Over the last two days, I have covered a number of issues with the book, “To Siri With Love” and Judith Newman its New York based author. There are a number of concerns with the book, which mostly deals with her son Gus Newman and which are set out elsewhere, in my first article as well as by third party authors ,  and . Now it has been revealed that Newman has enlisted her friends in writing positive reviews and reporting negative ones to have them deleted, apparently contrary to Amazon rules.
After the controversy erupted, a whistleblower approached a disability rights website, “International Badass Activists” with alleged screenshots of discussions (archive) between Newman and her friends.
In the discussion, Newman seems to engage in getting her friends to write reviews and asking them to report adverse reviews.
It seems that to some extent her concerns are legitimate. As a customer I expect reviewers to have read the book and it is reasonable and proportionate that Amazon restrict reviews to purchasers. Whilst that will exclude some people who might have read the book elsewhere, it will certainly exclude abusive reviews by people who have not even read the book.
I decided to see if I could verify the comments. One thing that concerned me was this screenshot. A person called Dean Parker claimed that they were a clinical psychologist and had used that title in representations to Amazon. I decided to see if the allegations were true.
Tracing Dr Parker did not take long. He is a New York State licensed psychologist, number 008022. (confirmed here). I asked him if the statement was accurate. He responded (amongst other things), “[…] She gave permission for my commentary on the page […]”. So the context appears to be correct.
At no time during our correspondence did he deny that the screenshot was real, although he did at one point threaten that he has no less than two licensed attorneys he is related to willing to sue me. The reason I was concerned though, was the content of the book he was endorsing and the appropriateness of a licensed professional doing so.
The book has been criticised because of its profound intrusiveness and exploitative content. The book details a number of deeply personal issues from her son’s life from his potty training to a great deal of explicitly sexual material. Disturbingly Newman talks of her sons repetitive play with wooden escalators and compares it to her re-reading of the novel “Lolita”, a story of paedophile obsession and abuse.
Newman talks about one son’s fears he had a disorder of the penis, discussing his penis and foreskin in detail. She goes on to talk about the pornography Gus likes as well as the pornography her other son was looking at when he was 7 years old. Finally she discusses the issue of obtaining medical power of attorney over Gus and having him sterilised. The leaked conversations show that she admitted she did not have proper informed consent.
As a result, as my previous article set out, numerous activists and reviewers (after non-purchasers have weeded it out) have described the book as emotionally abusive and exploitative. Activists have organised a #BoycottToSiri tag on Twitter.
Many people might feel uncomfortable about a “Clinical Psychologist” who is willing to help promote a book with this content. Indeed, Parker describes it as a, “wonderful take on raising an autistic child”. Those who disagree might not feel comfortable about themselves or a loved one being his patient. Ever.
More importantly, Amazon has strict rules about review manipulation. Removing reviews by non-purchasers seems legitimate but organising mass reporting (at least one person reported every single adverse review) and getting a Facebook group of your friends to post positive reviews seems a little extreme.
It seems only fair to let Amazon know. They have policies that might apply, specifically the, “Anti-Manipulation Policy for Customer Reviews” and “Offensive Products” rules. If they are unhappy with the situation they can delist the product, effectively taking it off sale. The Offensive Products page appears only to be guidelines, but some people might want to talk about the book’s demeaning content and also its apparent intrusiveness as there are categories for “hate speech” and also material recorded without consent.
Readers may want to send polite complaints to Amazon. The product is listed here. Polite courteous emails can be sent to the CEO of Amazon, firstname.lastname@example.org as well as to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
An effective email will need to identify the product, explain the problem and ask for a resolution. Calling Amazon or its staff names will not help. Politeness and volume of emails will. Something like this template might help.
To – email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Subject – Product Concern
I am writing to express concern about a product listed. I believe that there may have been breaches of the review manipulation rules and it may be an offensive product and therefore prohibited. The product listing is here – https://www.amazon.com/Siri-Love-Autistic-Kindness-Machines/dp/0062413627/
The book demeans the author’s disabled son (and indeed is intrusive regarding her non-disabled son). Here are four articles expressing concern from 4 separate publishers and authors –
In addition, the author’s Facebook conversations have been leaked showing she asked a group containing over 100 people to report adverse reviews for the purpose of having them removed, and asking friends to write positive reviews. This may breach the rules on review manipulation. The articles are here –
Can you please investigate this and consider imposing sanctions such as removing this deeply distressing and demeaning book from sale on your platform?
Together, perhaps we can make a difference.