Goodreads, Censorship and Trolls.

goodreadsYesterday on facebook and twitter I posted this article with the plan to use it for this week’s Sunday Surfing, however I had so much to say about it that I decided it needed its own post.

The article is about an indie, debut author who claims to have been bullied and receiving rape threats through goodreads. Her book was not yet published and she claims that because of the treatment she received she has decided not to release the book at all.

It all started when the author asked about removing negative reviews which she said could not have been genuine, because nobody had been able to read the book yet. By her report goodreads told her that people could rate their interest in a book prior to release, and that they could use this rating in any way they wished. Basically that she should just ‘suck it up’.

That’s when she alleges that things turned nasty. She claims she received violent threats by being grouped onto shelves including “should be raped in prison” and “This author should be sodomised.” Plus she says that goodreads were rather blasé about the whole thing.

Now, obviously if this is true then it’s really not pleasant, although I’m not sure I would say it amounts to threats of rape. It’s more the type of thing which would be said about a paedophile than an author who has challenged your ideas. Either way though it isn’t something that shouldn’t happen- and goodreads does have a duty to protect its users from these types of things (whether they be authors or readers).

The most obvious solution would be to set up some sort of censor which would block certain words, from being used either over the site generally, or just within things like shelves. It seems pretty simple until you start thinking about it more deeply. There are plenty of books which have the sort of themes that would be blocked, you could end up censoring reviews for whole genres of fiction if it was a general filter. If it was just on shelves then it would stop people categorising books as they wished to, which could be for perfectly legitimate reasons, and those without legitimate reasons would probably find another way to the same ends, in their reviews for instance, or their status updates.

The whole thing of false reviews is a problem too. Maybe people were genuinely putting what their initial thoughts on the idea of the novel was, but it seems a bit strange to be rating a book based on your expectations, surely you could shelve it based on what you were likely to think? Not that I’d personally bother shelving books I wasn’t interested in.

It’s potentially easier to stop ‘fake’ reviews prior to the books publication, simply stop allowing reviews prior to publication, or allow only those with advanced copies (ARCs) to post reviews of the book. There are potential problems with either of those solutions however.

If all reviews were blocked prior to publication then those who received ARCs wouldn’t be able to post reviews either, and seeing as early reviews help create interest in a book this could cause problems for authors- especially indie authors who rely more on reader reviews.

Whereas to only allow those with ARCs to review early would have to have some way to verify the reviews, meaning that it could be open to separate censorship e.g. the author only authorising positive reviews. It could be good to have a code put in ARCs so that reviews could be posted early by anyone with the code.

Another possibility would be to allow authors to open their pages to reviews when they choose, e.g. once ARCs have been released, although I can see anything where the author is in charge of censoring could wind up trolls and cause more ‘fake’ reviews.

I can see that people may have had the suck it up attitude to early low star reviews. I’ve seen it myself to an extent. Is that really fair for reviews when the reviewer hasn’t actually read the book. Can you even call it a review based on that?

There’s also the attitude that this is all a publicity stunt. After all it’s made people take notice of the author. And they say all publicity is good publicity. If that is true though it means I have no respect for the author, it could do more bad than good.

So what do you think? Do goodreads have a duty here? What should they do? Or is it something that has just been blown out of proportion?


Filed under Fiction review, Musings, News

15 responses to “Goodreads, Censorship and Trolls.

  1. Interesting article! No clear answers here, although I do think Goodreads has some responsibility to censor shelves with violent titles like that. Most websites have something like a “contact us if you see something offensive” button. I wouldn’t censor reviews but censoring shelf titles doesn’t seem out of bounds to me. This does seem like a lot of fuss though.


  2. Isi

    I had no idea of what had happened to this author.
    This is a strange thing, indeed. You just can’t ban people to review or rate a book, but if someone is really treatening the authors or bullying them, there should be a way to report that reviewer to the managers of the page so that he or she don’t be allowed to review anymore.
    But the thing about don’t allow the reviews before the publishing date it’s not useful because the “trolls” can put their “reviews” after that date anyway.
    Whay I don’t understand is the fact of people reviewing books before they have read them. Perhaps goodreads should add a different part in the reviews for those that are only what we think the book is going to be.

    Anyway, this is sad news because I thought that the bookish world was not like that, with bullying and spoiling books before the publication. I hope this don’t happen again.


  3. I read about this on a few blogs yesterday. Unfortunately there are a lot of trolls online, no matter the social media site. The author will hopefully publish that book someday and put this behind her.


  4. Goodreads aren’t responsible for people acting like idiots. If she received threats she should take it to the police. People use the site for different reasons and trying to pander to authors’ wants is going to make it a site readers don’t want to use. It is for readers after all, not for authors.

    You can’t implement the ARC rules easily. You would have to stop users adding books to the database which would then suck for anyone reading non-American books. When you add a book you can put any release date you want. A code system would mean every publisher had to join up to a scheme which publicists don’t have time for. And not all advanced copies are proofs, the finished books are printed early and often sent out to reviewers a month before.


  5. Badreads is and was from inception a way for traditional publishing to antagonize indies and intimidate and terrorize them back to traditional publishing, The only solution is to close the site for harboring criminals and stealing copyrighted content.


  6. Rick, if that’s goodreads purpose why would amazon buy them? Amazon makes plenty of money from indie authors, by having their own publishing tools for indies and by often being one of the only places you can get indie books. Surely buying somewhere intended to discourage indie publishing would be cross purposes.


  7. Ellie. I suppose site owner responsibility has been a bit of a buzz topic at the moment. I know goodreads can’t sop people being idiots, but they can make it harder, or have a way of reporting offensive people. Anywhere where people interact online is bound to have a problem, and really people should expect it to some level. To be honest I think the police would laugh her off for it not really being a threat.


  8. Emma. I think most online communities have trolls, it’s part of life. In a way I think she was being a bit overly sensitive, you shouldn’t really take them seriously. Certainly not to the point of giving up. How did she really think they were going to ‘get’ her? It’s sad that it did have that effect on her though.


  9. I certainly hope it doesn’t happen again either, Isi. I meant to put about the possibility of a report button, must have slipped my mind as I was writing.

    I don’t get the idea of a review without having read something either. The most I could imagine would be to explain why you don’t want to read a certain book that everyone seems to love- and even then that’s more something for a blog than a review site. I can understand the idea of categorising something as want to read, or would not read, but that’s as far as I would go.


  10. Thanks Curly Geek! I do think the author might have been a little overly sensitive. It is strange that goodreads doesn’t have a report button as most social websites- or maybe I just never noticed it?!


  11. We’ve started a support group for abused authors Please join if you like:
    I believe Amazon bought badreads because they threatened to sell books.
    The Same trolls are on both sites and both sites protect and defend them.


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