If you’re reading this post, chances are you’ve already heard about the petition requesting that Amazon require reviews to be posted under the reviewer’s “real” name. Last I heard, the petition had about 6,000 signatories, including Anne Rice. The idea here is that, if people are required to use their real names when reviewing books, they will be less likely to post “bullying” reviews.
Lots of people have posted their thoughts about this, but I really have to address the mindset behind these movements that set out to reduce “bullying” in the review sphere. Put simply, I find instances of anything that resembles ACTUAL bullying in reviews to be so few and far between that calls to put an end to it are a bit like recent legislative efforts to prevent/end voter fraud. I mean, sure, it sounds like a solid idea in principle: voter fraud is clearly a bad thing. It’s just that the actual problem with voting in the US is that people who are eligible to vote DON’T, not that people who aren’t eligible DO. Similarly, the problem in the review sphere ISN’T that people leave lots of bullying reviews, but rather that to few are comfortable leaving reviews at all.
Let’s define bullying, shall we? I like the Wikipedia definition:
“Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively impose domination over others.”
When an author tells me he/she has been on the receiving end of a “bullying” review, I always ask what they mean by bullying. Most of the time, what I’m told is that this author has a fellow author nemesis who has set up a sockpuppet account to leave cruel one-star reviews on the first author’s books. This is “bullying” because the writer of the review is doing it solely to damage the author’s sales and improve his/her own.
Except, no, that’s not bullying. It’s fraudulent (assuming you can prove that the reviewer is actually sockpuppeting and not just someone you suspect of it) and it’s certainly vindictive (again, assuming you’re right that it’s a jealous author and not just a reader who genuinely didn’t like your book), but it’s not the use of force, threat or coercion. It’s the expression of an opinion. Period. And unless the reviewer has enough time on his/her hands to set up multiple sockpuppets and write multiple reviews, a single one-star review from a jealous competitor is, frankly, not likely to have much impact on your career. Plus, that jealous competitor’s career is going to suffer if he’s spending all his time writing mean reviews of your books instead of writing books of his own.
Of course, that isn’t the only kind of review that’s labeled as bullying. Snarky reviews are often called bullying. (They’re not.) DNF reviews are often called bullying. (They’re not, either.) And then there is the special category of reviews wherein the reviewer makes credible threats against the author or his/her family. The latter would, in my opinion, qualify as a bullying review. I’ve also never seen one. Lots of folks have claimed to get them. But Internet Rule #1 is that if there aren’t screen shots, it didn’t happen. And if it did happen, I can guarantee that any of the major sites, including Amazon, alerted to the existence of the threatening review, would remove it.
(Note: Saying on Twitter that you’d like to “cut” the author for killing off a beloved character is not a credible threat. It’s hyperbole. It’s also not a review.)
So, the bottom line is that this petition to require real names on Amazon reviews is a solution in search of a problem. It’s also a foolish solution that would likely lead to many, many fewer reviews of any kind for all books. In this respect, the proposed remedy is precisely analogous to the voter ID laws intended to prevent voter fraud, but which actually wind up discouraging eligible voters from voting.
And fewer reviews isn’t good for anyone. Not for readers. Not for authors. Even those who’ve actually been bullied.