Reviewers behaving badly

Anne Rice

Cyberbullying is as old as the Internet, and it has found
fresh ground at book review places like Goodreads and Amazon.

Most authors expect bad reviews to come when they publish a book, but
when Sharon Bakar put up Readings 2: New Writing from Malaysia,
Singapore and Beyond on Amazon in 2013, she was dismayed to find a
slew of one-star reviews written by people who have not bought the

In a fascinating piece of detective work, Sharon tracked down some of
the "reviewers" (whom she called "gun for hires) and even talked to
some of them.

Said Sharon in the blog post detailing her cyberbullying adventure: "I
am angry at Amazon which does not seem to be supporting the authors
and publishers who use its services. The use of fake reviews is so
widespread that the whole system is rotten. I knew about fake 5-star
reviews, but I had no idea that 1-star reviews could also be bought,"
she wrote.

So, when an online petition requesting that protect indie
publishing authors from bullying and harassment was recently put up,
Sharon was quick to share it with her followers.

This petition, which has gained 7000 over signatures since its launch
in March, exhorts Amazon to remove anonymous reviews and only allow
those with verified purchases to leave a review. Even author Anne Rice
has signed the petition, saying that the "anti-author" bullies that
lurk in Amazon are "gratuitously destructive."

"I hope Amazon and other book websites do eventually clean them out,"
she told the British newspaper Guardian. "They certainly don't serve
the true book buyers and readers of this world."

The popular Kindleboards' forum for indie writers, Writer's Café, was
predictably ablaze with activity over the issue. But a number of the
indie writers who participated in the heated discussions did not agree
with the petition's terms.

"Removing anonymity wouldn't change anything, except to frighten some
people away from sharing any opinions at all, including good ones,"
wrote writer Libbie Hawker.

Popular author and blogger JA Konrath isn't supportive either, saying
that "Mean Anonymous
People on the Internet" will always be there and are hard to stamp out.

"If Amazon listens to the petitioners and tries to take steps to
remove anonymity, they will no doubt also remove many heartfelt,
positive posters along with the mean ones. And the mean ones will find
a way to comment anyway. They always do," he said. The best solution?
Ignore them.

But author Brian D. Aunderson believes that indie writers, especially
those who are just starting out, are particularly vulnerable to the
activities of these online bullies.

"We are completely dependent upon word of mouth and reviews to gain
notoriety and we should not be subject to someone with an axe to
grind. I have a troll right now (I think I know who it is) who is
watching my latest release. Every time I get a good review, within 48
hours it gets a "no" click. For me it's not that big of a deal being
that I have a wonderful fan-base and it doesn't impact sales, but for
someone who is just starting out it can be devastating," he said at
Writer's Café.

In many ways, I'm with Konrath. Policing the Internet is like holding
water with your bare hands. Eventually, most of it will escape. Also,
an individual should be given the right to protect their privacy. And
although only allowing those who have made verified purchases seem
like a logical step to take, this will only diminish the number of
reviews on Amazon.

I don't always buy my books from Amazon, after all. Sometimes I buy
them at physical bookstores. At times I even get books from this place
called a library. And, eager to share my discovery with the world,
what better place to do it than on Amazon which gives me access to
people around the world? Why should I be prevented from doing so
because I am not Amazon's "verified customer"?

Amazon has become the go-to site for many to decide on a purchase,
whether you get the product from Amazon or not. I can't see how
Amazon, a corporation with profit in its mind, would deliberately put
a block on its thriving reviewing culture.

Yet, I also agree that writers should not be subjected to experiences
like Bakar's or Anderson's. But telling Amazon how to run its business
is not the way to do it.

I admit: There are no easy solutions. I think writers should band
together and help one other. (Note: Telling a writer to "suck it up"
when hit by a torrent of fake one-star reviews isn't what I call
helping.) Yet, authors are understandably afraid of sticking up for
one another. Hugh Howey, the successful indie author of the Wool
series said in a blog post: "This is the dark slice of what is
otherwise an amazing ability to connect with readers, 99% of whom are
positive, supportive, and wonderful. But it's that other 1% that you
live in terror of. And you know that if you say anything, if you stick
up for a friend, that you're next."

Perhaps the only effective way is through education: Readers should be
made aware of the unsavory practice of buying fake reviews (five stars
or one star ones).

I suppose I can leave this one reassurance: As a reader, one-star
reviews do not always convince me to ditch a book. I often carefully
analyse both high and low-rated reviews to make up my mind.

I think readers are a really smart bunch. So, writers: trust them.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own


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