's inconsistency between the sale of guns and violent media was ignored until Amazon own shareholders began to chime in.