Two of my enthusiasms are films and books. My tastes in both are eclectic, spanning a number of genres and ranging from pure entertainment to more serious reading and viewing.

To that end, I have been an Amazon Prime customer for years, paying my annual membership dues and taking advantage of the “read for free” deals and some of the discounts. One of the things I have valued is the way that Amazon keeps up with my purchasing habits and viewing preferences and makes suggestions based on my past purchases and films viewed. The recommendations are frequently useful.

I have also read the recent criticisms of those who write the algorithms for tech companies as being politically and philosophically biased, but hadn’t experienced it until quite recently. And I’m still not completely sure I have.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading Andrew McCarthy’s book, Ball of Collusion. It had not showed up in suggested reading on the Amazon site or on e-mail alerts. Because McCarthy is a columnist for National Review Online, I found a link on NRO, clicked on it, and was taken to the Amazon listing where I made the purchase. The book showed up on my Kindle, and I began reading.

Andy McCarthy is a lawyer who was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York for twenty years, working with the likes of Rudy Giuliani and James Comey. His opinions shouldn’t be accepted without question any more than anyone else’s. But he knows a great deal about criminal law, about federal prosecutions, and about working with FBI investigators, all from personal experience I don’t share. So his analysis and his opinions command respect, whether one agrees with him or not.

McCarthy’s thesis, which he backs up in detail, is that there really is an alarming collusion story from the 2016 presidential election, but it is not the story of Donald Trump’s collusion with Russia that the mainstream media obsessed about. Rather, it is the story of how the Obama Administration, acting through the Department of Justice and the FBI, colluded with the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign – and with foreign agents, including, indirectly, some Russians – to create a collusion narrative designed to prevent Trump’s election, or, if that didn’t work, to cripple his administration.

McCarthy’s sentence structure is convoluted in places (a failing of a large number of lawyers); but on the whole, he writes well, and gives the reader a compelling and cohesive narrative. If his take on what happened is even partly true, it’s very disturbing news that you’re unlikely to see on CNN and surely not on MSNBC.

Most of my buying history at Amazon is for either practical (e.g., books on using computers) or entertainment (thrillers, science fiction, humor). When I ordered the McCarthy book, I hadn’t received any e-mail announcement about it from Amazon. But it had been a while since I had bought anything political or philosophical, and I wasn’t “following” McCarthy on the App. It doesn’t particularly strike me as unusual that I had not received anything via e-mail suggesting his book.

And if I go to my “recommendations” page on site, and scroll down to “Politics and Social Science”, I find other works by McCarthy, and books by Mollie Hemingway and others that are compatible with what I like to read. So my conclusion is that Amazon is playing fair with me concerning my reading options.

But there’s more. I recently purchased two films on Amazon. One was “Gosnell”, a movie based on the criminal prosecution of abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell. The other was “Unplanned”, likewise based on the true story of a former Planned Parenthood Clinic director who had a change of heart. Both films can fairly be called “pro-life”, although “Gosnell” is just as much about how a corrupt physician was permitted to run an unsanitary and hazardous clinic.
Here’s the thing: Neither of these films were presented by Amazon or iTunes (to which I also subscribe) as new films available for viewing or for purchase. I had to find both by search engine on Amazon. (Neither is available on iTunes.) Any order of the two films does not so far appear to have produced any suggestions for additional viewing.

At this point, I’m only suspicious. But my recent film experience suggests that whoever is writing the code, or administering the system, may be attempting some administrative control over what customers are encouraged to watch and are actually suppressing some films, depending on the subject matter.

Maybe I’m just being paranoid. But just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not really out to get you. And one thing is certain: Tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Twitter have enormous reach, and certainly the power to influence, and to do so without really telling anyone.

And that’s disturbing.


This essay first appeared in the Kingsport (TN) Times-News.