Author Fascism

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I didn’t pay much attention when Ann Rice went off on a high profile rant about anonymous reviewers. That’s been done, and I’m kind of tired of it.

But Rice gets big press and the Change.org petition she signed suddenly became high profile.

The gist of it is this: Authors get hurt by people who post reviews that are mean, personal, not about the book, threatening, and/or vile.

The solution requested by the signatories is that Amazon require reviewers to post under their real names. And now there are authors who are continuing the campaign.

Part of me wants to go off on a rant about this, and maybe that will be another post. But actually, this is a serious matter.

I am appalled that authors would suggest this is an appropriate solution.

Here’s the Rant after all

We cannot carve out spaces that look like this:

Novel writing space: Write whatever you want, however distasteful to some sensibilities. Pen names OK! Registration of copyright under a corporation OK!

Review writing space: [Rules defined by authors.] Must review under your real name.

Let’s try an experiment.

Jane Doe has a full time job teaching 4th grade. She also writes erotic novels in her spare time. She writes under a pen name because she feels it’s important for her day job and her writing to stay separate. She might lose her job, otherwise. Her students might Google her, find out what she writes, see covers inappropriate for their age, and perhaps even find an excerpt, and that would not be good. At all. For any reason.

Jane Doe has a full time job teaching 4th grade. She also reads and reviews erotic novels in her spare time. She posts her reviews under a pen name because she feels it’s important for her day job and her writing to stay separate. She might lose her job, otherwise. Her students might Google her, find out what she reads, see covers inappropriate for their age, and perhaps even find an excerpt, and that would not be good. At all. For any reason.

Explain to me why Jane Doe author can be anonymous but not Jane Doe reviewer?

Anonymous speech makes it easy for an asshole to be an asshole.

Anonymous speech makes it possible for people to speak out against moral wrongs.

Anonymous speech exposed criminal wrong-doing by a sitting President of the United States of America.

To argue that we should do away with anonymous speech is to argue that it’s better for wrongdoers to get a pass than it is to allow speech that some may find offensive.

If reviews must be accompanied by a real name, then there are reviewers who will no longer be able to post reviews for reasons that have nothing to do with mean, hateful, or threatening content in a review.

Perhaps the reviewer has a sensitive job but enjoys reading and reviewing sexually explicit books.

Perhaps the reviewer has a violent ex and is attempting to establish an online presence that her ex does not know about.

Perhaps the reviewer used to read and review Dino-Porn but now feels that she must leave Dino Porn behind because she has undergone a moral change and wishes to live a life free of Dino-Porn.

Perhaps the reviewer’s home address, phone number, and names of her children were posted to a website by an author.

Perhaps the reviewer has been threatened by an author.

That Solution is Not the Problem You Were Looking for

Every one of these arguments has a corresponding flip side.

Taking away anonymity of reviews would have far more devastating consequences than seeking a solution that deals with reviews that are out of bounds — supposing we can or should arrive at such a definition. I don’t believe we should, by the way.

It’s far harder to seek a targeted solution that deals with the actual problem– assuming there is such a problem– than it is to seek a solution that affects 100 percent of reviewers.

If you go around proposing jackbooted solutions to speech you don’t like, you run the risk of some wag inventing the phrase Author Fascism.

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12 Responses to “Author Fascism”

  1. Debbie says:

    And any attacking, threatening or harassing (I refuse to say “bullying” in regards to products being attacked) content by reviewers or by authors is against site guidelines or against actual laws. Pull in appropriate authorities (site support or law enforcement).

    Don’t expect on sites with millions of customers or members for site support to instantaneously address content reported as abuse.

    Don’t expect on any sites with large membership to never get more than one negative rating, comment or review. The point for most readers and authors to be on those sites is the large book selection and the large number of other book lovers to interact with (or to market to depending on your agenda). By trying to get book discoverability, sales and reviews in those arenas where potentially millions might be reached — hypocritical to call a thousand people 5-starring your book “readers” or “customers” but the two who 1-star it are a “gang of bullies.”

    Try to step back and ask if the problem content attacked your book or your review or your forum content or if it attacked/threatened/harassed you.

    And don’t demean bully victims by equating getting a bad star rating on a product from a legitimate account with bullying. On amazon, amazon has the real names and other information if there is a problem where you think there is suspicious activity that may indicate a fake account—report it.

  2. Debbie says:

    Oh, and never, ever, ever forget that this petition was timed to create publicity and buzz for Anne Rice’s announcing she is returning to writing vampire novels and the book launch of “Prince Lestat.”

    Or that the petition originator, Todd whatever, is rumored (with links) to fail to disclose not only his real name on the 5-star book reviews he writes on amazon but also fails to disclose he was paid to edit those same books.

    • Todd Barselow also did a fundraiser to raise money for his trip to meet Anne Rice. Since deleted, but available in Google Cache. So he’s hardly neutral about Ms. Rice.

      In and of itself, that does not speak to the merits of the petition. Certainly a fan of an author can be strongly motivated to support that author. But I can’t help feeling the petition was deceptive in that it claimed to be author neutral. I guess I’d feel less… odd about it if he’d disclosed the state of his fandom.

      It makes me feel that petition was for Ms. Rice, and not for authors, and, further, failed to take into account the complexity of the situation because it was really a piece of fandom performance art.

  3. Dee says:

    I think I might be in love with you ;)

  4. Brilliant post! Thank you so much for writing it.

  5. Angie says:

    I wanted to thank you for writing this. Someone on one of the Amazon discussion boards pointed it out. I enjoy reading, and I really enjoy reviewing and discussing what I read. I’m sorry to say I’m not familiar with your work, but rest assured I will be rectifying that!

    I actually fall into the category of someone with a violent ex. I really enjoy writing reviews, and I enjoy Amazon in general. As much as I’m convinced that Amazon would not do this to their customers, this petition is upsetting to me, particularly the number of people who just don’t seem to see anything wrong with what is being proposed. You said everything very eloquently. I hope it gets heard and gets through to people.

    Thank you again.

    • You’re very welcome, Angie. One of the most formative moments of my life was some 25 years ago, when I was quite young and a member of a San Francisco computer club. I volunteered to do member interviews for the club’s newsletter. I made a point of interviewing male and female members in turn.

      EVERY SINGLE WOMAN I interviewed had an abusive man in her past. Two of them had fled their homes with their children because they were in fear of the lives. One of them had been tracked down and nearly killed by her husband.

      I cannot explain why all of them had such terrifying stories. It kind of defies the odds. But those stories, told to me when women were just beginning to ask the legal system to change, completely changed my world view.

      There are, indeed, reasons why people need to preserve anonymity and not have on-line lives easily connected to their real ones.

      In fact, it can be a matter of life and death, as you certainly know all too well.

      I’m sorry to know about your ex and I hope you continue to stay safe. We, as a culture, have a long way to go in this regard.

  6. Jane says:

    Thanks for writing this, Carolyn. Hopefully more mainstream authors will speak up about the sheer craziness of signing Todd the Fan’s petition.

  7. […] danger – of authors and fans punishing reviewers for negative reviews. I disagree with Carolyn Jewel that there’s more risk to reviewers than authors: I think both sides have skin in the game, […]