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Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Lee of Utah, and Mike Braun of Indiana signed a joint letter on Wednesday addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos concerning the Amazon web store’s removal this past weekend of conservative scholar Ryan T. Anderson’s 2018 book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.”
“We write regarding Amazon’s recent political censorship activities, particularly the decision to remove the book When Harry Became Sally by conservative scholar, Ryan Anderson, from the Amazon website, Kindle, and Audible platforms,” the letter by the senators begins. “Over the past 72 hours, Amazon has been unable to provide a sufficient explanation as to how Anderson’s book, which reached the top of two of Amazon’s best-seller lists before it was even released in 2018, supposedly violated a vague, undefined ‘offensive content’ standard.”
Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, joined “The Federalist Radio Hour” on Wednesday to discuss Amazon’s deplatforming of his work, and why conservatives cannot merely shrug off censorship because of free-market theories that are not, in this instance, fostering free-markets.
“When we think about trusts, antitrust law, or monopoly or collusion, it’s something different here. It’s not the historic thing, it’s more of like an ideological collusion,” Anderson said. “I think one thing conservatives are going to have to get over is ‘It’s a private business. It can do whatever it wants.’”
“Apparently, Amazon has an 83 percent market share for book sales in the United States,” Anderson told Federalist Culture Editor Emily Jashinsky. “If you control that much of the market, and then if other big technology companies, social media companies, other book publishers, other platforms, share a similar ideology … that always cuts in the same direction, you might want to think that there are limits to economic liberties, there are limits to private property rights, and what should those limits be? We have other laws that we use: Anti-discrimination limits on private business owners, we have anti-monopoly, antitrust limits, we have common carrier and utility limits. I don’t think Big Tech is a perfect fit on any of those categories, which just says we need to have a new model.”
The senators argue in the letter to Bezos that the internet ought to be “an open marketplace of ideas that brings people together to share, learn from one another, and engage in a range of commercial activities.” The Republicans pose several questions to the tech billionaire, such as whether Amazon’s decision to ban the 2018 book was discussed at length by the company, and asks what specific policy Anderson’s work violated. They seek a response from Bezos no later than March 9.
Lee, who became the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on Feb. 16, announced prior that he intends to oppose Big Tech’s monopolistic rule. “The actions of Big Tech continue to divide the nation, undermine fundamental liberties, and distort the market. The Silicon Valley fairytale of innovation and technological progress sold to Americans has turned into a corporatist nightmare of censorship and hypocrisy,” Lee said.
“In its decision to remove Mr. Anderson’s book from its platforms, Amazon has openly signaled to conservative Americans that their views are not welcome on its platforms,” the letter says. “Amazon’s shortsighted censorship of this well-researched and thoughtful contribution to modern American discourse is not just a decision made in poor taste, but an assault on free speech that carries weighty implications for the future of open discourse in the digital age.”
Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post, a newspaper that purports to be “free and fair” in its mission statement that was initially authored by former publisher Eugene Meyer in 1935. While this aphorism remains on the website today, it is unclear how a media outlet that aims to provide readers with diverse opinions, and ideally is operated by those who believe in freedom of the press and expression, is comfortable silencing any voices at all. Amazon suspended its hosting servers for free-speech social media platform Parler on Jan. 11, demonstrating just how little Bezos cares for freedom, particularly freedom of speech.
“Amazon Web Services hosts countless websites related to religious, politically conservative, classically liberal, and other content that falls outside the realm of acceptable woke groupthink,” the senators assert in the letter. “Are these sites at risk of being denied service by Amazon? How does the determination of which site to host compare to that of which books to remove from Amazon’s platforms?”