As the backlash over Twitter's deverification of British journalist Milo Yiannopoulos reverberates through the internet, a parallel controversy involving censorship and libel against other counterculture figures continues to simmer on Goodreads.
Before we dive in, it's worth noting a few key points of Goodreads' review policy.
Mentioning the author in the context of a review is always acceptable, but reviews that are predominantly about an author’s behavior and not about the book will be deleted.
Reviews with off-topic, irrelevant comments about the author's personal life will be deleted.Sounds fair. But a problem raises its head when we get to the disclaimers.
It is at our sole discretion and no one else's, that we decide when a review is against our guidelines.OK. I understand the legal necessity of covering yourself. But from a business standpoint, if your stated reason for hosting reviews is to help "...the millions of other readers on Goodreads learn what a book is really about, and decide whether or not they want to read it," you may want to close the highly exploitable loopholes in your conspicuously vague guidelines.
Otherwise, the only readers who can be assured of getting useful information from those reviews are readers who agree with Goodreads' nebulous "discretion". And unwritten standards like those tend to invite other problems, such as...
Reader manipulation via ideologically motivated non-reviews
The Goodreads review page for John C. Wright's The Judge of Ages is currently topped by a politically motivated rant by user DMS.
Not only does she violate the letter of the review guidelines by personally attacking the author, her whiny screed doesn't even critique the novel--which, seeing as how she posted this three months before the book's release, she didn't even read.
Instead, DMS instantly veers off-topic, insulting readers looking for a good book with a crimethink checklist of out-of-context quotes cherry picked from the author's personal blog.
"A real heroine does not manipulate good men by their affections, nor copulate out of wedlock." (Slut shaming, check.)I was concerned that DMS's thought policing might turn readers off from an excellent sci-fi adventure book, but on second thought her diatribe is more likely to turn potential suitors off from dating a keyboard activist who broadcasts her solidarity with manipulative sluts.
Caveat emptor, guys!
Why (as of this writing) is an ignorant polemic that's in blatant violation of at least two Goodreads guidelines still the top review, never mind still on the site at all? Perhaps no one's reported the abuse.
Except the author's wife says they did.
As does the author.
Whether you agree with an author's politics or not, petty social media tyrants have no business trying to manipulate your reading choices.
If Goodreads wants to use their vague disclaimer as a paper shield, that's on them. Looks like writers will have to stand up for themselves. If only an author with a substantial social media following would organize some kind of resistance to the fake review-posting trolls running roughshod over Goodreads.
Well, somebody did. Guess how that turned out.
Vox Day and the Rabid Puppies group purged from Goodreads
Vox is a multiple best selling author and multiple Hugo-nominated editor who's been subjected to his share of fake reviews.
Unlike with A Throne of Bones, I didn't actually read SJWs Always Lie.
I didn't have to. It's all in the title."All in the title" indeed, review troll. All in the title, indeed.
Vox finally decided he'd had enough and invited his readers to join a Rabid Puppies group on Goodreads for the main purpose of weeding out fake reviews of his publisher's books. He made it clear that the RPs weren't to violate any of Goodreads' rules.
Goodreads, who have yet to delete a non-review that stands in brazen violation of their policies, promptly banned a group that not only followed those policies to the letter, but strove to uphold them when the policymakers wouldn't.
Your account was recently brought to our attention. Upon review, we have decided to remove it from the site. A CSV of the books you shelved is attached for your personal records. You are banned from using Goodreads in any capacity going forward.
The Goodreads Team
The snitch who reported the RP group soon came out to brag. Here's the best evidence he could dredge up against Vox:
Welcome to Goodreads, where you can pass off personal attacks against authors as reviews of their work--but only if they're of the wrong political persuasion!
If the author or his fans protest, we'll hide behind our vague guidelines and ignore them.
If they have the gall to hold us to our own standards via organized action, we'll ban the rule-abiding yet politically unclean groups while letting violators of the right ideology run free!
If there's anything to be learned from this debacle, it's that Goodreads suffers from a terminal lack of vision.
Goodreads could have shown some integrity, as Vox assumed they would. Instead, they squandered their chance. They still don't understand that he was trying to do them a favor.
Amazon, Goodreads' parent company, knows well that a review site's worth depends entirely on its perceived objectivity. Say what you will about Amazon; they don't tolerate anyone mucking about with their reviews.
Unless Amazon steps in and straightens out their wayward subsidiary, Goodreads will soon learn the grim lesson that Twitter's example should have taught them.