The GoodReads Bullying Drama

In case you wanted to take a break from libraryland drama but wanted some other kind of related drama to occupy the space, there are things afoot in and around the literary social community, GoodReads. There’s a lot to sift through (especially as someone who is not familiar with the site, its social dynamic, or posting policies), but in doing my research into the matter over the weekend I found what I considered to be the best summary of the current state of drama:

If you aren’t familiar with this situation, here’s the short version: There’s a cluster of people who are put out by Goodreads users “bullying” authors through negative reviews, so they’ve taken it upon themselves to anonymously (and pseudonymously) harass those users by exposing their personal information.

These authors have banded together to create a site, “Stop the GR Bullying” with the purpose of stopping what they see as cyberbullying of authors on the GoodReads site… by engaging in a higher level of cyberbullying in creating profiles of “enemies” by posting whatever information they can gleam from their online presence. One of the people they named reportedly got a threatening phone call after her profile went up. With this escalation, as the old saying goes, “shit just got real” (or perhaps, possibly more apropos in this case, “When ‘Keeping It Real’ Goes Wrong”.)

In all seriousness, I don’t foresee an outcome that doesn’t have someone getting charged with harassment (for the call, at the very least) or some sort of legal action against the owners of the site (who will be publicly named, as the discovery phase of any lawsuit will reveal it) for incitement and/or libel. What started in the review and comment sections on the GoodReads site is going to have have greater repercussions than the possibility that someone skips over reading a particular book. It’s really a shame that it has escalated to this level.

In stepping back and looking at the situation as a whole, I think there is a library angle to this whole drama as the rise of the self publishing industry continues. It may not be something to act on today (or in particular to this series of events), but it is worth noting what is going on in a social community centered around reading. Whether it is looking for the best ‘sweet spot’ for the moderation and policy of reviews or comments, the management of people around a particular activity as libraries look to create and cultivate communities, or creating relationships with the independent and/or self published author scene, I believe it is well worth the look to evaluate this drama as a whole and learn from it. Also, I think there are some lessons to be learned from the wants of the readers, reviewers, and authors as some libraries take the plunge into creating viable local literary scenes.

For much, much further reading on this situation (presented in chronological order):

9 thoughts on “The GoodReads Bullying Drama

  1. Thanks for the post, Andy. I didn’t know much about the situation until now, and the breakdown and list of suggested further readings has helped quite a bit. After reading much of it over (and shaking my head for a couple hours) I wonder how much of this could have been stopped if Goodreads comment policy was more authoritative? I’m against not having an open wall for discussion, but a firm policy stating what violates the policy and enforcing it might be the right thing in GR’s case. I assume that, even with a stronger policy, they don’t have a way to monitor all comments. Do you think attempting to enforce a stronger policy would have stopped this from getting out of hand?

    • Maybe? Overall, a review of any kind is subjective; the site is passive in terms of how it treats these in favor of letting people voice their opinions. I think the mistake that the STGRB people are making here is disregarding the fact that people have their own bullshit detectors. They can see when a review is unfair and make their own assessment of a work. I’ve seen one star reviews on Amazon that are given when a package arrives late; it says nothing of the work and loads more about the people writing the review. In escalating, they are only bringing more attention to their negative reviews rather than ignoring or even learning from them.

  2. Great article. A possible solution would be the Rotten Tomatoes model, where professional critics “scores” are aggregated while still allowing for user scores. This may hurt little known books with few to no reviews, it will be more democratic. Unfortunately, as the recent Dark Knight flame wars can show you, you can never stop people from voicing an ignorant opinion if you give them a forum. Even professional reviewers were dismantled in that debacle to the point where all comments had to be shelved.

  3. Unlike commentators on sites Imdb, TMZ, etc, Goodreads’ commentators are not anonymous. It is a social network site that encourages one to reveal his/her first and last name, occupation, and state. The idea behind such openness is that there is no harm that can be acted upon by revealing one’s book taste. For authors to take the opportunity to target these reviewers is unethical and attack on freedom of speech.

    I used this example on my Twitter account: I have the right to state E.L. James is a terrible writer. My choice of words and opinion is not an act of libel. In other words, if you do not like a review…that’s too bad.

  4. Aside from the obvious hypocrisy and bad taste, does this website not violate the anti-bullying laws that i thought were enacted after kids killed themselves over this sort of thing? Or was it wishful thinking that such a thing happened after all?

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