Have you noticed something disturbing on Amazon and Goodreads lately? If you are an avid reader and/or book reviewer, like myself, you have probably noticed a growing trend. Unfortunately, they are not hard to find. Individuals posing as serious reviewers post scathing reviews of books, sometimes long before the books are even published or available, slandering the book, other readers who give the book a positive review, and tearing the author to shreds. These so-called “trolls”, so named because of their enduring nastiness and reliance on anonymity, excoriate books and authors simply for the pleasure of being horrible and tearing others down. In many cases, you can tell from their reviews that these people have not even read the book they are discussing, but their reviews count just as much as anyone else’s. It is both sad and horribly unfair.
NY Times best-selling author Anne Rice is leading a petition to stop review sites (like Amazon and Goodreads) from allowing their reviewers to be anonymous. She calls it essentially cyber-bullying and when you think about it, it actually is. Often hiding behind pseudonyms, these people unleash their tirades without consequence. In the linked article, authors talk about the extreme criticisms they have received from online “readers”, some of whom have threatened them with physical harm, if you can believe that.
The lack of personal accountability here is astounding. That some sites provide platforms for these haters is even more so. This kind of discourse has no place anywhere. If you don’t like a book or an author, fine. We all have come across ones that we either dislike or disagree with. But constructive criticism is always appropriate, and no book is universally loved. But allowing individuals to post vile, malicious reviews that have little or no basis in the book itself undermines the entire process. I do believe reviewers should be forced to identify themselves, to stand behind what they say. I’m sure that won’t eliminate hurtful, unjustified critiques, but it would certainly help.
I understand that Amazon and Goodreads are not in the business of censorship and have no desire to scan their millions of pages and look for inappropriate postings. And yet, both sites have use policies that outline high standards when it comes to comments, so if they don’t plan to enforce them, why have them in the first place? It seems like all we have done is given these trolls a voice when they deserve none. Perhaps the sites should enforce the old adage “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.
Have you noticed these kinds of people lurking around book review sites? And if so, do you think they should be allowed to hide behind anonymity? What responsibilities do sites like Amazon and Goodreads have to monitor their own pages?