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To Review or Not Review

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I hadn’t been aware of this until recently, but, apparently, there is a problem with ‘review bullying’ on places like Amazon and Goodreads whereby authors and fellow reviewers suffer at the hands of angry people and trolls who use the review section as their bully pulpits. The most recent and egregious example would be a young romance author that received multiple one star reviews before her book was even out with people heaping on the abuse, including rape and death threats. And, when this story went public, a lot of people rallied around her, but there were still a bunch of people who continued to heap on the abuse in reaction to her supporters. As of now, this author has declined to publish her book…ever.

Now, there are two groups rallying around authors to try and stop this kind of behavior: Horror Writers Association and a Change.org petition signed by many high-profile authors. The two groups, however, are taking radically different approaches to the solution of this problem.

HWA has proposed, in an open letter to Bezos at Amazon, that they update their policies in regards to flagging and removing reviews that

  • indicates the customer has not read the book, but only a small portion of it, such as a free electronic sample;
  • includes spoilers which, once revealed, could significantly reduce interest in the work;
  • includes negative personal remarks about the author; and/or
  • is focused on the work’s price rather than its content.

The petition, on the other hand, is calling for an end to anonymity in Amazon reviews, allowing only people who had verified their identity to be allowed to post reviews. They feel this will remove the mask of anonymity that most trolls thrive behind and lead to more honest reviews.

After reading the evidence and the various commentaries, I have to say that I think HWA is headed in the right direction, and the petition is entirely wrong. The anonymity of the internet not only allows more freedom of expression (sometimes for the worse) it also protects users. I choose, on forums like Reddit, to use my real name as I also promote my writing on that site and it would be easy enough to figure out who I was anyway. But there are people who have difficult personal histories who may not want someone to stumble across their review of a book or product and then be able to find them. The petition is reactionary and not entirely thought out. By trying to stem the trolls in this manner, they are also punishing people who do not feel safe in having their identities hanging out there for all to see.

Thankfully, at this point, I have not suffered any of the kinds of abuses other authors have, but I know in due time I will receive those scathing and vitriolic comments and reviews. I hope when this happens, Amazon and Goodreads will have updated their policies to better enforce a community which protects the content creators from the angry people who are only there to make trouble and try and tear other people down.