Is it really a question of free speech? Amazon removes pedophilia guide but defends selling book

A self-published guide giving advice to pedophiles that was on sale through online retailer Amazon stirred up controversy, with some threatening to boycott the website. The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct has now been removed from sale, but Amazon initially defended the listing, saying the company does not promote criminal acts but also avoids censorship. The book has since been removed, but not without first creating a cloud storm of controversy.

Was this really a question of free speech, though? The author of this book had every right to write it, I suppose, though the very idea turns one’s stomach. But does Amazon have a responsibility to carry every piece of published material it is asked to? No, and nor does it — in fact, Amazon has a “no porn” policy for the Kindle store.It’s not as if the company doesn’t already pick and choose what material they are willing to carry for sale. I question, though, where they’re drawing the lines.

Amazon won’t carry pornography, which is perfectly legal. That’s a moralistic decision on their part. Amazon will carry books that tout hate-mongering, such as those written by Holocaust deniers — and Amazon says that’s because they believe in free speech. (But not orgies or role-playing, apparently.) Well, it’s legal to be a hateful idiot as well. Amazon also apparently will carry instructional manuals for pedophilia, which last time I checked, is a crime. Free speech trumps aiding and abetting criminal activity, I gather.

But is it really about free speech, or just about profit? Amazon isn’t a publicly funded institution supported with tax dollars. They do not have a library’s mission to uphold free speech, nor do they have a governing body with the public’s best interest in mind. Amazon is a business, a profit-making business, and their decision to sell the ebook in question was a business decision, nothing more. They don’t apply ethics or morals in any consistent way, nor is their policy especially logical. Hey, it’s their party, and they can sell what they want to — but we have every right (possibly every responsibility) to complain.

And object the Internet did, almost en masse — something you don’t see every day. Amazon initially defended the book’s sale, then removed it, then reinstated it, and then finally removed it again. In the end, they caved to the web’s pressure, but not especially gracefully, and not in a way that is likely to earn them any public good will.

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