Amazon on Sunday removed from its marketplace holiday ornaments, a bottle opener and other products displaying images of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz after the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland shared images of the products on social media, prompting widespread outrage.
In a tweet early Sunday morning, the memorial said the ornaments were inappropriate and called the bottle opener “rather disturbing and disrespectful.”
Within hours, the post was shared thousands of times, prompting angry replies and questions about how Amazon vets the products sold through its platforms. At 1:30 p.m., the memorial said in another post that Amazon appeared to have removed the ornaments. By Sunday night, none of the products appeared to be available for purchase.
An Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement that the products had been removed and that “all sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action, including potential removal of their account.”
It was not immediately clear how long the merchandise was advertised on the online retail platform. Amazon declined to answer further questions.
According to Amazon’s policy on offensive and controversial materials, products “related to human tragedies” are prohibited. The company decides which products are appropriate by considering a “global community of customers and cultural differences and sensitivities.” The policy does not apply to books, music, videos or DVDs.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
“It is hard to fathom why anyone would want to hang a Christmas ornament adorned with images of a concentration camp,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League. “These ornaments are deeply offensive by any measure. We’re relieved that Amazon has removed these items from sale.”
The online retail giant has been accused of poorly policing its platforms before.
In July 2018, two nonprofit groups reported that shoppers could buy onesies for babies stamped with alt-right images, Nazi-themed action figures and anti-Semitic books and music. The groups accused Amazon’s policies banning hateful or offensive merchandise of being “weak and inadequately enforced,” allowing hate groups to “generate revenue, propagate their ideas and grow their movements.”
Weeks later, under pressure from lawmakers, Amazon said it would not let third-party retailers sell products that feature Nazi and white nationalist symbolism on its platform.
Chris McCabe, a former Amazon employee and founder of ecommerceChris, a firm that consults with marketplace sellers, said repeat issues with offensive content partly reflected Amazon’s “reactive” approach to enforcing its policies.
Mr. McCabe said that algorithms trawl the website, looking for items that might violate Amazon policies. Items identified by the algorithm are then typically reviewed by humans who determine whether they should be removed.
The sheer volume of items being sold on Amazon through third-party sellers makes it challenging to identify and remove all offensive items before they are found by the public, Mr. McCabe said. The volume, he added, also makes it impossible for humans to review all items before they are posted. More than half of the products sold on Amazon.com are from third-party sellers.
Mr. McCabe said that the shopping spike during Black Friday and Cyber Monday — the busiest shopping times of the year — would probably stretch Amazon’s enforcement capabilities even further.
“I have no doubt that these weren’t flagged,” he said. “I don’t think it is, for example, a technical error. I think they were flagged. They just weren’t reviewed in a timely manner.”
But he also said the episode on Sunday showed that Amazon could be doing a better job of policing products on its website, such as better prioritizing what was reviewed first.
“We’re hopeful that additional resources, both on the investigation side and in terms of their online tools on the technical side, will result in a reduced likelihood that offensive material will appear in the future,” he said. Removing all offensive items, though, “would be very difficult,” he added.
The memorial, based in Oswiecim, Poland, preserves the site of the former German Nazi Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, the largest of the death camps, where about 1.3 million people were deported. The camp encompasses 500 acres, 155 buildings and 300 ruins.
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