Playground Bullies Online

posted in: Various Musings | 0

I’ve had the pleasure of being part of several multi-author anthologies over the years (Hot Summer Nights, Inked, Mistletoe & Kisses, several editions of Pink Shades of Words, and—most recently—What To Read After Fifty Shades of Grey: Coming of Age). Anthologies used to seem to sell fairly well but they don’t seem to do as well nowadays (I’m guessing due to a glut in the market). Nothing wrong with that, but I overanalyze everything, and this phenomenon is no exception.

I didn’t learn anything really, at least not about that trend, but I did discover something that made me pretty angry. I was looking at reviews for one of these anthologies recently, and I saw that a reviewer had one-starred one of these books on Goodreads. I frowned, because this person didn’t look “real,” if you catch my drift. This person’s “name” was one letter—like L—and s/he had no profile picture. I clicked on the link to their “name” and discovered that this person’s average review was one star.

My sense of justice kicked in.

Don’t get me wrong—I think everyone is entitled to an opinion, positive or negative, and they have the right to be public about it. But when it appears that someone has set up a fake profile just to trash others’ work…I don’t take kindly to it.

Well, I didn’t just sit still. Being the constantly naïve people lover, I felt it was my duty to contact the fine people at Goodreads. I sent them this message:

I am not able to flag this user, but I suspect that this account is used only to leave negative one-star ratings for books this user hasn’t actually read. I only say this because this user has one initial for a name, his/her profile is private, and s/he has over 17,000 ratings with an average rating of one star–and no reviews whatsoever. Because this appears to be abuse, I wanted to report it. The profile in question: [Link redacted, of course!]

Because I didn’t get permission to quote Goodreads, I’ll simply sum up their response to me. They were very polite, but they basically told me that the ratings system is used differently by different users and they didn’t see anything that they consider abuse.

[Before I move on, let me just say that I checked that profile again. That profile has changed. It’s still one letter (now B instead of A, for instance), but I find it interesting that all 17,614 ratings are GONE (yes, the ones with an average rating of 1 star) and now this person has -16 ratings. That makes no sense to me, but it does make me think that, perhaps, Goodreads might have actually done more digging but wanted to keep me out of it.]

But I had a discussion on Facebook about it with some of my reader and writer buddies. Apparently, there are lots of single-letter trolls who hide behind an initial who spend their time on Goodreads giving books one star. It makes this writer’s imagination go wild (who would do that?  What would they gain?)…and I almost friended that troll, just to let her know I was on to her. But I know that would have been a huge mistake for lots of reasons.

It makes me feel better that Goodreads might be doing something about it, perhaps behind the scenes, because—if not—that will only contribute to the environment that many readers and writers shy away from. I know so many friends who avoid Goodreads like the plague because of bad experiences they’ve had there.

The bottom line? When you have all the evidence there that a user is merely a troll (maybe not technically violating the rules but certainly is abusing the intent), just letting them continue to do what they’re doing is like ignoring the bully on the playground because they’re not actually hitting anyone.

With that in mind, I just might continue to report these one-letter bullies and maybe the teacher will eventually pay attention.

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