Wednesday, September 25, 2013

GR's New Terms of Service - Continued

The feedback thread at GR regarding the new terms of service is still going strong. I wanted to highlight a few comments by posters who don't understand that problem or are part of the problem, rather than the solution.

First, from Alicia, we have this caps-filled venom:

Alicia is wrong on several counts. The isolated instance of a handful of reviewers--not Alicia--having their personal, although not private, information posted happened almost two years ago. The information was up for a short period of time and then it was gone. Their "only real recourse" for this is not being taken away. Their "only real recourse" was to address the problem back at the time that it occurred with the people who posted the information. Alicia is also ignoring all the other authors who have been unjustly mobbed by bad reviews and nasty comments and shelving since then. The problem is far more wide-spread than one incident from almost two years ago.

From Debbie R., we have this comment:

Debbie also has it wrong. The people drawing attention to the random instances of authors being assholes to reviewers are the reviewers themselves. They do this by flocking to the scene of the alleged crime in droves, leaving nasty comments and reviews, mass shelving the authors books on awful shelves, and writing blog posts ad nauseam about it. If the reviewer who was insulted would simply go, "Eh, piss off, you idiot" and the rest of the reviewer mob didn't run around squawking like a bunch of chickens that had just been kicked, there would be no drama.

From Heather, we have this comment:

I am stunned that someone who has used Goodreads for five years and is a librarian can think of NO OTHER WAY to handle truly abusive comments from authors. Really? How about reporting the comments to the GR Powers-That-Be and ask that the people sending you the comments be disciplined, deleted, etc., in accordance with GR's TOS?

I think what it all comes down to is that a certain mob of reviewers wants to publicly punish and shame authors who don't conform to their often oddly draconian and unwritten rules of how they think authors should interact with the public. Dealing with the true problem authors (or reviewers) privately is not enough for them. In my opinion, dealing with the true problems privately is a better solution than allowing the open public warfare to continue.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

GR's New Terms of Service

I'm a bit late to the table with this, but as many who frequent this blog know, Goodreads recently changed its Terms of Service regarding how criticism directed towards authors--as opposed to books--would be dealt with. As Kara, the Director of Customer Care at GR, states in the linked post:
We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior.
Although the implementation of the change in TOS was handled badly, in my opinion (with deletion of reviews and shelves without prior notice to members), I think that the change was long overdue and will ultimately make GR a better and more welcoming place to discuss books. I have a few random thoughts:

Why Mommy and Daddy Can't Have Nice Things

I'm a U.S. citizen, and one of the founding principles of our country--as enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S .Constitution--is the concept of free speech. Although, the First Amendment only limits how the government can restrict speech, the ability to express our opinions freely is also more widely held and vital cultural value. A privately-owned web site, such as Good reads, has the right to restrict speech and dictate the tone of discussion on their site. I think that most people who are passionate about a subject--in this case books, reading, authors, etc.--see the value in having a place where discussion about that subject can be wide-ranging, i.e. with minimal restrictions. None of us particularly likes to be told we can't talk about certain issues or aspects of that subject. And to date, Goodreads has mostly allowed wide-ranging discussion to occur.

Wide-ranging discussions are all well and good, however, until some participants use--and I would argue abuse--the privilege by repeatedly getting nasty with other members. Not every discussion is going to be civil; there are always going to be disagreements--even heated ones--and yes, some insults are occasionally going to be flung around. That's normal. But what inhibits wide-ranging discussion is repeated nasty behavior and personal attacks either by individuals or *groups* of individuals who target other members, particularly for minor offenses that are treated as if the offender is the most EBILEST PERSON EVAH!!!. In such an atmosphere, the loudest voices shout down all the others. The others are disenfranchised from the discussion.

The nastiness and poo-flinging in some areas of Goodreads has steadily gotten worse over the last year. Sadly, even though the poo-flinging was confined to a couple of genres and/or publishing methods, it became incredibly intense and drew national attention via several news articles and blog posts. So what's a business to do when it reaches this point?

GR's answer, clearly, was to place additional restrictions on discussion in attempt to refocus on its mission (or what I understand to be its mission) of being a site where members could discuss books. Not attack authors. Not attack each other. Perhaps if more members had taken a step back and said, "Hey, am I really adding to the discussion by making rude and nasty comments and by piling onto other reviewers and authors along with 1294 of my bestest friends?", then wide-ranging relatively-restriction-free discussion could have continued.

Lest there be any confusion: I am NOT talking about critical reviews or discussions that focus on the book or even about reviews/discussions that discuss the author's viewpoints as relevant to the book. I am talking about the shelving and all the other drama.

I Don't Care Who Started It

The poo-flingers on the reviewers' side claim that some authors started the poo-flinging by criticizing reviews or reviewers. They claim that criticizing, not just a reviewer personally (which is wrong), but merely a reviewer's opinion constitutes an "attack" on a reviewer. That is, they claim that criticizing a piece of writing constitutes an attack on the writer. However, they then turn around and claim their own criticism of a book--an author's piece of writing--is not an "attack" on an author. This is logically inconsistent and one of the reasons that their self-righteousness fails on so many levels. For the record, criticizing a piece of writing or an opinion is not the same as criticizing the writer.

The poo-flingers on the reviewers' side also make mountains out of tiny little specks of dirt. Take for example, the whole Kiera Cass drama. An agent made an unkind and inappropriate comment on Twitter--which the author simply deflected and did not participate in--and that resulted in a months-long, thousands-of-comments-long hand-wringing woe-is-the-poor-reviewer thread in response to the review that sparked the agent's comment. A thread in which the author was repeatedly viciously "attacked" (personal criticism, not criticism directed at her writing) and then had her book placed on shelves with names that also personally "attacked" her by a large number of people.

The poo-flingers on the authors' side respond to critical reviews with both thoughtful responses (sometimes) and personal insults (sometimes) directed at the reviewer. They claim that critical, even snarky reviews, are bullying or that they are "fake". Thoughtful responses are fine with me, but the rest? Nope. Critical, snarky reviews--so long as they discuss the book--are not "fake" or bullying, and calling a reviewer names or suggesting that they didn't read the book correctly or are overly critical, is all out of line.

Both "sides" in this need to stop acting like five-year-olds. It doesn't matter who "started it"; both groups need to put on their big-girl panties and stop. Be adults. Stop with the nastiness, the insults, the personal attacks, the poo-flinging, and the group piling-onto people they don't like.

Reading Comprehension Problems on a Reading Site

Many poster on the comment thread conflate GR saying, "You can't say that on GR" to "You shouldn't say that anywhere." Logic fail.

Hypocrisy, They Name is ...

Reviewers in the feedback thread are going on and on about how GR is for reviewers not authors and how authors need to never ever comment on reviews or invade a a reviewer's "review space"...unless, of course, it's an author the reviewers like--Ilona Andrews or Stacia Kane, for example (who are all fine authors and we are not knocking them for talking to fans!). Or indie authors like Angie Horn, who led a lot of the poo-flinging against other indie authors and who has subsequently been banned from Goodreads. So it's not all authors that these reviewers want to "stay out of their review space", just the ones that don't agree with their reviews.

Thou Dost Protest Too Much

Of course, many of the comments on the thread come from some of the worst poo-flingers, who are upset at the new guidelines. There are also the random over-the-top ridiculous responses (you knew I couldn't end this post without a little bit of snark, right?):

User JLC claims that the new guidelines amount to harassment of members; this is laughable. At least he/she admits that he/she is not a lawyer.

User Leah makes a long post that (deliberately?) misconstrues or ignores part of Kara's posts. She says, in part:
Your new policy is also really vague and hypocritical. Does it apply to living authors only? What about deceased authors? You do realize the literary canon is pretty much full of racist, sexist, privileged Dead White Dudes, right? So can we no longer discuss Joseph Conrad's racism in context of Heart of Darkness? Or John Updike's sexism? How about T.S. Eliot and Roald Dahl's anti-Semitism? What about the fact that Walt Whitman faked his own reviews? And geez, you may as well delete Mein Kampf from the site right now, considering it's nigh-impossible to discuss it without referring to its author, aka The Worst Human Being Ever.
This comment was eventually reposted on her author blog, and it currently has 591 likes. The problem is that this a complete strawman argument as Kara's original post already dealt with this issue:
Some people are perhaps interpreting this as you can't discuss the author at all. This couldn't be further from the case. The author is a part of the book and can certainly be discussed in relation to the book. But it has to be in a way that's relevant to the book. Again, let's judge books based on what’s inside them.
User Nicole the Reading Ninja thinks that the U.S. Copyright Act can be used to force a web site to post writing. She also says:

but when an author is free to write anything they want in a book, why aren't we free to express ourselves when reviewing said content, even if it means mentioning the author.
But an author is not "free to write anything in a book". They have to abide by the rules of the company that printed or published the book. Likewise a reviewer posting on web site has to abide by the rules of that web site.

There are also posters claiming that if they can't have shelf names slamming authors, then instead of doing the adult thing like creating a shelf called, for example, "not-for-me" or "not-interested", they are going to one-star all the books they haven't read by authors they don't like, thereby giving disgruntled authors yet more (legitimate) ammunition in this fight. Yes, behaving like pouty children is really going to improve the atmosphere at Goodreads. *sigh*

Final Thoughts

I will probably update this as I consider the issue more or in response to comments on this blog. I am open to discussing this, and I don't delete comments unless they are blatant threats or solely name-calling.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wise Words from Professional Authors

Just today we've read two blog posts (plus comments) by professional authors that accurately reflect one of the main reasons for our dislike for the actions of what we've labeled the GR Reviewer Brigade. They've said it better than we ever could.

On Tuesday, Joe Konrath wrote a post called Writer's Code of Ethics. For those who aren't familiar with Joe, he started out commercially published and has since moved into--and is a big advocate for--self-publishing. He is very outspoken and often sarcastic. We recommend that everyone read the entire post, which is addressing the latest tempest-in-a-teapot of purchased reviews/sock-puppets/etc. At one point, Joe writes:

Morals and ethics are slippery slope, and I think muck-rakers are on par with sock-puppeteers as far as scum-suckers go.
The current level of sanctimonious bullshit on the Internet that makes me feel I'm required to publicly proclaim my innocence is repulsive.
Later in the comments, in response to another poster, Joe says:

...when outrage becomes a witch hunt, and when pointing fingers becomes self-pleasuring, it's time to take a step back and find some perspective.
Muck-raking and witch-hunting continually occur on GoodReads whenever an author breaks some unwritten rule of how reviewers think authors should behave. And we do think that many of the comments across as sanctimonious.

Barry Eisler, an author who should need no introduction, also wrote a blog post on Tuesday about his initial hesitant support for a message/blog post called No Sock Puppets Here Please. He has since rescinded his support of that site and explained why as an update to his original post. Here is the part of his post that resonated with us (there are links in the quoted text that didn't come through; see the original post):

Many of the posts on the recent revelations of deceptive practices in publishing felt to me like versions of "Shocked, shocked!" Others struck me as embarrassingly self-important and sanctimonious: yes, deception is ugly, and yes, the integrity of pretty much any system is important, but come on, people, we're not talking about whitewashing torture, or concealing safety problems in nuclear reactors, or a ginned-up controversy to persuade people that climate change isn't real. We write stories. We sell them online. Yes, it matters and yes, we need to ensure insofar as possible that it's done with integrity, but it isn't life-or-death. Perspective.
Again, please read his entire post as it is a thoughtful discussion of the issues.

Unfortunately, we don't see any immediate end to the witch-hunting, the finger pointing, the self-righteous exclamations of "gaming the system", etc. on Goodreads. We may not be a part of a currently-nonexistent solution--as one commenter pointed out--but we also don't see any solution unless the people involved take a long hard look at what they are doing and how their behavior is contributing to the current toxic atmosphere on GR.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

GR Reviewer Ridley Gets Spanked

We went in search of other snark-worthy events on GR tonight and found this juicy tidbit. GR reviewer Ridley apparently posted a non-review of "The Vampire of Vigil's Sorrow" by Cassandra Duffy, only to find out shortly thereafter that GR had chosen to "hide" the review. (Note that if you are on Ridley's friends list you might be able to see the original review here. Our link above is to someone else's quote of it.)

The non-review read as follows:
"When it comes to book bloggers/review websites, I think anyone who posts a scathing rant review of a book without receiving a giant paycheck as compensation are just bitter twats who should probably find a hobby that doesn’t involve tearing down artists who actually contribute something to the world."
You don't say...
The part in quotation marks is taken from Cassandra Duffy's first response to a blog post at the San Francisco Book Review called "Bad Reviews Suck...And Why I Don't Care" by Rachel Carsman Thompson. In subsequent conversations with other posters, Cassandra explains and softens her stance, but anyone following the GR reviewer mobs lately can see how her original post is like jumping into a piranha-infested lake after being mauled by a crocodile and while towing a piece of raw zebra meat. It's gonna bring the biters. Ridley was one of those biters.

Cassandra said, in part, in response to another poster:
Really? From what I’ve seen all over on Goodreads from them would qualify as deplorable behavior. Calling Katharine, who I assume is the lady who started the website, an alcoholic child abuser and black balling any author who says anything they don’t like.
Cassandra was, we're inferring, referring to discussion on Ridley's now-hidden review and didn't understand that commenters were actually making fun of the STGRB site, not making fun of Kat. From there the conversation goes like this:
Ridley: I’m only going to point out that the “Kat” we reference was one of the blogger/reviewers targeted by STGRB and we were alluding to that site’s smearing of her character wherein they accused her of being an alcoholic neglecting her children. You’re clearly reading above your pay grade here.
Cassandra: Why don’t you explain what any of that had to do with the book of mine you were posting it on?
Ridley: “Why don’t you explain what any of that had to do with the book of mine you were posting it on?”
What do you care about what a “bitter ***” like me does? Aren’t you busy in your little “intellectualism world” buying cars or something?
You seem awful preoccupied with impugning our honor for someone who proclaims to not care what angry reviewers have to say.
Cassandra: So in other words, you can’t explain why you’re posting non-reviews on books you haven’t read attacking the author personally?
Crickets chirping.... Go, Cassandra!

OK, so back to GR where the bitching is going on in the Feedback forum. Ridley has started the topic with:
Why has my review of The Vampires of Vigil's Sorrow been hidden from view? What was the problem with it? We can't have discussions about books we've shelved anymore?
There is some non-heated discussion of reviewing the author vs. reviewing the book. Then Patrick, the Community Manager, posts a general explanation of why reviews get hidden and says to Ridley:
Ridley, in this particular example, your review was hidden because it is not a review of the book, but rather of the author. One of the points in our guidelines will be "review the book and not the author." If you want to post something about the author's conduct or behavior, that's fine, and we certainly aren't going to delete those reviews, but they will not be shown on the book page. Your friends and followers will be able to read them, just like they always have, but the book page is and always has been for reviews of the book.
Go, Patrick! Ridley proceeds to whine:
To be fair, I'm reacting to the author's *words* and not her personally. I'm also not calling her names or anything else verboten by the TOS. I could see if I was spamming all of the author's books with 1-star ratings or otherwise gaming the system, but I'm not. I've shelved her book, and my friends and I discussed why in the comments.

So what's the problem? Surely you can find a way to allow readers to freely discuss books and the authors who write them that preserves the integrity of your star rating and review system. In light of the website stalking me and other GR users you must understand why we need to be able to discuss these sorts of things.
and whine:
Can't you just de-prioritize them below reviews with a rating? Why hide them entirely? Why isn't an author a legitimate discussion topic?
and whine:
I find it stifling. Authors should be fair game for discussion. Books aren't written or read in a vacuum.

Why not just leave the "reviews" on the book page and trust users to decide for themselves if the info has value? Why make that decision for them?
Kat Kennedy actually says something sensible (yes, yes, we know, we almost fainted with shock and spilled our lovely and rather expensive California pinot noir):
Honestly, I keep a DNR shelf to remind myself of which authors I don't want to read - and why. But I think it is perfectly reasonable for this to not show up on the book page.

No matter how much of an asshole an author is - and believe me, i know they can be, it is still reasonable that the BOOK page reflect the book. Book page is for reviews - good or bad. That's understandable.
Invasion of the body snatchers? Or just a brain transplant? Who knows... Ridley sulks and deliberately misses the point:
Kim wrote: "When looking at books to read I don't care one bit about the author, just the book." Then do what I do with image/gif reviews: skip them and instead read reviews in a style you do like.
Oh, Ridley. Attacking the author is not a "style of review"; it's ass-hattery. It's being a fucktard. If you want to criticize the author, find a more appropriate venue--like your own blog or Twitter--and have at. And yes, by all means, skip the reviews that are written in a style you don't like. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. And she sulks some more:
I guess we've just been reminded that authors and publishers pay the advertising bills, and not readers. Noted.
How much longer until she looks like the adult version of her avatar--minus the bird, of course? And then her  brain starts spinning:
How exactly do you plan to enforce this? All we have to do is mention the book in the review to get around this. How will you judge when a review has enough about the book to stay on the book page? How will you judge veracity?
How will you have time to do this *and* figure out why the site crashes every other time a user does something?
We can see Ridley's next review now (PROFANITY WARNING):
This author is a piece of shit who doesn't respect the ground that we reviewers walk on. She had the fucking temerity to express an opinion that we don't FUCKING agree with, and I really really regret that I could only get 200 of my closest GR buddies to shelve her book as a bratty-author-to-avoid because, like fucking 1200 would have been much better. But I did get a lot of them to blog about her and Twitter about how shitty she is and just let everyone they know that you should avoid this author at all costs because I think she's a shitty meanie. [lather rinse repeat several times] Oh, and I hated the heroine's first name.
The discussion continues but Ridley appears to have bowed out at the time of this posting--probably plotting with her bird how best to get around Patrick's and GR's decision to clean up the book pages. We'll keep y'all updated.

Update (that was fast, wasn't it?): Ridley's review of this Cassandra Duffy book is equally non-book-related but hasn't been hidden yet. Some discussion under the review is entertaining.


Oh, for crying out loud, folks. Anyone emailing threats to anyone else involved in the Carroll Bryant / Autumn Rosen incident, or anyone harassing, stalking, or otherwise behaving in any illegal manner over this incident, needs to STOP. Period. This goes for BOTH sides.

UPDATE:  We are getting a lot of traffic from Let us be very clear: we do not support that web site or its "mission". We do not think that critical reviews--even snarky ones full of gifs and profanity--are bullying. We do not support the posting of GR members' personal information. We absolutely do not support contacting or harassing GR members; see our side bar under "Pay Attention".

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Small Housekeeping Note

We've updated the comment settings to allow for anonymous comments. Discussion and debate--even heated debate--are fine, but threats of physical violence and statements that we, in our non-lawyerly judgment, believe to be libelous will be deleted. Thanks and we now return you to our regular programming.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Carroll Bryant v Autumn Rosen - Round 2

In a continuation of yesterday's drama, Carroll Bryant has apparently been banned from Goodreads as his blog is gone and he is not listed as being a Goodreads author. So the mob got their way.

Yesterday, Carroll took to his own blog (linked above) and posted a response to Autumn's accusations in a blog post called, "Autumn Rosen - When an Author Slanders". I am posting almost the entire blog post here because it is short, and the entire thing is relevant to this discussion:
Well, one of the things that contributed to my being banned from Goodreads was this slanderous comment made by author Autumn Rosen. Keeping in mind that I do not even know this woman. She does not know me. We have bever met, never spoken, nothing. And yet, she took it upon herself to slander me without provocation. I don't need to tell you what she said, you can see it for yourself below. But this is just one small tiny sample of what I had to endure with these Goodreads bullies. People who didn't even know me, slandering me like crazy. And might I remind you, with absolutely no evidence what-so-ever to support her slanderous claims. I will be speaking with my lawyer later in the week to discuss our options where this fine lady is concerned. If he says I have any kind of a case, I am going all the way. Meanwhile, I will also supply a link to her blog and maybe you could go and tell her what you think about her remarks. Okay? Great! LOL
Yes, we know. Carroll really means libel, not slander, but an attorney will fix that for him. This is followed by a screenshot of the post in question where Autumn says Carroll dreams of being a pedophile and implies he is a threat to "little" children. We remind our readers again that, even though a relationship between a 36 or 48 year old and an 18 year old seems icky, it is LEGAL. Further a pedopfile is someone attracted to prepubescent children, and 18 is way past that. There is also a link to Autumn's main blog (not on Goodreads). Then the text continues:
Here is her Goodreads author page if you want to talk to her there. Keep in mind that all of her information is publically available. Being an author, you do not have to be a Goodreads member to view her profile. You do need to have an account however to leave her a comment. All you have to do to find her is type in her name on your search engine and it will take right where this link will. Just promise me that you will be nice.
This is followed by a link to her Goodreads author page.

Please note that in the text above, Carroll advocates contacting her by leaving comments her public blogs and says to be nice. He does not ask people to contact her privately (via phone or email), go to her house, threaten her, etc.

Here is the comment Autumn left on the blog early this morning:
I am requesting you remove this page as you do not have a Good Reads Blog since your banning and you have not posted the 589 other posts that include your rants and threats of physical harm to others. You are directly targeting me when I had nothing to do with your ban other than to support others who started it days before I became involved. After reading what you wrote it was hard not to speak out as a parent, like the hundreds of other people but you chose ONLY me. That is predatory behavior, only further proof of the reason for your bans.
I feel physically threatened by your targeting and threats. Putting me out there, inviting people to come and look me up because all my information is public (it's not), when I only stated my opinion, directly threatens my family and safety. I am NOT publicly available to talk to by anyone not of my choosing. You do not choose for me, so this needs to end. This is harassment and cyberstalking.
Autumn has missed a few key points both in the blog post and in U.S. law as we understand it:

First, Carroll is most likely targeting Autumn because she is the one who accused him of being a pedophile and a predator; other posters were mostly just asshats. We will have to review our screen prints of that to verify.

Second, we're not sure what Autumn's definition of "public" is, but when we Google her name, her author web site, Facebook author page, and her Twitter feed all come up, as do any number of other profiles of her on Smashwords, Linkedin, and other places. We fail to see how this is NOT "public". These pages are clearly for promotional reasons (and nothing wrong with that), but that means they are out there for the public to see and interact with.

Third, Carroll's blog posts do not advocate causing Autumn harm. Asking someone to leave a comment on a blog does not "threaten [Autumn's] family or safety". Even though, she may "feel threatened", the law seems to be on Carroll's side. If every author, blogger, or other person who "felt threatened" when they were publicly criticized could stop the criticism, the entire premise of the First Amendment would be undone. Autumn's lawyer should really review Brandenburg v. Ohio, a Supreme Court case which says in part:
the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.
That said, we believe that Carroll would be better off advocating that others blog about the attacks on him on their own blogs or web sites, rather than advocating that those people contact the attacker through her public blogs and pages.

We will close with the fact that our hypocrisy meter is at full tilt by Autumn's ironic assertion that Carroll saying Autumn slandered him is harassment and stalking, yet her calling him a pedophile and child predator is peachy-keen. 

The post in question has been up and down this morning, but we do have screenshots of all this should those be necessary.

Update #1: Carroll has responded. He's not backing down. This looks like it could get ugly. Meanwhile, we also have reports that Autumn may be over on Absolute Write trying to make her case. We'll check it out as time permits.

Update #2: Carroll has removed the blog post referenced above.