The Guardian recently published a piece called “Am I Being Catfished?” An Author Confronts Her Number One Online Critic. In the article, author Kathleen Hale describes her anxiety after her first book came out, how she obsessed over Amazon and Goodreads and other review sites. I can definitely relate to this part. Book #10 comes out in January for me, and I expect I’ll still be auto-refreshing the Amazon page every 15 minutes…
Hale asked Twitter for ideas about her next book, as a way to “connect with readers.” A woman named Blythe offered suggestions, which led to Hale checking to see if Blythe had read the book, and discovering not only that she had, but that she’d apparently given it a harsh one-star review and was warning other readers away from the book.
Yeah, that sucks. Especially if a reviewer is complaining about stuff that you don’t think was even in the book. (My favorite bad review of The Stepsister Scheme compares it to an S&M porno. WTF???) Hale’s mother pointed her to the Stop the Goodreads Bullies site, where Blythe was listed along with more than 150 other reviewers, for crimes ranging from participating in organizing attacks on authors to “derogatory shelving” to reviews considered to be “bullying.” One of the StGB founders talked to Hale about her reviewer, no doubt reinforcing Hale’s belief that she was the victim of a bully.
Foz Meadows has a blog post about why the StGB site is…problematic.
Blythe apparently began tweeting about Hale online. And Hale began to engage in what she describes as “light stalking.” She eventually pulled herself away, but then a few months later, when a book club wanted Hale to do an interview with a book blogger, Hale suggested Blythe. Because she “longed to engage with Blythe directly.” This also involved doing a book giveaway, which allowed Hale to get Blythe’s home address.
I’ve done giveaways myself, which involves readers trusting me with their home addresses. I’ve also sent books to reviewers’ home addresses. I consider this a matter of trust and privacy, which is one of many reasons I get very angry about what happened next.
Hale dug into Blythe’s identity, questioning whether “Blythe” was a pseudonym. She rented a car and, in what she describes as “a personal rock bottom,” drove to Blythe’s home. She called Blythe at
home work, pretending to be a fact-checker. She called again, this time identifying herself as Kathleen Hale and confronting her.
Blythe unfollowed her on Twitter, made her Instagram private, and blocked her on Facebook, essentially cutting off Hale’s options for online communication.
Dear authors: don’t do this. Just don’t.
When I tweeted about this, one woman told that Hale is the real victim here, and accused me of victim-blaming. She compared Blythe’s tactics to those of GamerGate (though I’m having a hard time finding where Blythe threatened to rape or murder Hale, or drove Hale out of her own home).
Online bullying is a thing. Trolling is a thing.
Bad reviews are also a thing. Hating someone’s book is not bullying. Sharing your opinion, suggesting others stay away from a book or an author, is not bullying. It might cost you some sales, and that sucks, but it’s not bullying, nor is it an organized campaign to destroy someone’s career.
Hale’s account does not convince me that she was a victim of online bullying. But even if she was, there comes a point where she crossed a line from victim to perpetrator. She admits to stalking Blythe online. She then began stalking her in real life. She showed up at Blythe’s home, called her on the phone.
Blythe criticized Hale’s book and probably cost her some sales. Hale stalked Blythe, presenting herself as a very real threat. She went to Blythe’s home. She called her to say, “I know who you are.”
Not okay. Even if someone said mean things about your book. Even if you’re anxious and depressed.
Which leads me to wonder why the Guardian published this piece in the first place. My friend Barbarienne sees it as a cautionary tale. She also sees it as a warning from the author: “Don’t do what I did.”
I disagree. While I see some recognition that maybe Hale made mistakes, and that she was personally in a bad emotional space, I don’t see any understanding or awareness of the lines and boundaries she crossed, or how serious those violations were. Nor does the Guardian provide any sort of context or acknowledgement of the same. Hale ends her post with the nostalgic admission that she still wishes from time to time for confirmation that Blythe has seen those old messages. There are people reading this article as if Hale is a hero standing up to the bullies of the internet.
She’s not. She’s someone who stalked and harassed a book blogger and reviewer. Someone who, to my reading, still doesn’t seem to recognize the lines she crossed. Someone who leveraged her harassment into an article for the Guardian.