By Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg
A group of Republican senators is asking Amazon.com Inc. to explain why it recently removed a book about transgender issues that had been on sale on the platform for about three years.
In a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos dated Wednesday, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Mike Braun of Indiana and Josh Hawley of Missouri said a book by conservative scholar Ryan T. Anderson, "When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment," was no longer available on Amazon nor on its Kindle and Audible platforms.
Amazon, they wrote, has been "unable to provide a sufficient explanation" as to how the book "supposedly violated a vague, undefined 'offensive content' standard."
An Amazon spokeswoman didn't have a comment regarding the letter. In a statement earlier Wednesday, the company said it reserved the right not to sell certain content based on its content guidelines for books.
"All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer and we do not take selection decisions lightly," the statement said.
In their letter, the senators wrote that Amazon's move "openly signaled to conservative Americans that their views are not welcome on its platforms." They requested the company provide documentation explaining its decision, including whether the book violated an Amazon policy.
A spokesman for Encounter Books, a nonprofit based in New York City which publishes "When Harry Became Sally," said Wednesday that it had been informed by its distributor that the book was removed for violating Amazon's content guidelines.
Under the category "Offensive Content," Amazon's content guidelines include a sentence that reads: "We don't sell certain content including content that we determine is hate speech, promotes the abuse or sexual exploitation of children, contains pornography, glorifies rape or pedophilia, advocates terrorism, or other material we deem inappropriate or offensive."
In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Anderson said he first learned that his book was no longer for sale on Sunday afternoon after a would-be book purchaser called him to say they couldn't find the book on Amazon. Mr. Anderson then looked and also couldn't find it.
"It's hard to understand," said Mr. Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. "As far as I know I haven't done anything. The book has been saying the same thing for three years." The book, which focuses on a variety of issues including gender identity, was originally published in February 2018.
In a tweet Wednesday, Mr. Anderson thanked the group of Republican senators for their support.
Leading tech platforms have been under criticism for implementing bans or suspensions of conservative figures. Twitter Inc. earlier this year permanently banned former President Trump's personal account from its service, while Facebook Inc. moved to disable Mr. Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely.
Apple Inc., Amazon and Alphabet Inc.'s Google also recently took steps to boot Parler, a social-media app and website that has grown in popularity among conservatives. The actions against Mr. Trump and Parler starkly illustrate the companies' influence over conversation online -- and the political nature of their decisions. While lauded by many, ejecting the president and some of his supporters also infuriated others who said it amounts to censorship.
A longstanding truism in the book business is that the only bad publicity is no publicity, and that appears to be true for Mr. Anderson as well. The print edition is now sold out at BarnesandNoble.com, but on late Wednesday afternoon the ebook ranked No. 3 on the bookseller's Top 100 list for digital books.
A spokesman for Encounter Books on Wednesday said the publisher has reordered 5,000 paperback copies.
Write to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires