Calls to Boycott Amazon over Wikileaks: #amazonfail 2.0?

Boycott Amazon for Dumping Wikileaks (screenshot of Facebook page via Kurier.at)Heading into the busiest shopping time of the year, Amazon is suddenly facing threats of a boycott over censoring Wikileaks.   Seems like a good time to dust off the #amazonfail hashtag.

It started last week, after a hacker took one of Wikileaks’ sites down with a relatively weak attack.  Wikileaks moved their online base to Amazon, which from a technology perspective makes a lot of sense: their services are reliable and very scalable.  So it was all good.  Briefly.

Yesterday, after a public request from Senator Lieberman (and rumors of pressure from DHS), Amazon shut Wikileaks’ sites down for “unspecified violations” of their terms of use.  I think EFF’s Kevin Bankston speaks for a lot of us when he describes it as “disappointing”.

Unsurprisingly, there are calls for a boycott.  From Austria, Kurier has a great screenshot in Wut weil Amazon Wikileaks fallen ließSeattle Weekly has a good roundup including links to the Facebook page and the #amazonfail hashtag.

Hey wait a second.

Where have I heard that before?

Back in 2009, Amazon removed several thousand books written by lesbian, gays,  feminists,  and people with disabilities from their bestseller lists.  For a few days, the Twitter hashtag #amazonfail was the hotbed of online organizing: sharing links, quick communications, and getting visibility. Amazon’s stock plunged at the threat of a boycott, although quickly recovered thanks to a timely report on Kindle sales.

amazon.fail ... and you're doneThe National Coalition Against Censorship’s flowchart, Nancy Johnston What I’ve learned from Amazonfail on Read Street, and Mary Hodder’s Why Amazon didn’t just have a glitch on TechCrunch give some different perspectives on what happened then.  My roundup in #amazonfail and we’re not done yet has a lot more links if you’re interested.

The two key takeaways, though, is that the threat of a boycott sparked a strong market reaction then — and a lot of smart people spent time thinking about what it would take to make a boycott work.

The timing’s disastrous for Amazon.  A lot of people still haven’t done their last-minute shopping yet.   True, they’ll also get some extra business from people who support their stance; I suspect the Limbaugh and Lieberman families and fans will be doing a lot of their Christmas shopping at Amazon this year.  But in this economic climate it’s a lot easier to say “I’m going to buy from somebody else” than it is to say “I’m going to spend more on books, DVDs, and Kindles than I had planned” so the balance favors the Wikileaks side.

I don’t know how much of their business comes from Europe and other areas where there’s already a lot of anger against the US over the Wikileaks cables.   Barnes and Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iPad, and the Android tablets that are coming out are good alternatives to Kindles — and I bet there are some European- and Asian-based book readers that people who really want to send a message could buy.  So a boycott could get a lot of support.

We shall see.  If I were Amazon, or one of their investors, I’d be pretty nervous right now.

for an excellent discussion of Wikileaks and Julian Assange’s “theory of change”, I strongly recommend Aaron Bady’s Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government” on zunguzungu and his followup comment here.

Facebook page Image via Kurier
amazon.fail Image via Women’s Media Center