Who Are You? And Who Needs to Know?

CNSPhoto-Simpsons Everything I’ve ever written or posted at AAR has been under my own name. My real one. Since I’ve been doing this for well over a decade and have an unusual name, I figure I am about the easiest person to find on the internet. You google me, you get me. I made the choice early on, and I’ve always been comfortable with it. But we have several staff members who use a pseudonym. Reasons vary; for some it’s a professional issue, for others a privacy one. Honestly, when a reviewer wants to use an assumed name I don’t feel the need to ask them why. I don’t really care what you call yourself as long as you are professional.

The same goes for posters on our blogs and message boards. You can be Rebecca Realname or BookLuvr43. Really, it doesn’t matter. Some people are more comfortable with anonymity, and we’ve always been okay with that here. Back in the early wild west-y days of the internet, we used to see a lot of authors post anonymously in heated discussions – sometimes because they were afraid how other authors would react, or how we would react. Nearly always, we were fine with it.

Of course now and then someone abuses the system. Posters pretend to be several different people at once, all “agreeing” with each other. Or, on one memorable occasion, an author’s sister posted all over the internet pretending to be a random reader who had just “discovered” a fabulous new author. (One of our former reviewers followed up on our staff email group pretending to write a post as the author’s dog – I’ve seldom laughed so hard). Our policy in cases like this is to delete fraudulent posts. Really, it seldom happens now. Most of us know how to act like grown-ups.

But what happens when we forget how to act like grown-ups? The recent Goodreads bully controversy is like a flashback to our wild west days, bringing back arguments I thought we’d all settled years ago (actually, it kind of reminds me of recent political battles rehashing birth control). Are we actually arguing, again, over what to do when we don’t agree with someone? Over whether someone can say something you disagree with and still have the right to privacy? I understand getting upset with a goodreads reviewer, or a poster, or a blogger. I understand taking issue with something someone has said. But stalking them and revealing their personal information? Not acceptable, ever. I don’t care whether someone has crossed an arbitrary line that you’ve set up (for example, failing to criticize the book “properly,” and instead skipping straight ahead to “This book is a giant, steaming pile of shit.”).

The problems are obvious. Who determines the “rules”? Which vigilante gets to trade in her pitchfork for a sheriff’s badge? And having received personal information (like, for God’s sake, the restaurant someone frequents), are we all supposed to pick up pitchforks too and pop by for a good old fashioned lynching? The richest irony of course is that the people who run this site are utter hypocrites, anonymously stalking…in order to prevent anonymous stalking. I’m no detective, but I don’t think Peter Pan or Johnny Be Good is a real name.

Oh, and who do I think should determine the rules? That’s easy: The websites themselves. AAR doesn’t believe in sugar-coating anything, but neither will we publish a review that simply calls a book a giant, steaming pile of shit. If we find a poster’s comments too far out of line – or fraudulent in some way – we can delete them. Goodreads, Dear Author, and every other website has the same privilege and responsibility. They get to decide how far is too far. If you find a site, blogger, reviewer, tweeter, or poster offensive – why are you following them? It’s a big internet out there, and in some ways we are all anonymous to each other.

Do I think some comments or reviews cross a line? Sure. Do I think there are people who stir up trouble and negativity? Yes. Do I also think they are entitled to their privacy anyway? Absolutely.

- Blythe Barnhill

12 Responses to “Who Are You? And Who Needs to Know?”

  1. Tee says:

    Blythe: If you find a site, blogger, reviewer, tweeter, or poster offensive – why are you following them?

    My comments will be short on this one because I totally agree with you. The question above that I pulled out of your article is a good summation. If some discussion or whatever goes beyond the pale in your eyes, then abandon it. Most things said on these sites do not change the world anyway and it’s not worth the aggravation. :)

  2. Blythe says:

    What? I thought my reviews were changing the world. Fourteen years, wasted. ;)

  3. AAR Sandy says:

    I agree with everything you said, Blythe. If I had it to do all over again I would use a pseudonym. Really wish I had, but that door is closed after 10 years!

    I have had a recent problem with sock puppets on blogs – people posing as someone else in order to agree with themselves – that I’ve let go. Since they are fraudulent posts, I’m sorry I did that now. I won’t again.

  4. Katja says:

    Thank you! You’ve said it all, I have nothing to add or comment.
    Just: Thank you!

  5. Clutterconqueror says:

    Wow, there is a lot of food for thought here, not only in your article but in some of the other pieces that I read in order to figure out what was going on. Without expressing an opinion of the ethics or behavior, I would just like to say that this is a good reminder that the Internet is not private. If you post it, it’s out there forever for anyone and everyone to see. Anonymity is an illusion.

    • xina says:

      I would just like to say that this is a good reminder that the Internet is not private. If you post it, it’s out there forever for anyone and everyone to see. Anonymity is an illusion.

      This is so true, and what we reiterate to children and teens when they start using the internet. While I am horrified at the outing of someone’s personal information, I believe that you have to own the words you put online. It is naive to think that only a small community is reading them and they don’t matter. It’s a huge big world outside your keyboard and you just never know who might be watching. Scary.

  6. LeeF says:

    While I am fairly new to the AAR/Dear Author/romance review world, I must say that you reviewer/bloggers have changed my world. I really like reading all of the range of opinions on such a variety or books and genre. I am quite often infuenced to try a new author by what I read from a reviewer. How lucky are we that people are willing to put the time and talent into something so useful. To heck with those who abuse the system- they will eventually burn out or get what they deserve from the community at large.

  7. leslie says:

    It’s interesting that recently over at Popehat the same issue has come up. A button pusher thread got out of hand and the comments were shut down. Over the weekend a thread about the shut down got a little snarky too. The guys at Popehat are very angry and I am curious about what will happen in future threads. Except for Ken I believe the other guys at Popehat also use pen names.

    I totally sympathize with you about pen names. I wish I had kept my maiden name for professional use.

    I find that no matter the issue whether it’s at AAR, DA, SBTR or GR it’s always the same people who light it up. I respect them for their comments and often agree. It’s good to mix it up, but civility is of utmost importance and name calling defeats the purpose of good discussion. Feelings get hurt. People leave and don’t come back. Not good.
    Some are better at debate and those who aren’t often resort to abuse when they can’t maintain their argument during heated discussions. It’s a talent to debate well verbally even more so in writing.

    The recent backlash against Sandy’s “serious reader” comment really burnt me up. The thread became mean and petty and (to me) blown out of proportion. I am always amazed at what gets people going.

    I look forward to the comment part of the blogs I read. I’ve learned about new authors, new ideas and issues or alternative ways of looking at issues and interesting web sites too. Reading blogs like AAR have opened up so much for me as a reader and a woman in this digital age. Until recently I had no idea about the “Streisand Effect” and many other things about the web community that were unknown to me. It’s fascinating, not always pleasant but fascinating just the same.

  8. AAR Lynn says:

    I so agree. Heated debate can be intellectually stimulating, frustrating, fun, and/or all of the above. I don’t mind a good argument over ideas, but the notion that it’s okay to invade someone’s privacy and invite others to harm that person or their family is something else all together. As probably any reviewer who’s been around for a while can say, we get emails of both types. And it’s not the ones debating books and ideas that give you the heebie-jeebies.

    @clutterconqueror – It’s true that the Internet is not private and that is important to remember because sometimes things said online come back in ways the poster probably never expected. However, I do not think that posting one’s views publicly on the Internet(even posting them rudely on the Internet) gives anybody a right to paint a target on one’s person by posting real names, addresses and so on.

  9. Clutterconqueror says:

    AAR Lynn said: “However, I do not think that posting one’s views publicly on the Internet(even posting them rudely on the Internet) gives anybody a right to paint a target on one’s person by posting real names, addresses and so on.”

    Certainly I don’t condone the behavior of any of the parties involved. As my aunt used to say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

    I think my point was addressing the issue of Internet privacy and the lack thereof. It’s my understanding, and correct me if I’m wrong, the information compiled on that website was in the public domain: twitter feeds, blog posts, and comments. And, I’m not condoning that. What I’m saying is that we (the average Joe Internet users) are going around posting seemingly innocuous information, like what restaurant we eat at (foursquare) or our home towns (our blogs), and then our opinion (on our favorite forum), and we think we have privacy. I’m not an Internet expert, but I don’t think pulling all those pieces together would take all that much effort. It’s scary how much of our own privacy we are relinquishing because we have the illusion of anonymity.

  10. Leigh says:

    A couple of years ago, I read all about search engines like Spokeo.com – which promises:
    Emails, Addresses, and Phone Numbers
    Complete Search Results and Profiles
    Search 80+ Social Networks
    And More!

    that can find almost anything you have ever said on the internet – and right then I became very conscious of not putting a lot of personal information out there.

    http://www.mahalo.com/spokeo/

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