By now, everybody, their dog and their neighbours must’ve seen the crapstorm on Twitter, Goodreads and other networks, stemming from this article in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/18/am-i-being-catfished-an-author-confronts-her-number-one-online-critic
I wish it were a hoax, or some PR stunt (in which case it’d be one done in very bad taste). Unfortunately, I suspect it’s not the case.
I’ve already expressed my opinion about it in a couple of tweets/comments, but I guess this is one of the issues I should blog about nonetheless, if only because the cries of “bullying” in the past months (the past couple of years?) have been growing to epic proportions, and a lot of people don’t seem to have the slightest idea anymore about what’s happening and/or what’s true and what’s fabricated.
TL;DR: reviewer posted 1-star review of book on GR. Author claims reviewer & friends harrassed her. Author then processed to track reviewer until uncovering her real ID, and showed up at her house.
I don’t know the original blogger. All I’ve been able to see were her Goodreads reading progress of the novel, not the review itself (deleted?). However, the only other side to the story is the author’s, and considering 1) the tone of the article and 2) the lack of clear proof, it’s also rather fishy. I can only recommend reading the whole article first to get a clear idea; the gloating undertones didn’t strike me as witty and humorous.
But one thing is clear for me: stalking is never OK. I don’t care what reviewers wrote, I don’t care how the author felt, I don’t care whether the reviewer’s friends went on the rampage, or whether the author’s friends did. It doesn’t matter. Simply put: fellow authors, you don’t track readers and show up on their doorstep to confront them. Seriously, who in their sane mind would consider THAT alright?
What kind of message does that send?
- Random schmuck does the same thing, s/he likely gets a restraining order against him/herself. Author does it, she gets an article in the online Guardian and a pat on the back.
- It’s OK to stalk a reviewer because you didn’t like what s/he wrote about your book.
- Reviewers should always post with their real names (cf. the asinine Amazon petition endorsed by Anne Rice); if they don’t, it means there’s something shady going on, they have something to hide (hint: their privacy?), they’re only here for the trolling & bullying. (Authors, though, are totally allowed to use pen names.)
To which I answer:
- Way to go, author who’s clearly in a position of power (access to media platform, publishing house, family connections). Way to prove that when you have fame and money (also when you’re going out with the son of Frank Rich, one of the most connected journalists in New York), stalking becomes OK. But the readers who leave less than 5-stars reviews are, of course, bullies hurt your feelings, so you’re entitled to follow them home. Not.
- No, all other authors don’t agree with that. In fact, I’ve seen a bunch who’re clearly disgusted by such behaviour.
- You don’t answer reviews. Repeat after me: YOU. DON’T. ANSWER. REVIEWS. Reviews are for readers, NOT for authors. Reviewers aren’t (y)our editors nor beta-readers. They’re not here to “help you improve”. They’re the ones at the end of the road, reading the final product. Not liking it is their right. Deal with it, or find another job.
- You don’t make important decisions, nor discuss delicate matters when you’re drunk. (The author admitted it in her article. Granted, I admit when I’m drunk, too… but then I don’t proceed to stalk people either.)
- When told not to engage trolls and bullies, DON’T ENGAGE TROLLS AND BULLIES. The first rule in such cases is “don’t feed the trolls”. I learnt that around year 2000 or so, possibly even before that. Surely other people can learn it as well.
- Catfishing isn’t creating a pseudonym and posting some elements of your real life under that name. Catfishing is deliberately posing as someone else in order to lure the targetted person into a romantic/sexual relationship. Go check your facts, please.
- So, such things happen, and we should post under our real names? Are you kidding me? (The present situation notwithstanding, people should never reveal too much about themselves on the internet anyway. That’s one basic rule of safety. I also learnt that back in 1997 or something.)
- Go home, Guardian. You’re clearly drunk. What in Mordor ever possessed your editors to let that piece of garbage make the news? Didn’t anyone notice how wrong the whole thing was?
You might say, “it’s not OK either for reviewers to attack an author through his/her work, to be nasty towards the author just because”. And I totally agree with that! Cyber-bullying is real, even though I think the whole term’s been used more and more in the book-blogging world to cry wolf at any negative review, instead of labelling real bullying. However, this is a point fit for another discussion, not this one, for a very simple reason: it diverts the attention from the real problem, which is the stalking. Discussing the reviewer’s behaviour at this point would be akin to, say, asking a rape victim “don’t you think that you wearing a miniskirt attracted unwanted attention, and so, in a way, you were asking for it?” This is a case of victim-blaming, and it has to stop. The reviewer, in this case, doesn’t have to prove she didn’t attack the author. The author’s making the claims, so she has to prove them. That’s why you have to take screenshots, people. (That’s why I’ve added ‘shots of the Guardian article at the bottom of my post, by the way.) Demanding that the blogger comes up and sue the author is basically implying “if you don’t do it, it means you’re guilty of [trolling, whatever] and the author was right in stalking you”, which in itself is wrong. For what it’s worth, maybe the blogger is now scared. People don’t waltz into the limelight when they’re scared.
At the end of the day, all it takes is one more step on the slippery slope to turn “anxiety at a 1-star, trolling reviewer justifies stalking” into “anxiety at a 1-star reviewer justifies stalking”. What causes “grief” to an author is always highly subjective. I was once told that I wrote “digusting things that no normal human being would ever imagine”; I’m pretty sure that comment would have crushed someone else, while it just made me raise an eyebrow before I switched to another activity. What would the next step be? “If a review makes me feel bad, I’m justified in stalking the reviewer?” What if just any negative review makes me feel bad? Does it justify going on the warpath?
Maybe the reviewer behaved like shite. I don’t know, since the author didn’t provide clear proof (tweets, screenshots, etc.). The Goodreads reading progress on that specific book didn’t strike me as an attack against the author, just as comments about why the reviewer felt infuriated by what she was reading. Still, it doesn’t justify said author tracking information about the reader, calling at work, driving to her home, confronting her. (And finding Blythe’s behaviour strange: well, of course it must’ve been strange. If suddenly someone walked up to me, calling me by my real name to confront me about something I wrote online under a pseudonym, maybe I’d panic and start to deny in a frantic, suspicious way, because I’d realised someone tracked me and found my house, not because I’m a troll. When people feel threatened, there’s no way to say how they’ll react. They don’t always react in a logical, smart way.)
This whole thing is just so stupid, and I still can’t understand why the Guardian ever gave a platform to something like that. (Or, rather, I can, and it’s a shame.)
Screenshots of the article: