Editorial, Opinion

STAFF EDIT: The hashtag is mightier

In the wake of the weekend’s Amazon.com scandal, in which books dealing with homosexuality were mysteriously deleted from ratings, marked as ‘adult’ and rendered unsearchable, online social networking sites like Twitter and LiveJournal have exploded with reactions ranging from speculations, petitions and propositions to boycott the Seattle-based web retailer. In contrast to Amazon’s lack of any official statement other than blaming the issue on a ‘glitch,’ the barrage of blogging and tweeting that have rallied against the company’s shady slip-up proves that Internet vigilantism is a new and effective watchdog against corporate follies.

Whether the incident can be attributed to Amazon itself or to the work of Internet hackers is unknown, but it is Amazon’s responsibility as a reputable web retailer to quell skepticism with a timely explanation, otherwise it must face the deluge of public opinion propagated on social networking sites. The nature of the scandal and void of explanation, mixed with flack from online networking sites, end up making Amazon appear to have constructed a patently homophobic and discriminatory attack on gay and lesbian writers ‘- even if that wasn’t the case at all.

With such platforms as Twitter’s ‘#amazonfail’ hashtag serving as forums for public dissent, in which any person with Internet access and an opinion can participate, controversies like this one instantaneously become targets for discussion, attack, manipulation, rumor and doubt. In a generation so wired, in which major companies are constantly under public scrutiny and in which news leaks are available up-to-the minute at just a click of a mouse, public relations representatives at these companies need to be more ready than ever to explain scandals like these.

Amazon’s executives may be able to censor books and fabricate excuses for doing so, but they certainly can’t censor the blogs and Twitter forums criticizing their unsavory acts to the point of driving down sales and casting an overall unfavorable light on the company’s ethics. Online networking sites and the people who use them need to be considered viable and efficient vehicles for public opinion ‘- perhaps the most powerful in history. If corporate America doesn’t start accounting for the power of omnipresent bloggers and Tweeters, it will get a rude awakening that, on top of the mainstream media beast, Internet vigilantes are a whole new animal with a whole new mouth to feed.

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