By: Joelle Charbonneau
Last week, I wrote a post about personal attack reviews against authors. The post got some wide attention and as a result I was interviewed on the subject by The Guardian as part of an article they did about a petition currently circulating which asks Amazon to disallow anonymous reviews and comments on the site’s forums. My interview was not on the petition – which I was in not familiar with– but on attack reviews in general and my experience with them. During the course of the interview, I was asked if the attack reviews were caused by “an odd sort of jealousy”. I think the reviewer expected me to say yes. My answer was no.
When the topic of negativity or personal attacks comes up in discussion, I often hear people automatically say, “Oh they’re just jealous.” It’s possible this is the case some of the time, but I would argue that ascribing all negative behavior to jealousy diminishes the conversation and negates the possibility of coming up with constructive solutions.
To be honest, until the question was posed to me in such a direct way, I’m not sure I had truly thought deeply about the answer. Reviews that personally attack the author instead of criticizing the work are wrong. Plain and simple. There is no excuse for a review of the work that calls the authors names or threatens physical harm. But do the people who write those reviews know they are wrong? They should – or most of them should – but do they really?
My knee-jerk reaction to that question is YES! Hell yes! They know. Or at least most of them should know.
And yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize that answer is flawed. In fact, I believe that most of the people who post personal attack reviews believe they are not only acceptable, but that those reviews are rewarded. And for that, we are all to blame.
Let me explain.
When I was in my final college years, the Internet was just beginning. (Yes, this sounds like the age of mammoths and saber tooth tigers, but in actuality was the 90s. Go figure!) But it wasn’t until after ringing in the 21st century that the Internet became the social hub that it is now. Blogs, social media and websites suddenly became a new an exciting tool for marketing. Because of this, publishers and authors leapt onto the bandwagon of all things Internet to get the word out about their books. And those with blogs and websites and social media outlets that got the most hits, retweets and likes were considered successful in spreading news about books. That success was rewarded with…stuff. Books! Advanced reader copies! Swag! Party invitations at BEA, ALA or other conferences. The more hits you get, the more the rewards.
Score! Right? Okay, maybe not.
But think about it. What draws the most hits to a blog or gets the most retweets or shares? (And I’m not talking about cat photos here. Those are in a category all their own.) What gets you clicking on a link that someone shares? Do you click on the thoughtful article or the one that promises controversy? In my experience, sensational headlines and a promise of snark gets people clicking every time.
Because the old traditional marketing methods were so expensive, publishers both self and traditional embraced the growth of the Internet as a marketing tool. I would argue that the growth of that tool became more important to many than the level of conversation it led to. Hits and likes and shares and retweets have become measurable benchmarks for success online. So is it any wonder that those who see those numbers rewarded embrace the methods they observe that achieve them?
Many people say that numbers don’t lie. In this case, I believe they do. The numbers are wrong an the culture of rewarding those numbers needs to end before any true change can be seen.
So, I ask the question now to you that I was asked. Is jealousy to blame for the personal attack reviews on authors or the way many defend the belief that those reviews are perfectly acceptable?
What do you say?
I say no.
And while I would argue that jealousy isn’t the answer, neither is the phrase “Trolls will be trolls” that I have seen so often posted. To dismiss the problem as a result of jealousy or to label those actively participating in the behavior as trolls lowers the level of conversation and leads nowhere.
Last week, I was nervous to post on the subject of personal attack reviews because I feared the pushback I have seen others receive online. I’m still worried, but I am continuing to talk on this subject because I believe a line needs to be drawn and that if I don’t draw it I am offering my tacit agreement that the behavior of personally attacking authors alongside their work is correct. And I don’t agree.
And I don’t believe you do either.
Regardless of what is to blame for this problem, I have a firm conviction that we can create change. I believe in the book community and the love of the written word that binds us. I believe that we can turn back the tide if all of us who love books – authors, publishers, booksellers, bloggers, Internet retailers and the rest of the amazing reading community – draw a line in the sand together. A line that is about respect for our mutual passion and a true discourse about the works we connect with or dislike. By raising the level of conversation and not adding to the numbers of those who tear the conversation down, we can make a difference.
So----who’s with me?