- Amazon said Thursday that it will no longer sell books framing LGBTQ+ identities as mental illnesses.
- The statement came in response to a line of questioning from four Republican senators who asked the company why it removed the 2018 book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” last month.
- The book’s author argued that “When Harry Became Sally” never equates being transgender with having a mental illness, but LGBTQ+ activists have long criticized its text as “dangerous” to trans individuals.
Amazon Removes Anti-LGBTQ+ Book, Prompting Inquiry
Amazon will no longer sell books presenting LGBTQ+ identities as mental illnesses, according to a statement from the company’s Vice President of Public Policy, Brian Huseman.
Last month, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fl.), Mike Lee (Ut.), Mike Braun (In.), and Josh Hawley (Mo.) all wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos requesting to know why the 2018 book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” no longer appeared on the platform.
In a response Thursday, Huseman said, “we reserve the right not to sell certain content.”
“As to your specific question about ‘When Harry Became Sally,’ we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” he added.
As part of their letter, the four GOP senators had asked Amazon, “Is this action part of a broader campaign against conservative material and voices on Amazon’s platforms?”
In his response, Huseman said, “No. We offer customers across the political spectrum a wide variety of content that includes disparate opinions.”
The four also posed a similar question related to Amazon Web Services (AWS), which hosts a variety of religious and political websites. Responding to whether or not AWS would deny service to “content that falls outside the realm of acceptable woke groupthink,” Huseman rejected the idea.
“AWS provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we respect our customers’ right to determine for themselves what content they will allow,” he said, while also noting that AWS is a separate entity from Amazon’s retail side.
The lawmakers’ question about AWS was likely connected to its deplatforming of Parler, an app popular with conservatives, following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. AWS has maintained that it cut ties with Parler because moderators refused to crack down on violent and racist hate speech on the platform.
“When Harry Became Sally” Writer Pushes Back
“When Harry Became Sally” was written by conservative scholar Ryan T. Anderson, and according to the book’s description, it provides “thoughtful answers to questions arising from our transgender moment,” as well as “a balanced approach to public policy on gender identity, and a sober assessment of the human costs of getting human nature wrong.”
However, the description also states, “Everyone has something at stake in the controversies over transgender ideology, when misguided “antidiscrimination” policies allow biological men into women’s restrooms and penalize Americans who hold to the truth about human nature.”
With that description and other passages in mind, LGBTQ+ activists have derided the book as “dangerous and harmful to trans kids.”
“There’s an antiquated and shameful history of equating LGBTQ identity to mental illness,” a GLAAD spokesperson told Entertainment Weekly, “and Amazon’s decision to stop selling books that falsely equate the two is a positive step in ending the misinformation campaign against LGBTQ people, especially trans youth, meant only to cause harm.”
Meanwhile, Anderson and his publisher criticized the removal of the book in their own response to Amazon.
“Everyone agrees that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that causes great suffering,” Anderson and his publisher said. “There is a debate, however, which Amazon is seeking to shut down, about how best to treat patients who experience gender dysphoria.”
The two then accused Amazon of “using its massive power to distort the marketplace of ideas and… deceiving its own customers in the process.”
On Twitter, Anderson wrote, “Please quote the passage where I ‘call them mentally ill.’ You can’t quote that passage because it doesn’t exist.”
Amazon appears to have never read my book, but relied on hit pieces. As I pointed out before: “Please quote the passage where I ‘call them mentally ill.’ You can’t quote that passage because it doesn’t exist.” https://t.co/aN06WrLmxz— Ryan T. Anderson (@RyanTAnd) March 12, 2021
Many trans activists have noted that in his book, Anderson touts Dr. Paul McHugh, who is notoriously anti-trans. In fact, Anderson has even said, “In this book, I argue that Dr. McHugh got it right.”
Among other notable controversial decisions and statements, McHugh has described post-op trans women as “caricatures of women.” He has also said, “The transgendered suffer a disorder of ‘assumption.’” Outside of sexual identity, he has called homosexuality an “erroneous desire.”
“Transgendered men do not become women, nor do transgendered women become men,” McHugh has said. “All… become feminized men or masculinized women, counterfeits or impersonators of the sex with which they ‘identify.’ In that lies their problematic future.”
In 2018, Anderson cited that passage as support for his own beliefs.
“Sadly, just as “sex reassignment” fails to reassign sex biologically, it also fails to bring wholeness socially and psychologically,” Anderson said the same year.
A simple Twitter search of Anderson’s account also yields a 2018 tweet where he says, “Gender dysphoria is a serious mental health issue.”
“By contrast, transgenderism is a belief system that increasingly looks like a cultish religion… being forced on the public by the state,” he added.
See what others are saying: (Entertainment Weekly) (The Hill) (Wall Street Journal)
Instagram Testing New Tools To Verify Users Are Over 18
The new tools include AI software that analyzes video footage of a person’s face to verify their age.
Instagram Cracks Down on Underage Users
Instagram is testing new features in the United States to verify the age of users who claim to be over 18 years old.
According to a statement from Instagram’s parent company, Meta, the tools will only apply to users who seek to change their age from under 18 to over 18. The platform previously asked for users to upload their ID for verification in this process, but on Thursday, it announced there will be two new methods for confirming age.
One of the strategies was referred to as “social vouching.” Using this option, people can request that three mutual Instagram followers over the age of 18 confirm their age on the platform.
The other method allows users to upload a video selfie of themselves to be analyzed by Yoti, third-party age verification software. Yoti then estimates a person’s age based on their facial features, sends that estimate to Meta, and both companies delete the recording.
According to Meta, Yoti cannot recognize or identify a face based on the recording and only looks at the pixels to determine an age. Meta said that Yoti “is the leading age verification provider for several industries around the world,” as it has been used and promoted by social media companies and governmental organizations.
Still, some question how effective it will be for this specific use. According to The Verge, while the software does have a high accuracy rate among certain age groups and demographics, data also shows it is less precise for female faces and faces with darker skin tones.
Issues With Kids on Instagram
Meta argues that it is important for Instagram to be able to discern who is and is not 18, as it impacts what version of the app users have access to.
“We’re testing this so we can make sure teens and adults are in the right experience for their age group,” the company’s statement said.
“When we know if someone is a teen (13-17), we provide them with age-appropriate experiences like defaulting them into private accounts, preventing unwanted contact from adults they don’t know and limiting the options advertisers have to reach them with ads,” it continued.
These changes come as Instagram has been facing increased pressure to address the way its app impacts younger users.
Only children 13 and older are allowed to have Instagram accounts, but the service has faced criticism for not doing enough to enforce this. A 2021 survey of high school students found that nearly half of the respondents had created a social media account of some kind before they were 13.
The company also recently came under fire after The Wall Street Journal published internal Meta documents revealing that the company knew that it harmed teens, including by worsening body image issues for young girls and women.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Wall Street Journal) (Axios)
Elon Musk Threatens to Fire Employees Unless They Work in Person Full-Time
The world’s richest man in the world previously suggested that the popularity of remote work has “tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard.”
“If You Don’t Show up, We Will Assume You Have Resigned”
On Wednesday, Electrek published two leaked emails apparently sent from Elon Musk to Tesla’s executive staff threatening to fire them if they don’t return to work in person.
“Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla,” he wrote. “This is less than we ask of factory workers.”
“If there are particularly exceptional contributors for whom this is impossible, I will review and approve those exceptions directly,” he continued.
Musk then clarified that the “office” must be a main office, not a “remote branch office unrelated to the job duties.”
“There are of course companies that don’t require this, but when was the last time they shipped a great new product? It’s been a while,” he wrote in the second email.
Later on Wednesday, a Twitter user asked Musk to comment on the idea that coming into work is an antiquated concept.
He replied, “They should pretend to work somewhere else.”
The Billionaire Pushes People to Work Harder
Musk has a history of pressuring his employees and criticizing them for not working hard enough.
“All the Covid stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard. Rude awakening inbound,” he tweeted last month.
Three economists told Insider that remote work during the pandemic did not damage productivity.
“Most of the evidence shows that productivity has increased while people stayed at home,” Natacha Postel-Vinay, an economic and financial historian at the London School of Economics, told the outlet.
Musk is notorious for criticizing lockdown mandates and went so far as to call them “fascist” during a Tesla earnings call in April 2020.
Not long before that, Tesla announced that it would keep its Fremont, California plant open in defiance of shelter-in-place orders across the state.
In an interview with The Financial Times last month, Musk blasted American workers for trying to stay home, comparing them to their Chinese counterparts whom he said work harder.
“They won’t just be burning the midnight oil. They will be burning the 3 a.m. oil,” he said. “They won’t even leave the factory type of thing, whereas in America people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”
That same day, Fortune published an article detailing how Tesla workers in Shanghai work 12-hour shifts, six days out of the week, sometimes sleeping on the factory floor.
See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Electrek) (Business Insider)
Apple Raises Worker Pay as Unions Gain Ground
The company’s vice president of people and retail was caught trying to dissuade employees from unionizing in a leaked video.
Labor Squeezes Apple into Submission
Apple announced Wednesday that its U.S. corporate and retail employees will see a pay increase later this year, with starting wages bumped from $20 per hour to $22, though stores in certain regions may get more depending on market conditions.
Starting salaries are also expected to increase.
“Supporting and retaining the best team members in the world enables us to deliver the best, most innovative, products and services for our customers,” an Apple spokesman said in a statement. “This year as part of our annual performance review process, we’re increasing our overall compensation budget.”
Some workers were told their annual reviews would be moved up three months and that their pay increases would take effect in early July, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, they were told the increased compensation budget would be in addition to pay increases and special awards already received within the past year.
Feeling squeezed by low unemployment and high inflation, tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have changed their compensation structures in recent weeks to pay workers more, and Apple is the latest to bend to market pressure.
Unions Gaining Traction
On Wednesday, The Verge received a leaked video of Apple’s vice president of people and retail, Deirdre O’Brien, explicitly dissuading employees from unionizing.
“I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship,” she said. “An organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business. And most importantly one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”
She vocalized more anti-union talking points, like the idea that the company will not be able to make important decisions as quickly with a collective bargaining agreement.
O’Brien has been personally visiting retail stores over the past few weeks in an apparent bid to combat budding union activity.
Apple stores in three locations — New York, Georgia, and Maryland — are currently pushing to unionize, with the latter two set to vote in elections on June 2 and 15, respectively. In response to these efforts, Apple has hired anti-union lawyers, given managers anti-union scripts, and held anti-union captive audience meetings.
In the United States, unionized workers make about 13.2% more than non-unionized workers in the same sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
As of Wednesday, Apple’s shares had fallen 21% since the start of the year, but sales grew 34% last year to almost $300 billion.