• Project Honeypot: 1 Billion Spammers Served!
  • Wow. Without “activist judges” to blame, anti-gay-marriage *ahem* activists in DC are complaining about activist…legislators.
  • It’s almost 2010. Why do OK/Cancel boxes STILL pop up while I’m typing & accept my “input?” I’m not sure what I just confirmed. Or canceled. Or whatever it is that it thought I told it.

At this point, the only (useful) official word from Amazon as to why thousands of books with LGBT themes disappeared from search results over the weekend is the “embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error” statement sent to Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other sources, also mentioning a number of other categories impacted. This article also has the unconfirmed word from former Amazon employee Mike Daisey that it was a matter of user error where someone mixed up some tags while working on the site, and the change just propagated globally.

Before Amazon finally spoke, tehdely posted an interesting theory that it might be might be astroturfing or a Bantown-style troll, deliberately pitting Amazon against the LGBT community to watch them fight each other for the lulz. A writer at Feministing asked her editor to call up Amazon and was told that it was not a glitch, but an automatic policy to hide “offensive” search results. Patrick Neilsen Hayden attributed it to bureaucratic incompetence.*

Now, some thoughts:

1. If this was intentional, on anyone’s part, it was both wrong (as discrimination) and stupid (as bad PR and as throwing away potential sales). If it was unintentional, it was still stupid.

2. Amazon really dropped the ball on PR. They should have responded much sooner (yes, it was a holiday weekend), and with something more detailed than “It was a glitch.” Something like, “We’re sorry, it was an unintentional error and we’re trying to fix it” would have gone a long way toward preventing the outrage from spiraling out of control. And we still don’t have anything more detailed than “ham-fisted cataloging error,” or (as has been pointed out) an apology to the authors and communities affected.

2a. And seriously, you’re an internet pioneer: use the Internet. You have email, you have official Twitter accounts, you have a space to put messages on your home page. Use them.

3. Twitter demonstrates that the internet is now fast enough and ubiquitous enough that people can develop a mob mentality without actually being in close proximity to one another. This includes not just people whipping each other into a frenzy, but people taking more permanent actions (deleting accounts) based on incomplete information.

4. No matter how many times something has been debunked (i.e. the “hacker” who claimed to have hacked the site), someone will see it who hasn’t seen the response and repost it as true. (You’d think I would have learned this from comics discussion forums by now.)

5. Canned responses from customer service are not authoritative statements of company policy. Half the time they’re not even answering the question you asked.

6. There are really two issues: (A) Adults-only books are being hidden from search results. (B) LGBT books were being misclassified as adults-only.

7. Combining #5 and #6, when a CSR monkey answers A, that’s not an official statement of policy on B.

8. Removing adults-only books from sales rankings is a dumb way to hide them from search results. Add a flag and let the user choose whether or not to include them like Google, Flickr, etc.

*The second-paragraph links were originally in a separate post, in the form of a collection of tweets. I’ve since combined the two into a single post.

Over the weekend, Something Positive’s Monette met her girlfriend’s half-brother, who wants to write showtunes when he grows up. Friday’s Real Life featured Tony taking Greg to task over singing a song from Monty Python’s Spamalot. Where did the showtunes=gay (or at least effeminate) stereotype come from? While we’re at it, where did the art=gay stereotype come from?

I mean, most of the people who actually write musicals are probably straight. Not all of them, of course, and some of the exceptions (Cole Porter, for instance) are rather prominent. And I would guess that a majority of the actors and audience are probably straight, also.

I have no doubt that the percentage of gays in the arts is higher than in the general population. I studied drama in college—all I had to do was look around to see that. But that’s a far cry from “most.” I mean, to pull some numbers out of thin air, let’s say it’s 20%, or even 30%, instead of the commonly-cited 10%—that would be like saying an industry with 30% women is primarily female. Continue reading