On cyber-bullying authors and Cyber-Bullying Authors

The Guardian reports that Anne Rice has supported a petition for Amazon to implement an identity verification system for reviewers and message board posters in an effort to alleviate the bullying of authors on the site. Earlier this year, Rice herself was attacked by bullies, many posting anonymously or using multiple accounts, when she posted on the Amazon boards.

I didn’t witness the Rice incident, but I certainly followed the Charlaine Harris one. When the ending of the final book of the Southern Vampire Mysteries (a.k.a. Sookie Stackhouse series) was leaked, angry readers cancelled pre-orders and flocked to Amazon and other message boards to rage at Harris. There were many threats to inflict physical harm on her, and many more insults and name-calling.

I have been very unhappy about how the Sookie series shaped up myself, and until now, I have held out on buying the last two books. I can’t blame the people who cancelled pre-orders; it is their right as consumers. It is also within the rights of the fans to be unhappy about the story and to write that they did not like it. But calling Harris names and threatening her is too much.

Like a painting displayed in an art gallery, books are an author’s creative work that is being shared with the world. We are free to critique the paintings and say that the color palette is a visual nightmare or the book’s plot is shitty. But we do not have the right to say that the artist deserves to die or to bombard her webpage and social network accounts with threats or to harass the author with demands that the story end a certain way.

I’m not sure how Rice and the petitioners envision the identity verification system should work, but I’m hoping this also means that the system can alleviate Cyber-Bullying Authors on Amazon, and hopefully in other places like Goodreads as well. We know they exist, and they have a following who can turn into cyber bullies themselves; there is a lot of documentation online that this happened before.

If bullying authors is a problem, then authors who bully reviewers is equally a problem. Like a painting displayed in a gallery, when you publish a book, you open yourself up to criticism, no matter how much those comments stab and poke and bleed out your authorial pride. Authors, of course, have the right to complain against reviewers who go above and beyond just plain snarky or cruel criticisms on their blogs or SNS accounts, especially if death threats are involved and if they cause real mayhem. But targeting readers who blog about your work being shitty, and getting your friends and colleagues to target same readers, is just plain unprofessional.

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