On Reviewing, and the Goodreads Upheaval O’ Doom

So I’ve been following the Badly Behaving Author/GR Bully conflict for a while now, and as well as chronicling my writing I’d wanted to share my thoughts about this latest development and the conflict in general, as someone who considers themselves both a writer and a reviewer. (I know, I know, sounds like SRS BIZNESS all of a sudden–don’t worry, this will be an atypical post. Or do worry, if you prefer this type of post!) I’ll talk about my own reviewing ethos at another time, for now i just wanted to discuss the shelf-deleting debacle.

To start off, do I agree with it? In a word, no.

Will I be leaving Goodreads over it? Again, no. The shelves deleted by the staff are a kind of shelves I would never use, so I’m not really affected by the new policy. As for standing on principle for freedom of speech… well, that’s a more complicated matter.

Over the last few months I’ve come to realise that there was a lot of behaviour and beliefs on both sides of the conflict that I personally disagreed with, but at the same time recognised the right of others to hold those beliefs and engage in such behaviour. I’m not talking about the criminal actions (which I believe were undertaken by outliers on both side, though to what degree is difficult to tell with the evidence I’ve come across). I don’t think the ‘BBA’ shelves were appropriate, but I do think think those who made the shelves should retain the right to have them. Thus I don’t think it is necessary for Goodreads to delete such shelves, but I do recognise that they have a right to make whatever rules they want for their site, and those who have left in protest are probably the kind of users that the staff feel they no longer want on the site anyway.

What I would have liked to see from Goodreads is some effort to stop reviewers fraudulently rating (whether well or poorly) and reviewing books they have not read, especially since I’ve seen some evidence that these reviews may go beyond personal conflict retribution and into the much more damaging realm of bots. Because here’s how I see the conflict (as if my opinion makes any difference, but here goes…)

Reviewers should have the right to say whatever they want about books they have read, or read part of. While I would not bring the author into a book review, I understand that for some the character of the author is important, so reviewers should be allowed to say what they will about them, up to the point of libellous or slanderous accusations (I am aware the legal definition of these terms can be hazy, there’s not much I can do about that). I believe authors should be allowed to complain to their fans about bad or misinformed reviews. I don’t think they should engage with the reviewer without invitation or approval, and definitely shouldn’t get their fans to round up the torches and pitchforks, but that’s for individual websites to regulate–whatever they want the balance of free speech and drama on their sites to be. I’d err on the side of free speech. Others would not.

I don’t think authors should be blamed for fans who attack bad reviews, nor should reviewers round up their own angry mobs for 1-starring campaigns which could hurt the author’s livelihoods out of spite. If you have not read the book, don’t rate or review it. Conversely, authors should not be spamming or asking for good reviews, or worst of all–paying for good reviews, or doing anything to fraudulently improve their ratings.

There’s three things for the individual author or reviewer to consider here; behaviour you have to make your own choices about, behaviour that is regulated (to whatever degree or effectiveness) by individual websites–which has to be respected if you want to use the website, and behaviour which is blatantly criminal such as doxxing and threats of physical harm. I don’t think what’s happened recently on Goodreads can be deemed ‘censorship’ so much as tone-policing, but at the same time, it’s not something I agree with.

But then, sometimes there’s something to be said for agreeing to disagree.


One thought on “On Reviewing, and the Goodreads Upheaval O’ Doom

  1. Charleen says:

    “…those who have left in protest are probably the kind of users that the staff feel they no longer want on the site anyway.”

    Actually, most of the reactions I’ve been seeing are along the lines of, “I wasn’t directly affected, but I’m leaving anyway.” Whether those users are actually deleting their accounts, I don’t know. Personally, I’m still on the fence but leaning toward leaving… at the very least, I’m no longer posting reviews.


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