#1 Amazon demonetizes conservative website (us) by algernonpj 24.05.2018 12:38

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Amazon demonetizes conservative website (us)
Posted by William A. Jacobson
Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 7:00pm

Our participation in Amazon Associates terminated without warning, with false and shifting explanations.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JROFIBGh1lI

For as long as I can remember, Legal Insurrection has participated in Amazon Associates, a way for websites to earn fees when readers shop at Amazon.com via links from our website.

It was an important source of revenue to us, and paid for some of the operating expenses readers never see.

On Saturday morning, April 28, 2018, I woke up to an email in my inbox from Amazon Associates telling me our participation in the program was terminated, our account closed, that the decision was final and there was no appeal. On top of that, Amazon was holding back any accumulated money it owed us.

There was no prior indication of a problem, or chance to cure. It’s always been our intent to comply with the program requirements. I detail what happened, including all the email communications, below.

In isolation, it’s just a website cut off from a source of revenue by an internet behemoth because the internet behemoth could. But if there was an anti-conservative ideological angle to it, either at inception or during the review process, it would be consistent with what is happening at high tech companies more generally. The problems Prager U and others have had with video restrictions and demonetization at YouTube, the exposure of Twitter shadow-banning, and the intolerance revealed at Google are just a few of the examples of an anti-conservative bias among internet giants.

We have not been immune to such problems, YouTube removes influential conservative website’s channel.

Amazon does not perform the same gatekeeper role as other internet giants, but it is not just a shopping site. Its cloud computing service plays an increasingly important role in access to information, potentially including such giants such as the Department of Defense.

Now that the month-long futile process of seeking reinstatement is over, it is clear to me that someone at Amazon wanted us gone. Amazon Associates came up with false explanations as to our alleged violation of the Operating Agreement, then additional false explanations, and at the very end a new explanation that was previously resolved 5 months ago to Amazon’s satisfaction.

As I was going through this process, the proverbial light bulb went on when when I saw an article at The Daily Caller about a problem at a different Amazon program, Prominent Christian Legal Group Barred From Amazon Program While Openly Anti-Semitic Groups Remain.
False and Shifting Reasons for Termination

The reason given in the April 28 termination email was that we violated the Operating Agreement as follows:

“You are promoting your Special Links in an offline manner, such as printed material, mailing, or oral solicitation.”

Over the following weeks I repeatedly explained to Amazon on the phone, through its Amazon Associates portal, and by email, that we did not do any of those things, and that this termination explanation made no sense.

I asked Amazon to provide me with evidence that we did any of those things, but was told they could not tell me because it was proprietary. As I pressed the issue, Amazon began to add new reasons why we were terminated:

“You are incentivizing others to visit the Amazon Site via your Special Links by offering rebates, cashback, discounts, points, donations to charity, or other incentives, or by stating that customers can support you by shopping through your Special Links.”

Again, this was bizarre. We didn’t do any rebates, cashback, discounts, points, donations to charity, or other incentives. Moreover, as I explained in writing to Amazon, stating that a customer can support us does not actually violate the Operating Agreement, which permits disclosure that we earn a fee. I wrote:

We DO NOT offer rebates, cashback, discounts, points, donations to charity, or other incentives. We DO state that readers can help us by using our links, but that is NOT PROHIBITED anywhere in the Operating Agreement. To the contrary, the Operating Agreement, paragraph 5, specifically permits us to inform customers that we are helped by purchases: “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”

Accordingly, we do not do any of the things of which we have been accused except for indicating that we are helped by purchases, which we are permitted to say under the terms of the Operating Agreement.

Please have this reviewed by a Supervisor since we are not in violation of the Operating Agreement and our account has been incorrectly terminated.

Similar language has been permitted in the prior version of the Operating Agreement as well, which permitted the following:

“We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”

So we didn’t do any of the things in the termination email, or most of the things in the appeal decision. The one thing we did do, let readers know that purchasing through our links helps us, is expressly permitted under the current and prior versions of the Operating Agreement.

A Supervisor at Amazon did respond further, repeating the same alleged Operating Agreement violations addressed above, and declining to tell me what it was we did that was a violation:

After diving into the account it seems our account specialist with associates has provided you with the correct information. Due to the proprietary nature of the process, we can’t share the criteria by which the process for decision of termination was made.

In another effort to understand what it was we did, I emailed again:

You say that you cannot share the criteria, but can you provide me with any specific examples where we have violated the operating agreement in the manner suggested in the termination emails? I also wonder why if there are such an examples we are not given an opportunity to cure the problem.

I also emailed both Amazon Associates and Amazon media relations seeking comment on this bizarre situation, and asking why we were targeted:

We are a popular conservative politics and law website which has been a participant in Amazon Associates for several years.

On April 28, 2018, we received a notice shutting our account without any advance notice or ability to cure, and most important, without telling us specifically what we did that allegedly violated the Operating Agreement. We have communicated several times (see email chain below) with Amazon Associates, and while they have cited two broad provisions of the Operating Agreement, they refuse to tell us what we did that would be a violation (we deny violating the Operating Agreement).

Given concerns about Amazon and other major internet players shutting down and demonitizing conservative political websites and media properties, and since Amazon will not give us examples of what we allegedly did that violates the Operating Agreement, we find it likely that someone at Amazon determined to shut us down and the citations to broad provisions of the Operating Agreement were just a pretext.

I never heard from Amazon Media Relations, but I did hear from Amazon Associates again, and this time they added a completely new justification for the termination, that we used Amazon links in emails:

As stated in our previous communications, our decision to terminate your Associates account is final. Any further requests to review your account for reinstatement will not receive a response.

Because you are not in compliance with the Operating Agreement, Amazon will not pay you any outstanding fees related to your account. Amazon exercises its right under the terms of the Operating Agreement to withhold fees based on violations, which include the following:

-You are promoting your Special Links by including them in emails to your customers.

-You are incentivizing others to visit the Amazon Site via your Special Links by stating that customers can support you by shopping through your Special Links.

This is the first time during the termination communications that Amazon Associates raised the issue of emails. That was an old issue resolved to Amazon’s satisfaction 5 months ago. We used to include an Amazon link in our Morning Insurrection newsletter. We were contacted by Amazon in early January 2018, and given five days to fix the use of the link in emails, which it claimed violated the Operating Agreement. It’s not clear that that it even is a violation, but it didn’t matter, we complied with Amazon’s request, and they were satisfied. I included the screenshot in my response regarding the termination:

Now you are raising the email issue, but this was addressed with Amazon last January. When it was called to our attention, we removed the link and have not included the link in our newsletter since then, and Amazon acknowledged that:

So why has this issue been raise now 5 months after it was remedied within the timeline required by Amazon?

We also are permitted, under the express terms of the Operating Agreement, to inform readers that we earn a fee (we don’t go even that far, just say they can help us), so you are inventing an Operating Agreement violation that is not in fact a violation of the Operating Agreement.

You say you will not respond further, but someone at Amazon is not applying the Operating Agreement correctly. You should reinstate us.

No further response from Amazon.

Clearly someone wanted us gone. The first and second lists of violations were either things we didn’t do or were not in fact violations of the Operating Agreement. In the last and final communication, Amazon raised an issue which may not even be a violation, but in any event was resolved to Amazon’s satisfaction 5 months ago and never before given as a reason for termination.

None of this passes the smell test.
Timeline and Emails

Here is the timeline and emails:

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