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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

How Amazon Reviews Became a Vehicle for Protest

The Amazon reviews page for pepper spray has officially been Occupied.

  • November 22, 2011

Right now on the Amazon page for the pepper spray used by Lt. John Pike against nonviolent protesters at UC Davis, something remarkable is happening. Borrowing a page from one of the Internet’s most venerable pranks—hilarious fake reviews of the Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee—18 Amazon customers and counting have left reviews that are by turns whimsical and scathing.

Amazon.com reports, you decide.

As the video editor at The Atlantic points out, this product had zero reviews before this weekend. (Pike sprayed protesters on Friday.) In fact, the first review appeared on November 21, the first full work day after the story broke.

That review, written by Amazon member D-bag of Liberty, comes from a screen name that has never reviewed anything else on Amazon. His or her lone review has already received 631 votes for “helpfulness” from other reviewers.

Even the “customer images” on the 56895 MK-9 Stream pepper spray have been “occupied”:

What’s astonishing is that Amazon seems fully aware of the potential of its reviews to be used for comedy or social commentary. Nothing in their Review Creation Guidelines specifically bans this kind of off-topic reviewing, and if anything they’re probably happy for all the free publicity that occurs anytime anyone decides to use their reviews as a vehicle for self expression.

Is it possible the most trenchant take on this entire catastrophe is going to appear not in a traditional news medium, or even a blog, but on Amazon.com? It seems it already has.

Keep up with the latest in Amazon at EmTech Digital.

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