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Amazon and Anonymity: Reviewers Fight Back

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Yesterday, I wrote an article concerning a new online petition, initiated by Editor Todd Barselow, asking Jeff Bezos and Amazon, the world’s largest online book seller, to review its current anonymity policy towards reviewers and amazon forum posters.

The petition, currently signed by close to 5,000 people has garnered some very vocal support online and, particularly, in the author community, including New York Times best-seller, Anne Rice.

In the previous article, we heard from Mrs. Rice, as well as, other writers who have come out in favor of the petition and changing Amazon’s policies.

Today, it’s all about the reviewer.

What do the people who review and post anonymously think about the petition to force them to use their real identities? Well, I’ll let them tell you

First, allow me to describe my own experiences in the “Top Reviewers” forum on Amazon.

“Wow”, is the first word that comes to mind. The forum is very similar to school. I was welcomed by almost everyone but, naturally, as with anyone new, some were suspicious of my motives and tried to expose me as some spy for the other side.

After a while, they spoke freely and openly about their online reviewing experiences and for that I am truly grateful.

Many had only pleasant feedback from their reviews and felt that anonymity didn’t matter. Others felt they have been singled out for either supporting a particular author’s work or disparaging one.

Some are afraid that like comic book super-heroes, if they unmask, they will put themselves and their families in danger from cyber-attacks, real-life stalkers and fanatical supporters of certain authors bombarding them day and night.

Others are afraid their personal preferences of different books, such as erotica, and certain items (firearms) that they review, if they went public, might present a skewed view of their personal life to their friends, family and co-workers. Understandable.

Yet others feel a name shouldn’t matter and their words are what counts.

As for a secret undercurrent or gang of bullies that prey on certain authors and posters like a “brotherhood of evil reviewers”, looking to destroy any and all who disagree with them or that they just don’t like, in the 24 hours I spent on the forum, I saw only a few.

These people constantly down-vote comments from opposing posters and try to overwhelm anyone who appears weak and unwilling to engage.

As I said before, the forum is a lot like a classroom run by a disinterested substitute and a principal that just doesn’t care.

Basically, I was left with the feeling that a lot of these anonymous posters are paranoid, but like someone once told me, “are you really paranoid if someone is constantly watching you?”. And, as we all know, online someone is always watching you.

Is there an answer to Amazon’s anonymity problem? Well, that’s above my pay grade. But one thing remains certain, as long as writers need to market their books, they will do so on Amazon and, as long as the people who purchase those books wish to speak out, Amazon will not bite the hand that feeds them.

In the time I spent on the forum, there were over 350 posts. Length and space prohibits me from including everyone’s comments, though I appreciate them all. In choosing, I tried to pick those that represented the majority. I hope I have succeeded. Here are a few:

Phred

Just to be 'clever; Mrs. Rice has used at least one nom de plume. Over all I respect the lady even If I stopped reading her works somewhere around the Ramses book.
I post at Amazon. Amazon knows who I am and has several tools available should I abuse their TOS. That is either enough for those authors who fell put upon by reviewers or too bad for those so easily bruised.
I do not have the PR firms or Publishing Houses to come between me and fans/detractors. I do not have income from my reviews to buy physical security or replace lost income from an employer who might be influenced by an irate author.
I am being literal:
IF your petitioners wish to assume all liability and risks associated with making all of our names public, then we can talk. Show me the paid up bond and the terms to make claims against it. Then we can start this discussion on something close to equal standings/equal risks.

Rose Summers

I'm absolutely against this petition made by Anne Rice, etc. al requiring the full names of those who use the service. I think people not only have the right to privacy and choosing their own screen names by their selection, but also for being able to express their opinions in a safe environment without fear of retaliation from those who have a stake in the product. Exposing the real names of users will not help curve any kind of "bullying" that may occur, but would rather make it easier for those with malicious or compromising intent to expose, belittle, and berate those who leave honest consumer reviews - positive, negative, or the medium between. I believe in the power of the written word - reviews about products are simply that - reflections about the experience of that product from those who peruse them. Books are no exception to that. Amazon, on the contrary, already has access to the account information of those who use the service, so if in any event there's a case where bullying can be noted among other violations of TOS - they can take necessary action as needed. But there's no reason why real names should be exposed to the millions of other people who use Amazon, especially if it's against the will of the user.
I think if there are people who choose to use their real name, they have the right to do that, and I would have no qualms with that either, but having the choice taken away from a user of the service is most certainly a violation of a freedom that I think is important to have. Further, the real name policy would not curve any bullying that actually occurs - it may even escalate aggression, especially on the part of those who try to belittle, berate, or control someone who has an opinion that doesn't agree with them. And it is a double standard when you have an author who may post under a penname for whatever reason (and they certainly have that right), but require a consumer (who is already paying or consuming the product with their time, energy, expenses in various form) to have such a measure put against them. It doesn't seem fair to me. Not fair at all.

Moonlight Reader

Amazon's reviewing system does have significant problems. The problem, however, is not that there is a group of all-powerful "bullies" who are running wild and ruining careers. Anyone who is foolish enough to think that can't possibly have a career to ruin. The problem is, really, that the entire book review system has been hijacked by self-published authors who create sock-puppets to post fake reviews, who hire people to post fake reviews, who have street teams who harass reviewers who post anything less than a five-star reviews. These explosive encounters occur all over the internet.
There is a difference between "drama" which is what most of this is, and "bullying" which is what none of this is. Ask any teenage girl to tell you the difference between "drama" and "bullying" and she will be able to give you a sophisticated definition.
Reviews are for readers, not authors. Reviewers are a single small voice that does nothing more than provide one person's opinion about a product, and claiming that they are these all-powerful entities that must be outed or the world of decency and literature will somehow come to an end is really silly.
If I wanted to review under my real name, I would. If I were to be required to review under my real name, I might decide that I was still willing to post reviews. But the choice should be mine, not some peeved author who is unhappy that I didn't post glowing praise of his/her brilliance. If you want to look at my reviews, I would invite you to click on my profile. But act quickly, because they are going to disappear.

Margaret Chrisawn says:

I review using my real name, all of it, and include my email address on my profile. I frequently write very lengthy and often scathing one-star reviews of alleged historical fiction, no matter whether it is traditionally published, indie published, or from SPAs. I have been threatened, had nasty comments from outraged authors appended to my reviews, threatened with being sued, and had my own academic book attacked by cyber bullies who were fans of a particular author. I do not care one whit. I will continue to write my reviews based on what I think, liberally sprinkled with quotes from the book in question, and damn the consequences. Perhaps I should be afraid of the cyber bullies, but I'm too old and set in my ways. And yes, I think this petition, especially the motivation--and motivator!--behind it--is particularly specious and a waste of time. Still, it's been amusing to read the comments here, all of which make far more sense than the putative "petition."

Frank Tuttle says:

I'm late to the discussion, but my comments may be used in any way the OP sees fit.
This is my take on the matter, as an author.
I write books. My publisher puts them out there, and I write more books. I read and reply to every email or message a reader sends. I meet readers at cons and signings. It's a lot of fun, really.
Once in a great while, I'll fortify myself with certain traditional beverages and read reviews of my books. On even more infrequent occasions, I read reviews left on Amazon.
But I read the reviews with one thing in mind -- they're really none of my business.
Once a book is released, it belongs to the market. To the readers. I wrote the book, and stuck THE END on it, and all my chances to defend or explain the story are spent.
I don't feel like I need to know anyone's name. If a reader calling themselves BBQ1982 feels led to note that my skills as a writer are exceeded by those of freshly-stunned mollusks, well, that's part of the job of being a writer. Not everyone is going to love you. And that's fine.
So I respectfully oppose the aims of this petition. Although, to be perfectly honest, I also believe the whole brouhaha is a tempest in a teapot.

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