Amazon is refusing to publish many reviews and ratings of the No. 1 best-selling “Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court,” according to multiple reports from readers who purchased the book directly from Amazon.
The behind-the-scenes dive into the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which was written by Carrie Severino and The Federalist’s Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway, debuted at No. 1 on Amazon’s list of best-selling books.
The Federalist independently confirmed that many reviews by verified purchasers of “Justice on Trial” were not being published by Amazon. Some fake reviews from non-purchasers and reviews from those who clearly had not read the book, however, were published immediately. As of Wednesday evening, the online retailer had allowed only 16 reviews of the top-selling book to be published.
One reviewer whose critique was published by Amazon accused the authors of “stay[ing] away from using the term rape” regarding unsubstantiated accusations of sexual assault made against Kavanaugh during the confirmation process in 2018. A word search of the Kindle version of the book shows that the term was used 41 times by the authors. Another review, from an individual who did not purchase the book from Amazon, wrote that it was the “[w]orst book ever” and rated the book with one star.
The Seattle-based retail giant has a history of manipulating reviews and ratings for high-profile political books. In 2017, Amazon confirmed that it manually conducted mass deletions of one-star reviews of Hillary Clinton’s book detailing her failed 2016 presidential campaign. According to news reports at the time, Amazon deleted more than 900 one-star reviews of Clinton’s memoir. After the release of fired former FBI director James Comey’s book last year, Amazon reportedly banned reviews from individuals who hadn’t purchased the book from Amazon.
In a canned statement provided to The Federalist by an Amazon spokesperson, the company said, “Our policy includes a delay before reviews appear on our website while we ensure reviews follow our participation guidelines.” The spokesperson did not explain why troll reviews from commenters whom Amazon hadn’t verified have purchased the book were nonetheless published without delay while reviews from verified purchasers were quarantined and remain hidden.
The company also refused to disclose the percentage or number of unpublished reviews written by verified buyers, or what the average rating was for verified purchasers whose reviews were being hidden by Amazon.
In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon employees were being investigated for manipulating product reviews in exchange for cash.
“The going rate for having an Amazon employee delete negative reviews is about $300 per review, according to people familiar with the practice,” the Wall Street Journal noted. “Brokers usually demand a five-review minimum, meaning that sellers typically must pay at least $1,500 for the service, the people said.”
A 2019 expose published by The Hustle dove deep into what it called Amazon’s “massive fake-review economy.”
“Amazon likes to think of its marketplace as a merchant meritocracy where the best products get the best reviews by virtue of quality and honest consumer feedback,” The Hustle wrote. “But the vast size of the platform, coupled with a ferocious competition among sellers to get higher product rankings, has spawned a problem: A proliferation of fake reviews.”
Fake reviews have become such a significant problem that multiple services like Fakespot and ReviewMeta have popped up offering to help potential consumers sort the signal from the noise. Fakespot estimated that up to 30 percent of Amazon reviews are fake or unreliable.
Amazon isn’t the only service deluged by bogus reviews, though. A Harvard Business School study determined that one in six reviews on Yelp may be fake. Fakespot determined that more than half of reviews on Walmart’s site were “inauthentic or unreliable.” TripAdvisor, the popular travel booking site, was even directed by a government advertising standards board that the company could no longer publicly claim that its reviews were “honest, real, or trusted.”
Not even movie reviews are safe, as the film-rating site Rotten Tomatoes has also been besieged with fake reviews meant to either artificially sabotage or prop up some politically controversial movies.
While consumer product reviews are often manipulated to make potential buyers more likely to purchase an item, the opposite is often true with more political products, like books or movies. Trolls will often try to sandbag anything offered by someone with different political views by leaving awful reviews of products they have neither purchased nor used. Unfortunately, as more and more aspects of daily life become politicized, the practice is likely to only increase.