Amazon is selling coronavirus misinformation

Amazon is selling books with unverified advice on coronavirus.
Amazon is selling books with unverified advice on coronavirus.
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Amazon’s shopping site is presenting medically unverified advice and products to customers who search for coronavirus.  The platform displays different results depending on one’s search history; Quartz did 12 searches (one from an incognito account while logged out and 11 from different accounts), and was shown a variety of misleading information, including holistic cures, prayer healing, and incorrect medical advice. 

On the first page of results, five people (all women) were shown a book, Holistic Help for the Coronavirus. After Quartz emailed Amazon for comment, that book and one other was not available as of Wednesday evening. 

In the same holistic vein, the incognito search brought up an ad for a book on herbal antibiotics and four people were shown ads for essential oils. There’s no evidence that herbal remedies or vitamin boosters can prevent or cure coronavirus. In February, the World Health Organization said it was concerned that Amazon search results for “coronavirus” showed vitamin C boosters. In response, Amazon said it removed more than one million products that falsely claimed to prevent coronavirus.

Of the twelve searches seen by Quartz, five also featured a book, Warfare Prayers Against The Coronavirus, which states that prayer will end coronavirus, on the first page of results. The summary reads: “Prayers when prayed with FAITH and TENACITY will prevent you from contracting the Coronavirus and prayers that will manifest healing in the bodies of those that have already contracted the Coronavirus.”

Amazon screenshot of a book claiming prayer prevents coronavirus.
Amazon screenshot of a book claiming prayer prevents coronavirus.

Nine searches included a book by Tom Kawczynski, who was fired as a town manager for white-separatist remarks. A free excerpt stated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization will “continuously and deliberately present the most conservative estimations about the impact of the disease.” Kawczynski’s book is also no longer available.

Among the many self-published books on the coronavirus, several contained questionable on the value of masks. Both Wuhan Coronavirus: A Concise & Rational Guide to the 2020 Outbreak (featured near the top of our search results) and DIY Coronavirus Mask: How to find true virus-filtering material from your local Wal-Mart when all the masks are gone, Kindle Edition (featured on seven search results) claimed that healthy people should wear face masks to prevent catching coronavirus. Currently, masks are recommended for infected patients to help prevent the spread of germs; “No recommendation can be made at this time for mask use in the community by asymptomatic persons, including those at high risk for complications, to prevent exposure to influenza viruses,” advises the CDC. Dr. Jenny Harris, deputy chief medical officer in the UK, warned UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that people tend to contaminate masks and then wipe it over surfaces, which spreads contagion. “It’s not a good idea and doesn’t help,” she said. 

The WHO has labelled the spread of false information online an “infodemic” and warned that misinformation was spreading faster than the virus. Amazon said it had removed several books that did not comply with its guidelines. “Amazon maintains content guidelines for the books it sells, and we continue to evaluate our catalog, listening to customer feedback. We have always required sellers, authors, and publishers to provide accurate information on product detail pages, and we remove those that violate our policies,” said an Amazon spokesperson. “In addition, at the top of relevant search results pages we are linking to CDC advice where customers can learn more about the virus and protective measures.”