YouTuber Joseph Mauricio, who works by Prepper Action, gained 9,560 subscribers by posting videos of himself explaining the laws on carrying knives, modifying handguns, and training with a private militia in California alongside patch-wearing people from the far-right group Three Percenters.
But the top video on his YouTube channel is different: an ad for his affiliate marketing page on Amazon.com.
The voice in the 2020 video says, “Hello, it’s a work briber,” over a photo of a person wearing a skull mask and holding an assault rifle. “And do I have the survival gear for you—in my newly built Amazon storefront.”
Mauricio, who did not respond to questions for this story, has not responded directly to selling any items, nor does he operate a store on Amazon. Instead, his “storefront”, an Amazon marketing program, is a curated selection of links to the products he recommends — for example, the Bowie knife for which he filmed a Gadsden flag-background video review, which he carried Many in the United States last month’s attack on the US Capitol. Every time a customer purchases a product through Prepper Action’s Amazon page, Mauricio earns a small commission.
In this understated corner of Amazon’s vast online retail venture, hardliners, pro-gun agitators and election fraud conspiracy theorists are squashing their beliefs.
A review by the Seattle Times found that Amazon agreed to participate in its affiliate marketing programs, a follower of “Boogaloo Bois”, who advocates the overthrow of the US government; supporter of the obsessive cult-like movement QAnon; Forum for fans of assault rifles whose users have harassed and harassed anti-gun advocates; More than a dozen other similar websites promote far-right conspiracy theories.
There is no publicly available database of Amazon affiliate marketers, and a company spokesperson declined to release details about the scope of its affiliate marketing programs, making it difficult to know how many far-right groups are making money on Amazon.
Several figures identified by The Times have been sanctioned through social media platforms. YouTube has banned users who promote the sale of guns from earning dollars from ads. After the January 6 US Capitol Rebellion, Facebook and Twitter took action against some of those same websites for promoting election fraud conspiracy theories.
Facebook has repeatedly flagged Mauricio’s posts as containing false or partially false information, including one in which a California resident repeated a false claim linked to QAnon, suggesting that top Democrats are pedophiles. Mauricio deleted his Twitter account last month in protest of the “censorship”.
After the Capitol riots, Amazon also moved against some supporters and dealers of right-wing ideologies on its platform. Amazon Web Services (AWS) booted Parler from its cloud computing servers after social network users participated in the Capitol riots, saying Parler lacked an effective strategy to moderate posts advocating violence. Amazon has banned the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters from raising money through its Amazon Smile nonprofit program. Amazon began removing QAnon-related products from its online mall last month after some in the US Capitol crowd were seen wearing the QAnon badge.
Amazon’s operating guidelines prohibit content creators from being affiliate marketers if they post content that is hateful, discriminatory, obscene, incitement to violence, or calls for illegal activities.
“We are investing significant time and resources to ensure our operating agreement guidelines are followed, and to remove helpers who violate our guidelines,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement, adding that Amazon “does not endorse the content or opinions” of its affiliate marketers.
Amazon has not ended its partnerships with any of the sites identified by the Seattle Times as of Friday, three weeks after The Times alerted Amazon of its existence, raising questions about how the company decides which of its partners to punish.
“if [Amazon is] They’re going to kick Parler out of AWS, how do they justify getting all these other threat actors to monetize via these webstores? Danny Rogers, co-founder of the Global Disinformation Index, which tracks the financing of conservative hate groups.
He said Amazon had previously been reluctant to cut ties with right-wing conspiracy theorists.
Because other platforms have blocked ads [from appearing] On Breitbart’s website, Amazon did not. Since other platforms have stopped promoting Alex Jones and Invoices, Amazon has not.
Amazon launched an affiliate marketing program called Amazon Associates, shortly after the company was founded in 1995.
Assistants receive customized links to products that they can place on their websites or embed in social media posts. This practice is widespread: anyone who has purchased something from Amazon on the recommendation of sites like Wirecutter and This Is Why I Broke has likely clicked on an affiliate link.
Under “Guns and Gear Deals” on the AR15.com Assault Rifle Forum, for example, there is an affiliate link for a rifle sight sold by Amazon. Each time a customer purchases the rifle sight after clicking on the link, AR15.com earns a small commission—between 1% to 10% of the purchase price, depending on the product category, according to Amazon’s commission schedule.
In the meantime, Amazon earns twice that amount. The company keeps an average of 30% of every sale on its platform, according to the Local Self-Reliance Institute.
AR15.com’s registrar, GoDaddy, terminated his contract on January 11, saying AR15.com “promotes and encourages violence.” AR15.com has since transferred its domain name to Sammamish-based hosting service Epik, which also partners with far-right websites Parler and Gab. Amazon declined to comment on its partnership with AR15.com.
Sometime in the early 2000s, affiliate links drove roughly 10% of traffic to Amazon.com, according to an early AWS employee who helped build cloud computing tools for Associates.
“These guys were famous – they were able to attract followers and readers and turn that into income by planting affiliate links,” said Neil Shaffer, Marketing Consultant.
Now, Schaeffer said, though, affiliate marketing is “not nearly as relevant as it was a decade ago.” This is, in part, because by the late 2010s a lot of blogging had moved to Instagram, allowing users to post only one working link, in their bio section.
Enter the Amazon Influencer. Launched in 2017 with a selection of products curated by online personalities like The Deal Guy’s Matt Granite, whose YouTube channel has more than 1 million subscribers, Influencers group merchandise they recommend on Amazon.com and one dedicated page called Storefront. Most importantly for Instagram, the storefronts can be accessed via a single link.
The company only tells people with a “meaningful following on social media” to be an influencer on Amazon. An Amazon spokesperson declined to specify the minimum number of followers required to become an Amazon leader, how influencer apps are reviewed or how many people are responsible for vetting influencers on social media.
For most people, Amazon storefronts provide only a modest income stream, according to three influencers with between 8,500 and 111,000 followers on social media who said they earn less than $50 per month via affiliate links.
Schafer said Amazon affiliate marketing is potentially a side hustle for even the most successful social media personalities. Anyone who does well with affiliate links, he said, “will likely make more money from banner ads and sponsored content.”
Many far-right vloggers with Amazon storefronts are also sponsored by brands like Sportsman, Cabela’s, Blackout Coffee and Olight Gun Lights, and their channel reviews show.
Rogers said whether affiliate marketing is profitable for those who do it, it shouldn’t necessarily take into account Amazon’s decisions about how much to investigate with its partners.
“Amazon’s policy response shouldn’t be correlated with how well these storefronts work,” he said. “If there is not much money, why hesitate to take more decisive action?”
Ilana said that the intangible value of an Amazon storefront, in terms of the prestige it immediately gives to social media personalities seen as being associated with one of the largest and most trusted brands in the country, could be more important than the cash earnings of a storefront. Pruitt, who runs a vegan lifestyle Instagram page with nearly 8,900 followers.
Owning an Amazon storefront, she said, “adds to my personal brand credibility.” “There’s a place I can direct people to… Tell people where to find nut milk.”
However, not everyone with an Amazon storefront has such a soothing presence on social media.
YouTuber Liberty Doll, a South Carolina-based gun rights advocate with over 200,000 subscribers, links to her Amazon storefront at the bottom of each video. Until recently, shoppers could find a list of camping supplies titled “Prepping/Boog Gear,” a reference to the violent anti-government movement predicting an upcoming “boogaloo,” or race war.
Liberty Doll did not respond to requests for comment. After the Seattle Times notified Amazon of its intent to publish this story, boogaloo mentions disappeared from the Liberty Doll storefront.
Shoppers who visit the Amazon storefront at The Gun Collective—which has more than 275,000 subscribers to its YouTube channel, where the most popular video is about the legalities of evading assault weapons regulations—can find knives, pistol-themed kitchenware and Hillary toilet paper. Clinton.
Days after supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to stop the endorsement of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election, Liberty Doll and The Gun Collective filmed separate clips with another YouTube user, Jared Yannis, who said he was. In the mob in the Capitol. In those clips, Yannis repeated false claims that the elections were rigged and that anti-anarchy activists were responsible for the chaos in Washington, D.C.
Yannis later told reporters that he did not breach the building and did not condone the actions of those who did, though he re-posted a Facebook post saying that the US Capitol Police should “do themselves a favor and go home.”
Yannis, a Shirley, Massachusetts police officer, who amassed 516,000 followers on his Guns & Gadgets YouTube channel, had an Amazon Influencer storefront at one point. The storefront was inactive as of mid-January. Yannis and The Gun Collective did not respond to questions.
Other platforms have shut down or restricted many of the hardcore poachers and conspiracy theorists the Seattle Times has linked to Amazon Influencer storefronts and Amazon Associates brands.
On its Squarespace-hosted website, Liberty Doll was until recently selling coffee mugs that read “Liberty Doll Boogaloo Co.” Squarespace informed her on January 19 that her terms of service prevented her from selling merchandise related to the bogaloo.
Supported YouTubers, Prepper Ralph and John Rourke said they face penalties from the video platform, but maintain their Amazon storefronts. A Dutch Trump supporter whose Twitter account was suspended still owns an Amazon storefront with a section for “QAnon products.”
California conspiracy theorist Mark Dyce’s false allegations of election fraud have led YouTube and Facebook to hide their pages behind warnings about the content. In a mid-January video challenging the results of the presidential election broadcast to 1.65 million subscribers on YouTube, Dice compared the Capitol riots to last summer’s protests over police brutality and racial inequality.
“By BLM standards, what it calls a protest will be ‘mostly peaceful,’” he quipped. “Really the most peaceful we’ve seen in the last year.” Below the video are links to Amazon listings for “Hollywood Propaganda,” “The True Story of Fake News,” and “The Liberal Media Industrial Complex,” plus a link to his Amazon storefront.
Dice said on Friday “I even forgot I was [an Amazon storefront] until I mentioned it.” He provided a screenshot showing that he had earned $44.95 from Amazon affiliate links so far this month. He then accused the Seattle Times of “trying tirelessly to undermine the principles of free speech.”