Hillary Clinton’s What Happened is in stores. It’s the former first lady’s account of the 2016 election, which saw Donald Trump defeat her in a stunning upset. The two-time presidential loser says she accepts responsibility for the 2016 defeat, but then delivers jabs at Barack Obama, Joe Biden, sexism, misogyny, James Comey, and Bernie Sanders. The latter two are definitely in the crosshairs, where some have suggested this book served as a vehicle for revenge against Sanders. The self-described democratic socialist gave Clinton a run for her money in the primaries. Hillary blames Sanders for long lasting damage to her campaign and creating an atmosphere in which it was impossible to unite the party. Yet, the issues Sanders attacked Clinton on were fair game and a lot of the baggage Clinton brought into the arena was her own doing. It wasn’t Sanders' fault that Clinton was not trusted, liked, or seen as authentic. Now, on top of Hillary’s whine tour, there’s a curious case concerning disappearing Amazon reviews of her book. The British-based Telegraph noted that some 900 reviews have disappeared from the site:
Mrs Clinton's book, What Happened, went on sale on Tuesday. By Wednesday there were 1,600 reviews - many of which did not discuss the book, but instead offered high praise or scathing criticism of Mrs Clinton.
The website Quartz analysed the data from the reviews and found that of the book’s 1,600 or so reviews as of Wednesday morning, only 338 were from users with verified purchases of the book - that is, those who actually bought the item on Amazon.com. They could, of course, have bought the book somewhere else and then logged onto Amazon to post a review, but the majority of Amazon's reviews are from people who bought the book on their site.
“It seems highly unlikely that approximately 1,500 people read Hillary Clinton’s book overnight and came to the stark conclusion that it is either brilliant or awful,” he said.
He said Simon & Schuster hoped the online commentary would reflect opinions of people who have actually read the book.
Amazon says on its site that its reviews are designed to help customers make purchase decisions, and it is not the company’s role to decide what customers would find helpful in reviews.
They would not confirm they had deleted any reviews.
But, by Wednesday evening, only 460 reviews remained on Amazon's site - and all were marked "verified purchase".
Before the reviews disappeared, they were evenly split between those who hated the book and those who loved it. As of 11:40am eastern time (4,40pm BST) the former US secretary of state’s book had 1,669 reviews, with 50 per cent giving it one star and 45 per cent awarding it a five star review, according to Quartz.
Its average rating was 3.2.
After the reviews were deleted, the average rating rose to 4.9 stars out of five.
Tim Graham of Newsbusters also wrote about this odd occurrence in the review section, noting Amazon’s response to Fortune:
Speaking to Fortune, a spokesperson from the company said: "In the case of a memoir, the subject of the book is the author and their views. It’s not our role to decide what a customer would view as helpful or unhelpful in making their decision. We do however have mechanisms in place to ensure that the voices of many do not drown out the voices of a few and we remove customer reviews that violate our community guidelines."
Jazz Shaw at Hot Airfound Amazon’s review and comment policy:
You may post reviews, comments, photos, videos, and other content; send e-cards and other communications; and submit suggestions, ideas, comments, questions, or other information, so long as the content is not illegal, obscene, threatening, defamatory, invasive of privacy, infringing of intellectual property rights (including publicity rights), or otherwise injurious to third parties or objectionable, and does not consist of or contain software viruses, political campaigning, commercial solicitation, chain letters, mass mailings, or any form of “spam” or unsolicited commercial electronic messages. You may not use a false e-mail address, impersonate any person or entity, or otherwise mislead as to the origin of a card or other content. Amazon reserves the right (but not the obligation) to remove or edit such content, but does not regularly review posted content.
He closed his post on the matter with a fair question [emphasis mine]:
Unless making negative comments about Clinton constitutes “political campaigning” I don’t see anything here which would disqualify a negative review absent any obscenity. Amazon also goes out of their way to say that they don’t “regularly review posted content.” Really? Somebody seems to have been working overtime to review the comments about Clinton’s book so this is being treated as a special case.
Of course, let’s also accept the fact that a lot of those reviews probably came from people who haven’t even purchased or read the book. (Despite CNN’s efforts to portray it as a best seller.) And this ties back to a long running discussion I’ve engaged in about the overall usefulness of online rating systems. Web sites like Yelp have been notoriously corrupted by trolls and scammers seeking to drive up their own ratings while dragging down those of their competitors. An orchestrated campaign can quickly swamp product reviews in one direction or the other.
Is that what happened with Hillary’s offering at Amazon? Beats me. While it’s possible, there are also a lot of people out there who simply don’t like Clinton (and that includes a lot of Bernie Sanders fans, not just conservatives). It could just as easily be a grassroots backlash. But the real question remains… if Amazon is going to have an open comments and review section for all of their products, how do they justify fluffing up Clinton’s review numbers?