Hello book lovers, I'd like your opinion on a NYT article about how online book reviews are being used as a weapon to "destroy" books or writers. It is about a book about Michael Jackson, not very complimentary of the dead star, and his fans, apparently a very organized group called "Michael Jackson’s Rapid Response Team to Media Attacks", swarmed Amazon with sock-puppetry and other means of leaving horrendous reviewed of the book, that ended up with just 1 star in Amazon. The book is not selling well, but it is hard to know if it was the bad review effect or that the book is actually bad, it git mixed reviews from the critics. The article also talks about authors who buy positive reviewers, people who get paid for writing favorable reviews in Amazon. There is something about all this internet swarms that makes me uncomfortable. Yes, everyone is exercising their free speech rights, but there is something fundamentally not transparent about this behavior and it could easily lead to a tyranny of the majority, so to speak. Better organized groups with a lot of people (and/or money) can end up suppressing other people free speech rights in an indirect way. What do you guys think?
Read the article (it's not too long) and please comment if the subject interests you.
Reviews on Amazon are becoming attack weapons, intended to sink new books as soon as they are published.
In the biggest, most overt and most successful of these campaigns, a group of Michael Jackson fans used Facebook and Twitter to solicit negative reviews of a new biography of the singer. They bombarded Amazon with dozens of one-star takedowns, succeeded in getting several favorable notices erased and even took credit for Amazon’s briefly removing the book from sale.
“Books used to die by being ignored, but now they can be killed — and perhaps unjustly killed,” said Trevor Pinch, a Cornell sociologist who has studied Amazon reviews. “In theory, a very good book could be killed by a group of people for malicious reasons.”
In “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson,” Randall Sullivan writes that Jackson’s overuse of plastic surgery reduced his nose to little more than a pair of nostrils and that he died a virgin despite being married twice. These points in particular seem to infuriate the fans.
Outside Amazon, the book had a mixed reception; in The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called it “thoroughly dispensable.” So it is difficult to pinpoint how effective the campaign was. Still, the book has been a resounding failure in the marketplace.
The fans, who call themselves Michael Jackson’s Rapid Response Team to Media Attacks, say they are exercising their free speech rights to protest a book they feel is exploitative and inaccurate. “Sullivan does everything he can to dehumanize, dismantle and destroy, against all objective fact,” a spokesman for the group said.
But the book’s publisher, Grove Press, said the Amazon review system was being abused in an organized campaign. “We’re very reluctant to interfere with the free flow of discourse, but there should be transparency about people’s motivations,” said Morgan Entrekin, president of Grove/Atlantic, Grove’s parent company.
Amazon said the fans’ reviews had not violated its guidelines but declined further comment.
The retailer, like other sites that depend on customer reviews, has been faced with the problem of so-called sock puppets, those people secretly commissioned by an author to produce favorable notices. In recent months, Amazon has made efforts to remove reviews by those it deemed too close to the author, especially relatives.
The issue of attack reviews, though, has received little attention. The historian Orlando Figes was revealed in 2010 to be using Amazon to anonymously vilify his rivals and secretly praise himself. The crime writer R. J. Ellory was exposed for doing the same thing last fall.
Attack reviews are hard to police. It is difficult, if not impossible, to detect the difference between an authentic critical review and an author malevolently trying to bring down a colleague, or organized assaults by fans. Amazon’s extensive rules on reviewing offer little guidance on what is permissible in negative reviews and what is not.
With “Untouchable,” Grove had hopes for a modest best seller. The book was excerpted in Vanity Fair, and Mr. Sullivan, a longtime contributor to Rolling Stone who lives in Portland, Ore., promoted it on “Nightline” and “Good Morning America.” Amazon selected it as one of the best books of November, encouraging readers to “check out this train wreck of a life.” The retailer also selected it as one of the 100 best e-books of the year.
None of that helped when Mr. Sullivan tried to complain, saying reviews of his book were factually false yet being voted up by the fans so that they dominated the page for “Untouchable.” The bookseller replied with boilerplate. “Rest assured, we’ll read each of the reviews and remove any that violate our guidelines,” adding, “We’ve appreciated your business and hope to have the opportunity to serve you again in the future.”
In an interview, Mr. Sullivan asked: “Should people be allowed to make flagrantly false comments about the content of a book or its author? This is suppression of free speech in the name of free speech.”
Read the rest here.
Yep. All good examples. I'm sure all of that happened pre-internet era, too. It's just that the scale and speed has changed drastically now!
Not to be paranoid, but I was struck by this comment on the NYT article:
The Koch bros actually hold classes to teach right-wingers how to bombard the internet with their evil agenda. It teaches them how to 'vote down' books and movies on sites like Amazon and Rotten Tomatoes.
Here is a video of an Americans for Prosperity troll training class.
Here is the video, embedded (worth while the watch, the guy giving the talk is advocating for outright cheating)
Like he says "Give our ideas a fighting chance."
These would go nowhere without cheating.
Yes, funny how their ideas would not spread without resorting to cheating or manipulation :-P
I guess I don't pay that much attention to online reviews. I don't find them ever trustworthy. How many times can you buy junk that's rated awesome before you recognize the scam?
Atheists do the same thing. There's something we disagree with, and depending on how much it irritates us, we attack in mass. Of course we'd like to think that we are in the right, and hopefully we don't get bamboozled, or if we do it's only short lived, but we do the same even if it's in the name of reason.
Systematically rating down books or videos I disagree with, without reading anything about them?
I don't do that, my time is too precious.
I'm with Michel.