28 May 2013 Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos Asked to Explain Why Amazon Bans the Sale of Legal Gun Parts to Adults, but Not Videos and Games Depicting Mass Murder and Torture to Young People
Seattle, WA / Washington, D.C. – At Amazon.com’s annual shareholder meeting, CEO Jeff Bezos attempted to duck a question from the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Horace Cooper about Amazon’s seemingly inconsistent policies toward the sale of violent media and guns, only to face two more shareholders, each of whom expected him to answer it. According to a National Center analysis, Amazon.com sells all of the top ten most violent movies and the top ten most violent videogames, yet it refuses to sell guns, ammunition and some gun parts.
Noting that Google, Comcast, Ebay and Time Warner Cable have also limited commerce related to guns, Cooper asked Bezos to reconcile these two policies. If Amazon.com is opposed to violence, why sell the extremely violent videos and games? If it is following caveat emptor, why not sell the guns, gun parts and ammunition?
Said Cooper at the meeting:
Mr. Bezos, a research associate with our institution developed, using data from independent third-parties, a list of the “Top 10 Most Violent Video Games” and another list of the “Top Ten Most Violent Movies” of all time. Having compiled the list, and having no idea which, if any, of these products would be for sale on Amazon, she then looked to see if Amazon sells them. Guess what? It sells not a third of them, not half of them, but each and every one of them.
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. 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.”
Mr. Bezos, many 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.
I’m not here to argue with that philosophy, but to ask: how is Amazon.com deciding where its responsibility lies? Amazon bans the sale of legal gun parts to adults, but not videos and games depicting mass murder and torture for entertainment to impressionable minds?
Guns, as I’m sure you know, are often used in self-defense. The NRA says 2 million times a year; the NRA’s opponents say the number is closer to 67,000. Either way, that’s a lot of people protecting themselves. But who benefits from learning how to strangle an enemy in a toilet while playing Manhunt?
Mr. Bezos, we do not dispute 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?
Bezos thanked Cooper for his point of view, said he would keep it in mind, and otherwise ignored the question.
Other shareholders, however, stepped up. As reported by CNET.com, “But when two other shareholders followed up with questions about violent products, Bezos responded that the company wants to improve its policing of controversial content. But he said it can’t come prior to the products, offered by third-party sellers on Amazon.com, hitting the marketplace. ‘It needs to be self-service,’ he said of the marketplace. ‘If it was gated, that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.'”
‘We have millions of millions of items,’ [Bezos] said. ‘It’s a difficult technical challenge, it’s a difficult organizational challenge to police those items.’
He promised that the company will continue working on it with the goal of making its processes ‘statistically indistinguishable from perfection.’
Unlike the labor protests faced by the company last year, the questions did not appear to be an organized effort. The third time around, a shareholder asked Bezos for the specific steps to be taken by the company. ‘Parents cannot always control what their children are doing, and I think that you hold some responsibility for this.’
Bezos pointed out the parental control features in the Kindle Fire tablets, including the ‘Free Time’ feature that lets parents control what their kids watch and listen to. And then he told a personal story about hosting a sleepover for one of his four kids. He collected all the electronic devices before they went up to their rooms. One of the kids asked if he could keep his Kindle. ‘E Ink or Fire?’ Bezos asked him. It was E Ink, so Bezos let him keep it. ‘If he had said Fire I’d have said no,’ he said.
He concluded, ‘Policing different content … people have a lot of different opinions and what is appropriate content, what is inappropriate. This is going to be an ongoing challenge for us, and we’ll do the best we can.’
Bezos did not, however, comment on Amazon.com’s policy regarding guns, gun parts and ammunition. Nor did he actually say that Amazon.com would remove any of the most violent games or movies once it reached “statistical perfection.”
The National Center has challenged CEOs at 30 shareholder meetings so far this year.
The meeting took place May 23 in Seattle.
A copy of Cooper’s question, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.
National Center Chairman Amy Ridenour is an Amazon.com shareholder.
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