The craziness quotient on the Internet, and on book review sites in particular, is getting out of hand.
Back in early 2006 I discovered a popular blog written by a literary agent, and for almost half a year I was addicted to its mix of snark, practical advice, humour and cameraderie. It wasn't long, however, before I discovered a disquieting underside to the blog. I'd never heard of cyberbullying then, but it was there that I first saw the phenomenon at work.
Some of the fans on the site were rabid in their attacks on anyone who challenged or dared to disagree with anything their idol, the literary agent, wrote. In her defence, the agent handled herself admirably even under dire provocation, and the time or two that she snapped it was both entertaining and understandable. It was some of her hardcore followers who were the problem.
The agent seemed particularly antagonistic to vanity presses and at one point she called for what amounted to a cyber attack against those she listed as the worst offenders. I think she herself must have been taken aback by what ensued: her loyal hordes ran off baying to do her bidding and bombard search engines with targeted blog posts and comments about the companies and personnel, linking back, I assume (I'm not too clear on the actual mechanics of cyber warfare), to the websites under scrutiny.
If the exercise was meant to be an experiment in social engineering, it was successful beyond belief. Soon, the gleeful reports from the faithful started coming in: the articles, with their guided accusations, allegations and agreed-upon subject headings, soared to the top of the search rankings with an efficiency that had to be seen to be believed as page after page of the items posted by the bloggers pushed the normal results for the targeted presses further and further down the search rankings.
I was horrified. The agent had said that these presses preyed on clueless aspiring authors, but I wondered how much research her followers actually did for themselves before going on the attack. It seemed to me that they took the agent's evaluation of these companies and individuals at face value and ran with that. The
entities may or may not have deserved the take-down, but that was not the main issue. What I found profoundly disturbing was that a mob blindly followed the instructions of someone they revered to inflict harm on other people without a second thought. History is soaked with the blood of those who were victims of blind obeisance such as this.
Fast forward to 2012 and the problem of cyberbullying on book review sites and blogs. A year or so ago a self-published writer made the rookie mistake of publicly taking a blog reviewer to task for a less than stellar review. News of the ensuing kerfuffle whizzed around the Internet and the writer was roundly castigated by hundreds of commenters on the blog. The frenzy snowballed as she kept popping up in the comment trail practically begging for more abuse, even descending to the use of profane language at times.
That writer learned a hard lesson (at least, one hopes she did) about taking reviewers to task for their opinions of her work. Did it stop there? No. The truly disturbing part is what came after: many of those commenters sought out her book on Amazon and bombarded it with egregious, one-star reviews. The book may or may not have merited the reviews, but many of the reviewers never read it, and said as much. It was nothing short of a lynching, a gang-bang, a malicious and hysterical attack by a mob bent on destroying a writer because of her error in judgement on a blog.
I've since learned that the reviewer gang-bang has become common on Amazon, Goodreads and other book sites. There are authors who live in terror of being targeted, and there are authors who have been targeted in the manner described, whose personal lives have been mined and disrupted, and who have been victims of death wishes, and even death threats.
There are readers and reviewers who do and say stupid things. There are authors who do the same. While I support readers' rights to find a book - any book - not to their taste and rate it however they desire, forming gangs to 'take down' authors against whom they hold some grudge, or even random authors, is despicable and cowardly.
There's another side to this. There are authors who don't play fair on the review sites and whose manipulation of the ratings may be contributing to the hostility of many readers/reviewers. In Part 2 we'll take a look at some of the abuses being perpetrated by authors.
I have a brand new Facebook page! All 'likes' appreciated. :) —Liane Spicer