Friday, September 21, 2012

Cyberbullying & the ugly side of book reviews - Part 2

In Part 1 of this article I described my first experience of the cyber-bullying phenomenon and the development of a specialized form of cyber-bullying, the reviewer gang-bang. In Part 2 I will explore some of the abuses experienced by authors with whom I am acquainted, as well as author practices that help to exacerbate the growing hostility between some readers/reviewers and authors.
  • There are readers/reviewers who write 'reviews' of books they have obviously not read. The one-star review with the succinct "This book is trash" comment is typical of this group. These 'reviewers' tend to hide behind nicknames and profiles set to 'private'. Some of them post dozens, in one case, hundreds of reviews like this overnight, targeting specific authors. In the latter case, the reviews were taken down by the host, only to be reposted again and again by the 'reviewer'.
  • Some make personal attacks on authors, publicly or via inbox messages and e-mail, referencing their private lives, their jobs and family members. These are the "I know where your children go to school" posse. (I'm not kidding.)
  • Some of them are so persistent and well-known they have acquired nicknames among authors.
  • Some attack on behalf of authors they like, attempting to reduce the appeal of authors they perceive as competitors.
  • Some are out and out psychos, just tearing into certain authors for imagined transgressions. I was sceptical about the existence of this group but judging from some first-hand accounts, the crazies do exist and are not figments of authors' outsized imaginations.
No author deserves this kind of attention, and those who have experienced it are understandably upset. Authors, however, are not entirely blameless as a group. Some engage in practices that anger readers/reviewers and must shoulder at least some of the blame for the growing hostility toward them.

How do authors upset readers/reviewers? We're not referring here to the gang-banging reviewers who decide, for example, that they hate romance novels, think romance novelists deserve to die, and randomly trash books by these authors, but  ordinary folk who use the reviews to help them make informed buying choices. These people are just a tad upset by the rampant manipulation of the review tool by authors and the people they induce to help them accomplish this. 

I was a reader long before I was a published author, and the manipulation of reviews by authors and their enablers is a pet peeve of mine. I have become adept at spotting reviews that are less than genuine. Many users of review sites are. I know readers who no longer read reviews because they are so disgusted with it all. I'm tempted to join their ranks.

I'm not trying to commit some form of authorial hara-kiri here. I'm writing about this because the practice angers readers and some readers are not content to grumble; they fight back, and boy, do they fight dirty. I know one author who caused a fire-storm on account of his false reviews, dirty spamming tricks and outright lies about his books. The readers, reviewers, bloggers and discussion groups hit back so hard the author had to take down his books from the online stores and delete his websites.

There are many who believe the state of affairs regarding book reviews and cyber-bullying has gone too far and the sites need to be nuked and started over from scratch. Less extreme methods just might help to control the worst of the ugliness:
  • The depredations of gang-banging reviewers and certified psychos can be curtailed if review site owners create and enforce strict terms of service and terms of use
  • Authors can reduce the hostility all around by exercising restraint and ignoring negative feedback, as well as ceasing to manipulate their ratings by underhanded means.
I'm not holding my breath either way.

Liane Spicer


Charles Gramlich said...

I doubt we'll ever be able to take the 'personal' kind of stuff out of reviewing. if it weren't for that, very few reviews would be made anyway. It's hard for me to imagine having the "time," much less the inclination to systematically trash a whole genre, like romance, or to attack so and so's books because they are in competition with 'my favorite writer.' Get a life, you wanna say to such folks. But I guess that's the issue anyway.

Eugenia O'Neal said...

Mark Twain once said that anybody who likes cats is alright with him (I'm paraphrasing) and I used to vaguely think that about readers (and writers) but the more I'm involved with writing and publishing, the more I realize that just because a person loves books doesn't necessarily mean they're nice (or even well-hinged).

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

There was a big fuss in the UK a while back about a crime writer who was caught out writing fabulous reviews for his work, while slamming the books of his peers. I wrote a hilarious post (sorry, my view only) called Glowing Reviews if anyone is interested. I just couldn't believe a well-known writer could stoop so low. His argument was: Everyone does it.
Somehow I think not!

Liane Spicer said...

Charles, yes, it's hard for normal people to understand that kind of malice. Some people definitely need to get a life.

Liane Spicer said...

Eugenia, thank goodness the unhinged, un-nice ones are in the minority - at least in my experience. 99% of the writers and readers I've met online are terrific people, which is why I'm all the more shocked when I hear of the kind of behaviour I discussed in the post.

Liane Spicer said...

Hi Kat! I read about that UK writer and was horrified - especially by his admission that he wrote horrible reviews of his competitor's books. And he had the gall to say everyone does it? What a lowlife.

Off to check your blog now...