TDE Note: The bizarre, nefarious world of social media, a place dominated by those with the most time on their hands and, therefore, by the most meddlesome and destructive.
Every author understands that negative reviews are a fact of life. But what’s one to do when his book is targeted by malicious actors who exploit a corporation’s feckless approach to content moderation? A group of people leveled untrue personal attacks against me in the guise of reviews on Goodreads, a social network for books owned by Amazon. My publisher warned me that my books were in jeopardy on Amazon platforms, and I flagged the reviews as personal attacks. But Goodreads let them stand and then banned me from its site without explanation.
The affair began in April, when I noticed a one-star review of my latest book, Mad Travelers, on Goodreads. The reviewer—let’s call her Courtney—categorized my book as “awful garbage” and added that she was “pretty sure I hated women.” Mad Travelers is a nonfiction book about wanderlust that tells the story of a group of extreme travelers who believe that they were conned by a young Brit named William Baekeland. All the characters in the book are men because no women were involved in the events. Nothing controversial or derogatory about women appears in the book; and though I’ve written many columns in my career, I’ve never covered women’s issues.
Since the review contained nothing about the book, I believed that she’d never read it. When I flagged the review, Goodreads left it in place, so I wrote a response, pointing out that I do not hate women and asking Courtney what she was referring to. The comment was deleted, but the review remained, even though it was an ad hominem attack—supposedly prohibited, according to Goodreads’ review guidelines.
Courtney is a writer, with several published articles, book reviews, and blog posts, and multiple websites with contact forms. When I asked her over email why she wrote that I hated women, she responded that all the female characters in my book are “portrayed as villains.” (Mad Travelers contains no women and only one man who could be construed as a villain.) I asked what she meant, but the conversation went nowhere, and I considered the matter over.
But a few days later, I checked my book’s Goodreads page and saw that Courtney had inspired several of her friends to “like” her one-star review—elevating it to the top of the page and hurting my reputation. She accused me of “tracking down” her personal email address to threaten and harass her. I followed up over email and asked her to stop lying about me. She replied, asking me to stop contacting her. I did.