Earlier this week, I started a search on Amazon and mistyped, entering just two letters in: “iv.” Amazon then helpfully compiled a list of suggested search results, almost all of which were for the horse de-worming version of the drug ivermectin. That drug is at the center of one of the more recent and more mind-boggling parts of the anti-vaccine misinformation story, a false cure touted by hucksters and others out to make a quick buck.
This evening, Amazon spokesperson Craig Andrews tells The Verge that “Amazon’s autocomplete responses are driven by customer activity. We are blocking certain autocomplete responses to address these concerns.”
Like Facebook, TikTok, and Reddit, Amazon has not gotten a lid on limiting the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. Unlike those platforms and others, Amazon has seemingly done very little to try to stop it.
Autocomplete results on Amazon for “iv” showing ivermectin.
Amazon is not unique in using an algorithm to drive its autocomplete results. But as companies like Google have learned, there are “data voids” for previously unpopular search terms that can suddenly skew the algorithm when those terms get swept up in a new misinformation campaign. Google has gone to some length to try to solve the data void problem, most recently by presenting warnings on search results it thinks might suffer from the…