On Mar. 1, 2019, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff of California sent an open letter to Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, expressing concern about videos and books offered and marketed by Amazon that he believes provide either “misinformation” or “misleading information” about vaccines and vaccination. He said, “I am writing out of my concern that Amazon is surfacing and recommending products and content that discourage parents from vaccinating their children, a direct threat to public health, and reversing progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.”1
Rep. Schiff’s letter to Bezos contained the suggestion that Amazon may be at least partly responsible for parents not vaccinating their children because of the kind of books and other information that Amazon is making available for purchase or for free:
There is strong evidence to suggest that at least part of the source of this trend [in “vaccine hesitancy”] is the degree to which medically inaccurate information about vaccines surface on the websites where many Americans get their information, among them Amazon. As the largest online marketplace in the world, Amazon is in a unique position to shape consumption.1
While Rep. Schiff did not ask Bezos to remove any specific products from Amazon offerings, he did ask Bezos to “consider” what “steps you can take to address this growing problem.” Later that day several documentaries thought to be “anti-vaccine” were removed from Amazon Prime Video’s free streaming service, including “The Greater Good,” a film produced in 2011 by Leslie Manookian.1 2 3
The movie’s website summarizes the film as, “an award winning character-driven documentary that explores the cultural intersections where parenting meets modern medicine and individual rights collide with politics. The film offers parents, doctors and policy makers a safe space to speak openly, actively listen and learn from one another. Mixing verité footage, intimate interviews, 1950s-era government-produced movies and up-to-date TV news reporting, THE GREATER GOOD weaves together the stories of families whose lives have been forever changed by vaccination.”2
In its review of the movie, The Wall Street Journal wrote: A new documentary about childhood immunizations, THE GREATER GOOD could intensify debate around the potential dangers of vaccines.” The Los Angeles Times wrote: “Deftly examined… provocative… film is an effective eye opener.”2
“What’s being said is staggering, especially if you don’t know too much about the science of, and politics behind, vaccines,” wrote LA Weekly. A review by Pegasus News read: “THE GREATER GOOD is a fascinating exploration of how vaccines are produced and regulated.”2
In an article yesterday about the move by Amazon and other social media platforms like Facebook and Google to remove or restrict content in response to similar letters from Rep. Schiff, CBS News asked the question, “[W]here is the line between protecting a community and censoring it?”4
Leslie Manookian, producer of “The Greater Good,” responded,“We’re slipping ever closer to tyranny and these tech companies are the ones who are really driving the bus. We have not heard a word from Amazon, we’ve never heard a word from Facebook, never heard a word from YouTube, never heard a word from Google or any of these giant tech companies who are systematically censoring us.”4
The CBS News article noted, “Despite contacting tech companies about it, Rep. Schiff said he does not think it’s the government’s role to tell companies they can’t publish certain content.” Rep. Schiff was quoted as saying, “There is a First Amendment right to say whatever you will.”4
CBS News reporter Tony Dokoupil followed up by asking Schiff the question, “But then why try to discourage tech companies from offering this free speech?”4
1 Press release. Schiff Sends Letter to Amazon CEO Regarding Anti-Vaccine Misinformation. Congressman Adam Schiff Mar. 1, 2019.
2 The Greater Good Movie. GreaterGoodMovie.org.
3 Donvan C. Amazon Removed Anti-Vax Documentaries From Prime Video. BuzzFeed News Mar. 1, 2019.
4 CBS News. Tech’s fight against anti-vaccine content prompts free speech debate. CBS This Morning Mar. 20, 2019.
5 Manookian L. Vaccination, healthcare rights, and politics explored in “The Greater Good”. Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine.
6 Leslie Manookian. Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine.