This week, I’ve been reading a number of articles about authors who’ve been subjected to death threats from people on Amazon forums. Both Ann Rice and Charlaine Harris have been threatened, as have others. In fact, the problem's apparently so prevalent that freelance editor Todd Barselow organized a petition asking Jeff Bezos and Jon P. Fine to remove reviewer anonymity from Amazon reviews. The petition states that there’s been an incredible amount of bullying and harassment that’s taken place. Barselow believes that removing anonymity will prevent much of the harassment, especially by those who are creating several sock puppet accounts and using them to trash an author.
I can see where he’s coming from. I used to participate in Amazon forums all the time. They started out friendly enough, but as more self-published authors starting participating in forums to promote their work, others started to get ticked off. Amazon’s response to the problem was to create specific forums for self-publishers. Of course, some authors still made the mistake of promoting on other sites and thus the attacks ramped up. According to Ann Rice, anonymous bullies have made it their mission to bully, harass, and threaten certain authors.
Bullying has been in our culture for a long time, so much so that here in Canada we have Pink Shirt Day, which was started several years ago to promote anti-bullying strategies. Of all the bullying and harassment stories I’ve seen and heard over the years, anonymity isn’t the issue. In fact, most bullies have face-to-face contact with their victims. Even cyberbullying isn’t necessarily carried out under a cloud of anonymity among teens. If anyone believes that reviewers who are forced to reveal their true names will stop, then I think they’re being naïve. Now, Amazon’s situation may be unique, as it’s a gathering place for people from everywhere who will likely never meet in person, however, exposing identities could backfire.
A piece in the examiner looks at the issue from the reviewers point of view. The author of the piece asked reviewers to speak up about the petition and several responded with good points. One reviewer stated that she reviewed erotica and didn’t want her family and friends to know. Another reviewer said what I said above, it could backfire and trigger more bad blood. Let’s be clear, not all anonymous reviewers are jerks and trolls. Some value privacy while others feel it’s the only way to give an honest review without having the author come back to start threatening them or their families, which has happened. It’s a sticky issue, isn’t it?
Since I left the Amazon forums about four years ago, I’m not sure how bad things really are. I am, however, an Amazon reviewer who uses my own name, but I stay away from discussing or trying to justify my reviews. As far as forums go, I’ve found plenty of good ones at Goodreads, LinkedIn, and Kindleboards, where disagreements arise, but because they’re moderated no one is allowed to threaten, berate, and harass anyone. One can freely agree to disagree without having to worry about threats to their personal safety. Surely, Mr Bezos makes enough money to be able to hire moderators for his forums? Disagreement is fine. One-star ratings are fine, but threats of violence and personal attacks are not. Maybe Mr. Barselow should be petitioning for adequate moderation.