We've all heard the stories of authors reacting badly to reviewers. It happens. Kathleen Hale is a prime example of that occurring, and her actions kicked off the great book blog blackout week and the #haleno campaign.
And I believe that. Reviews are for customers, not authors. They should be, must be, sacrosanct, in a way that free speech must be sacrosanct, to preserve the freedom to express unpopular opinions in a safe forum, to air all viewpoints, to discuss all topics.
...But even free speech has a limit. Most of us agree that hate speech is not protected. Unwarranted attacks against another person are not protected under free speech. And this, also, should apply to book reviews.
Here's what I mean:
Recently, an author named Stephanie C. Fox came under fire for some viewpoints she expressed about human overpopulation and childbirth. Some people took offense at her viewpoint, This happens; anyone involved in discussions online is bound to piss someone off, amirite?
But then, these people decided to gang up and ruin Ms. Fox. They discussed this online, then marched to Amazon and wrote falsified reviews. All one-star, all posted on the same day, not one a verified review of the material.
And I have proof: Here is the screen capture of one of their discussions. If you cross-reference the names, you'll notice that many of the reviews have the same or similar names to the people commenting.
Again, I wouldn't want to interfere in free speech. Even threads like this, where people vent vitriol about things they disagree with, I accept and permit. But this is not only an open forum, but these attacks are masquerading as legitimate customer feedback. Maybe they'd really have hated her book. But to attack someone in this manner is reprehensible and unacceptable, and it makes both real readers and authors wary of one another.
As full disclosure, I have not read Nae-Nee either. It might be terrible. All these reviews might be justified.
This does not change the basic reality, that reviews are supposed to be honest assessments of work, not vicious attacks against another person.
As far as I know, Ms. Fox has not responded to the trolls. I, however, am taking what action I can: I have sent a message to Amazon requesting that the offensive reviews be removed. I am pasting a copy of my letter to them below.
Please provide the following information to help us answer your question:
1. What is the name of the Kindle book or reading material that you are having trouble with? Nae-Nee - Birth Control: Infallible, with Nanites and Convenience for All.
2. Which device are you using to access the content (e.g. Kindle Paperwhite, PC, iPad, etc.)? Not relevant
3. Please describe the problem, including any error message that you see, and any troubleshooting steps that you have already tried.
This book has been the subject of fraudulent reviews. As the result of something the author posted in an unrelated forum, several people chose to attack her, submitting one- and two-star reviews over the course of a single day (the evening of the 20th and through the 21st). I believe that these reviews should be taken down, as they do not represent true customer opinions, but are represented as such.
I have evidence that these reviews are the result of a "plan" to ruin Ms. Fox, which I can submit upon request (this email does not allow me to attach or paste it): a facebook post wherein many of the reviewers discuss their actions and laugh about the distress this is likely to cause Ms. Fox.
I know that reviews are an important customer resource. Therefore, you should remove these reviews in order to preserve the integrity and validity of this resource.
If you have comments, I would love to hear them. Please don't think I'm attacking readers, or the freedom to review and express opinions. If you DNF a book, review it. If you think that the author uses the word "gosh-darn" too much and every character sounds like an idiot, say so. If the work makes you feel uncomfortable because it seems overtly racist, let us know. But don't bring anger from another venue and use it to destroy someone's life's work.