Most of us are reasonably familiar with one or another version of Pastor Martin Niemoller's poem so I won't quote it here.
Claudetteia Love has people speaking for her, and she's speaking for herself, and ultimately they're speaking for all.
But wouldn't it have been so much easier for everyone if Claudetteia had just not said anything, not done anything, had just been nice about everything and done what was expected of her? There's no real reason for her to have to be allowed to wear a tuxedo to her school's prom. It's not like anyone needs to have a right to wear whatever they want to their high school prom. So what if she's gay? She can still wear a dress, can't she? I mean it's not impossible for her to put on a dress and look like a girl is supposed to look. So why can't she just do that and not make trouble for everyone and draw attention to herself?
I hope you recognized the sarcasm in that paragraph, because of course Ms. Love has a right to be whatever she wants to be and whatever she is, and she has a right to fight for that right.
And all those Negroes(sic) in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, they could have just kept quiet and kept giving up their seats on the bus to the white folks. So what if they had to stand up for a few extra blocks? Oh, wait, it wasn't just about moving to the back of the bus. It was about being charged for bus rides and then denied any place on the bus at all. It was about human dignity and the rights of all people to be treated fairly.
Am I equating the abominable treatment meted out over the week-end to two Amazon/Booklikes reviewers to the Nazi Holocaust, to gender discrimination, and to racial bigotry? No, of course I'm not. And yes, you're damn right I am.
It's easy to separate several distinct issues involved here and treat them separately as very small issues that don't hardly seem worth bothering about. The problem is that when they're all pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle, they make a very ugly picture.
1. The Amazon forums. They are indeed a considerable time sink. It's easy to get caught up in them, even just reading them, and when the conversations turn heated, the time sink accelerates. Invariably these discussions turn heated because one or more of a certain very small group of provocateurs enter the discussion for the sole purpose of stirring up trouble. It's called trolling. The trolls do it because they know with absolute certainty that they will get the expected response. And they will get it from people who just can't seem to help themselves. These people are enablers, and they know they're enablers, and they make all kinds of excuses for it, and other enablers excuse them.
It's not a matter of educating new posters to the forums and it never has been, even though that's one of the popular excuses. It's about entertainment. Poking the trolls is just as much fun for the enablers as the trolling is for the trolls. Neither of them ever takes into consideration that there might be other parties who get hurt in the process. When one of the enablers gets caught, however, oh then the cries of victimization rise to the heavens! They carry on that they have a right to post on the forums and they have a right to say whatever they want in response to the trolls' posts, yet they claim the same kind of immunity from responsibility that the trolls do.
So where is the line of demarcation? Is there one? Or does a victim have to accept a certain amount of responsibility?
Amazon gives its posters the ability to put other posters on "ignore" if they don't want to be bothered/offended by what the poster is writing. The "ignore" feature doesn't work if the poster doesn't actually ignore the post.
Amazon is not the only social media location where books can be discussed. (A lot of the discussions have little if anything to do with books anyway.) What Amazon is, however, is a very public place where individuals who really, really, really want attention can get it. And yes, we all know who those attention whores are. But no, we aren't all willing to admit that some of those attention whores are on "our" side.
It's not really about having a discussion about books. It's about performing in public, about being seen and being noticed and having people respond. Some people go about it in relatively harmless ways, taking on a screen name and screen persona to interact pleasantly and congenially with whomever they might encounter. Some people go about it more maliciously, with no other intent than to start flame wars, insult people, post potentially libelous material about other posters, and so on. The latter group really don't care who gets hurt in the process. They have certain people they want to get hurt, so they're fine with that.
The former group, however, declares their good intentions repeatedly and disavows any intent for anyone to come to harm. And when someone else comes forward and says, "Hey, wait a minute. Those assholes you keep poking with your joke-stick came after me and I'm stuck trying to keep my employer from finding out I review (fill in the blank) books online," suddenly the "good" trolls claim no responsibility.
It's easy to revert to silence. It's easy to say nothing. It's easy to stop reviewing, or only review books you like, or never say anything at all if you can't say something nice.
2. The Amazon reviews. Amazon is a retailer, and they are based in the United States of America. Therefore they are bound by certain regulations of the Federal Trade Commission regarding "endorsements" of the products they sell. Even though many of us may think of "endorsement" in terms of approval or support or recommendation, such as endorsing a candidate for office, the FTC regards any kind of comment on a product as a product endorsement. Reviews of products are therefore "endorsements."
The FTC requires -- requires -- that any connection between the reviewer and the product being reviewed or its producer must be clearly stated so that any potential purchaser knows that the review might be biased. The bias can be positive or negative, but the potential customer has the right to know if there is a potential bias. Therefore, the reviewer must reveal if they are a friend or family member of the producer, if they have been paid in any way to review the product, or if they are a producer of a competing product. These are government regulations that Amazon has to abide by.
Amazon has an obligation to remove any endorsement (also known as a review) that violates those regulations. Period. End of discussion.
Well, okay, not end of discussion. Because we all know that Amazon violates those regulations all the time. Every day. Thousands of times every day. We see the review circles. We know who the fiverr sellers are. We know the Amazon review system is corrupted probably beyond redemption in terms of its being a dependable source of honest information on consumer reactions to products. (Fiverr sellers write ads, er, I mean reviews, for other products besides books.)
But because this site -- Booklikes -- is concerned with books, and because books seem to generate most of the trolling and troll-reacting, it's probably worthwhile to examine how the FTC regulations, and the violation thereof, has affected the book community.
First and foremost is that authors are prohibited from posting negative reviews to any book in their own (competing) genre. Authors are allowed to post positive reviews, though not of their own books. The rationalization is that if an author recommends another author's book that is directly in competition, it must be really good. (Negative reviews are just jellus hate.)
Second, Amazon is a retailer. Yes, I know I already said that but it bears repeating. Amazon is in the business of selling things. They want to sell as much as they can. They have no incentive whatsoever to investigate any claims of paid-for positive reviews. Even though their Terms of Service might claim that Amazon can delete any account for any reason or even for no reason at all, they aren't going to remove accounts of people who are providing positive reviews that result in sales, unless and until the behavior becomes egregious and/or seriously violates other regulations. Persons who have created dozens or even hundreds of sock puppet accounts for the express purpose of boosting their own book's sales have been removed. Copyright infringers have been removed. The infractions have to be serious and generally have to involve harm to an innocent third party before Amazon will take any action at all.
Amazon has not removed a single fiverr seller of "reviews." Not one.
I cannot review on Amazon because I am an author of popular fiction. Since I am prohibited by Amazon's guidelines in interpretation of FTC regulations from posting a negative review, I cannot in fairness as a reader post only positive reviews. So I post no reviews on Amazon at all.
3. Goodreads. I didn't join Goodreads until the whole Shit-grabbers fracas was in full swing. I knew virtually nothing about either site. My intention in joining Goodreads was perfectly commercial: I was digitally republishing my out-of-print novels and was looking for a place other than Amazon to promote them.
I am terrible at self-promotion and proved to be even more terrible at it on Goodreads. I joined a group for historical romance novels and suggested one of my books for a list someone was compiling of books on particular subject. I don't even know what the subject was, but I brought up my book as a possibility for inclusion on the list. Whoever was running the thread asked something about the book and we exchanged a couple of messages before she realized I was the author. That's how bad I am at self-promotion. I tried one more time, in that same group, suggesting one of my books for another list someone was compiling, and at that point I identified myself as the author. There was no response from anyone.
That was pretty much the extent of the self-promoting I did in the roughly two and a half years I was on the site. Two posts. Two.
I never rated my own books, never reviewed them. My account was under my own name and I never gave anything but an honest review, good or bad. We've been through all that nonsense before.
In fact, I had learned of Goodreads and the whole Amazon/BBA situation from reading and occasionally posting at Dear Author and at Smart Bitches Trashy Books in 2011 and early 2012. I was appalled at what I learned about badly behaving authors. And I trusted Goodreads to at least be fair and honest and treat reviewers with integrity.
Obviously, I was wrong.
Goodreads at that time was in negotiations to be purchased by Amazon. Goodreads was catering to Amazon's (perceived) wishes, which was to make the site an instrument for selling books through Amazon. This meant that all the guidelines that pertained to Amazon were going to pertain to Goodreads. If anyone doubts that, they need only read the GR Feedback thread that began on 20 September 2013 regarding the great purge.
From that day forward, reviewers were targeted and critical voices were silenced. And for every one that was forced into silence, how many others were bullied into silence by the threat of banning? How many negative reviews were removed by the reviewers because they were afraid of being bullied, either by Goodreads passive/aggressive email warnings or by the glee demonstrated by the shit-grabbers? And how many were attacked by the trolls, by the Parosite or the Trainwreck or the Ricecake, and told it was their own fault for speaking up? For being mean or snarky or inconsiderate or not nice enough?
It’s so much worse than that. Something is very wrong with us, and by “us” I mean the online community of (largely) women authors and readers. What is wrong is the “outing,” threatening, shaming, and silencing of readers who are perceived to be too critical of or hostile to authors. And for those in this online community who believe that this is not their concern or their harm, I would ask them to think again.
. . .
Add to the mix the new website devoted to outing and threatening certain readers accused of being “bullies” on Goodreads. [note: I am linking to author and blogger Foz Meadows’s post on the site, so as not to drive more traffic there. If you are also concerned about this, I suggest using only Google cached links]. Although there was a similar incident on Goodreads that has created a strong suspicion of the website’s owner, there is a public assertion of anonymity that makes the outing particularly and perversely disturbing, as are the claims of justice and accountability. How is what this website is doing to female readers a whole lot different than the incidents I recounted above? Short answer: it isn’t. It is part of a larger pattern of making women feel physically unsafe by exposing them to the threat and the possibility of actual violence, even if the person doing the threatening isn’t doing physical violence him/herself.
(The [note] in the above is from the original.)
I'm going to repost the last sentence for emphasis:
It is part of a larger pattern of making women feel physically unsafe by exposing them to the threat and the possibility of actual violence, even if the person doing the threatening isn’t doing physical violence him/herself.
It is one thing to target a person's personal information with regards to their employer. it's a terrible thing, but it is not a threat of physical harm Exposing a person's personal information as to location, daily habits, children's names, pets, etc, is a warning of and invitation to physical harm.
4. Etsy. Yes, Etsy.com, the online marketplace for handmade and vintage items and crafting supplies, scheduled to have its IPO here pretty soon or maybe they already did. Etsy.com, the Certified B Corporation that offers virtually no direct customer service for either buyers or sellers, that allows flagrant violations of registered trademarks, that ignores its own prohibitions against unethical materials and practices, and makes money off all of the above.
2. Animals and Certain Animal Products
Certain animal products are highly regulated and due to the risk of harm to live, companion, or endangered animals, are not in in the spirit of Etsy.
The following are examples of animal products that may not be sold on Etsy:
1) Live Animals
2) Items derived from or created using any animal species designated as threatened or endangered by the US Endangered Species Act, including the following animals and all subspecies:
Alligator; Bear; Cheetah; Chimpanzee; Chinchilla; Elkhorn and Staghorn Coral; Cougar; Eagle; Elephant; Gorilla; Jaguar; Lemur; Leopard; Lion; Lynx; Monkey; Ocelot; Rhinoceros; Seal; Sea-lion; Tiger; Wallaby; Whale; Zebra
3) Items made from cat and dog parts or pelts as defined by US Federal Law.
4) Ivory or bones from ivory-producing animals such as whales or elephants are also prohibited, including tusks, elk ivory, fossilized ivory, and wooly mammoth ivory.
In early Febuary 2015, I began monitoring -- in other words, searching for and keeping an eye on -- listings for items made from "mammoth ivory" and "elk ivory." Some of those listings were removed, but in most cases it took four to six weeks before the administration at Etsy took action. (I will say that they took almost immediate action on the shop that was selling lion claws.)
Etsy does not internally monitor shops or listings. Although there are occasional comments in the site's forums regarding "sweeps" in which Etsy admin removes items or whole shops that violate TOU, I've seen no evidence of anything other than individual members' actions that have resulted in deletions. In other words, if no one reports you, you can sell any damn thing you want.
There is no means of community review. If the limitations on Goodreads about calling out an author or a book or a reviewer in certain discussion threads were strict, at least there was a place to do it. And there were private/secret groups were issues could be raised. Etsy has no such facility except "Report this Item" and "Report this shop" flags. Supposedly the reports are anonymous so there can be no retaliation, but who knows?
There is no means to report a shop or item that is selling suspected fraudulent items. Reviews can only be posted by the person who actually bought the item
New items violating just those two prohibitions -- mammoth ivory and elk ivory -- are posted nearly every day to Etsy. Few are removed, but I continue to report.
Why? Why do I persist? Because someone has to do it, or else we might as well all give up. It's not convenient for me, and it certainly doesn't help my discouraged frame of mind, but what's the alternative? Wait for someone else to do it? Yeah, right.
We all know who the Ricecake is and there isn't much to be done about her. She has the financial means and the public visibility to pretty much keep on doing what she's doing, whether on Facebook or Amazon. Amazon wants to sell her books and knows that they will sell a lot of them, so Amazon isn't going to shut her up just because a few people she's insulted point that fact out.
We all know who the Trainwreck is, too. She hasn't made very much secret who she is or where she lives or what she does. She has links to Facebook pages that give a lot of her personal information.
I've had significant personal information on the Parosite for months. Have I published any of it? No, not directly, though I've left sufficient hints for anyone who wants to accuse me of not having it. Have I shared it with others? Yes.
I have stood up for those who have been threatened, who have been attacked, who have been doxed, on the general principle that it's the right thing to do. But to tell you the truth, I'm not so sure I'm going to continue.
Last week, on Etsy, I offered to proofread 100 item listings, confidentially, no recompense, just because I thought maybe some of the shop owners might like to know if they were spelling words correctly or constructing coherent sentences. Totally free, no questions asked, complete confidentiality. The number of responses I got was pathetic, and virtually all of them were free of major, embarrassing (to either me or the shop owner) errors. Was I surprised? No, not really.
Yet I'm the meanie. I'm one of the badly behaving bully reviewers. For telling the truth. For offering to help.
I cannot stand up to Goodreads or Amazon. As an individual I don't have the financial or time resources to do it. I don't have access to free/low cost legal services. No one is going to start a gofundme campaign to finance a fight against Goodreads for unfairly banning me. I don't even have the financial wherewithal to bring a suit for libel against those who have said untrue things about me that have ended up causing me financial loss.
That's why I champion those who seem to be standing up to the true bullies. And that's why I am so bitterly disappointed when they give up. They've made it easier for the next victimization. They've enabled and emboldened the Parosite, the Trainwreck, and the Ricecake to the point that they believe they are invincible.
And maybe they are.
Maybe it is futile to fight against bullying and bigotry. Maybe it's not worth it. After all, it's only book reviews. It's only personal opinion. So when you next come across a book that promotes bigotry and promotes hate and incites violence, but you're not allowed to post a negative review about it because the sites have all banned negative reviews under unchallenged pressure from the Ricecake, the Trainwreck, and the Parosite try to remember who enabled them.