If you haven't been following, there's been a tiny controversy surrounding Amazon and the sale of an e-book called "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure." Essentially, people were (predictably) kind of unhappy when this book was uploaded to Amazon, and complained to Amazon. However, rather than taking the seemingly obvious step of just deleting said title from their library, Amazon responded to a few user emails:
"Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable."
A few communities and groups continued to FTFO, and amid the shitstorm, Amazon backed down and removed the title from their library.
So basically. I read this article, and started smiling gleefully. Clearly, I don't support pedophilia or anything, but there is one thing I do support: the rights to free speech, and the idea that individuals and groups of different opinions should be able to express those opinions and viewpoints, and pass on information, in the standard channels we've developed for passing along information. In this particular case, Amazon probably made the right decision (though I'm unqualified to say, it hasn't even been clear to me what the book contained exactly), but, the fact that they weren't quick to toss the book out shows a larger willingness by Amazon to take their civic responsibility of being a hub of information seriously. Considering this line between what is illegal or completely immoral, as opposed to what is simply free speech and representing differing points of view is an important action to undertake for Amazon. I don't think they'll get the decision right every time, but the fact that they're being thoughtful about this process is a good first step.
What's weird about the whole thing is that while twenty years ago, we were celebrating the internet as being distinct, loosely connected hubs of information, we've sort of ended up right where we started. The utopian view was replaced by hubs like Google, Amazon, and the Apple iTunes/app store, that chronicled and controlled the discoverability of this information. But I think the original image of the Internet has created new expectations about these distribution points for information - biased or incomplete information is simply harder for us to tolerate culturally. So, for the first time, we're seeing organizations having to ask questions about what their responsibilities are to people vastly different than they are.