ETA: Additional thoughts and hopefully clarification at Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes.
The website “Stop the Goodreads Bullies” is a good example of terminology abuse. See these posts by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Stacia Kane, and Foz Meadows for more in-depth commentary, but the short version is that a bad review isn’t bullying. Hating a book isn’t bullying. The fact that someone doesn’t like your work doesn’t make you a victim. (On the other hand, outing, harassing, and slandering various reviewers, as StGB has done in the past…)
But this isn’t a post about Stop the Goodreads Bullies. This is me trying to sort out when nasty reviews actually do cross the line into bullying and harassment.
It started with a post by author Laura Mixon about the individual best known by the online moniker Requires Hate, recently revealed to be writing under the name Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Mixon describes RH as “a controversial rage-blogger,” which seems pretty accurate.
A lot of what RH blogged about were reviews. For example, her review of Throne of the Crescent Moon (an award-winning novel I quite enjoyed), notes, “This is incompetent writing” and “We are neck-deep in shitty romance tropes.” Harsh, definitely. As the author, I’d cringe a lot to read a review like that. But it doesn’t strike me as bullying. This was a review, and reviews aren’t about the author. They’re for readers. It isn’t like she was standing outside his window screaming that he was a lousy writer.
Likewise, when she reviewed Paolo Bacigalupi’s work by saying things like, “For a shit-crust topping on the shit-cake, have a gander at what Bacigagaga wrote in 1999,” it comes across as nasty. I find mocking Bacigalupi’s name particularly mean-spirited and childish. But is it bullying? I don’t think so. Not quite … it’s a review, not a directed attack at Bacigalupi personally.
But what happens when RH ends her review with a call to action, saying, “Spread the word that Paolo Bacigalupi is a raging racist fuck. Let him be hurt, let him bleed, pound him into the fucking ground.” I assume the threat is metaphorical, not literal, but it’s still a rallying cry to directly attack and harm the author.
Or when she attacks a transgender gamer with lines like, “Dear SMA, our trannies generally look much better and classier than you. Even the pre-op ones don’t look half as mannish and buttfuck-ugly.”
Or Tweeting an author that he should be flayed alive, dismembered, and burned with acid.
Or attacking a reader for liking a book she disapproved of.
There’s a fair amount in Mixon’s report that I hadn’t been aware of. Some of it is documented with links and screenshots. Other pieces are anonymous, or not yet sourced. I’ve seen RH becoming a topic of conversation in SF/F circles since she and Benjanun Sriduangkaew were revealed to be the same person, and RH posted a public apology. I expect that conversation to get much more intense as Mixon’s evidence and allegations come out.
I think it’s worth checking out Mixon’s report. I also think it’s worth recognizing the difference between a harsh review and outright bullying. Between the tone argument and active, malicious harassment. As a community, we kind of suck at this stuff. People overreact to negative reviews, then ignore harassment that goes on for years. (I’m thinking of Jim Frenkel here, among others.)
I think we all — myself included — need to do a better job of distinguishing between an angry or negative review and outright bullying/harassment. The former is inevitable, even healthy. People are allowed to be angry, to hate things we’ve written, to criticize us for our words or our actions they disagree with. But the latter needs to be recognized, called out, and challenged.
The Passion I have for Genre Literature | Blog, Jvstin Style
November 6, 2014 @ 11:36 am
[…] See Laura Mixon (MJ Locke), here, for starters. There has also been stuff from Athena Andreadis, and Jim C Hines, and probably […]
November 6, 2014 @ 2:10 pm
I agree. Excessively critical reviews are not the problem. I don’t think such reviews should be termed as ‘attacks’. After all, we can’t possibly expect everyone to be happy with our work. There will always be those who hate our work, and I’m sure they have their reasons.
But this Requires Hate persona is quite another story, isn’t she? I had no idea whatsoever about RH when I saw this post, but then I spent a good few hours entangled in hyperlinks. Apart from making me realize – yet again – why the internet is called the Web, Laura Mixon’s report has left me shocked and overwhelmed. It’s hard to digest that a person (RH) would go to such lengths to defame/insult/shame such a multitude of people, individually, for the crime of having a different opinion.
Writing angry, hateful reviews is one thing, scaring people who believe you are wrong into silence is entirely another. When I got to the part where RH harassed a sexual assault victim for feeling proud of her recovery, I decided I had read enough.
Kudos to Laura, because what she is trying to do – providing a safe place for people to come forward, share their stories and hopefully, heal – is amazing, and the fact that she doesn’t gain anything from it makes it all the more applaudable. And thank you, Jim, for sharing this. I learnt (or rather, became aware of) something new today, and that makes it a better day than most.
November 6, 2014 @ 5:10 pm
I think the first step is to distinguish between the work and the author. Calling the work a !@!!&*$%^! piece of $%!!$@ is one thing, but as soon as the discourse shifts to the author, it becomes a personal attack. Exponentially so when that author is then followed back to their own netspace to be abused some more, and then followed everywhere they comment for yet more abuse.
November 6, 2014 @ 5:21 pm
Look at me, hiding.
I’m glad you’re talking about this. It needs to be talked about more. Because the thing is that a lot of people DO consider harsh reviews bullying. There are a lot of people who want to see anybody who writes a harsh review punished, especially if that person identifies as female. We’ve seen this over and over again. We know those people are out there, keeping themselves in check or not keeping themselves in check.
And while many people who have direct experience with RH’s non-review-based harassment understand what’s going on, many many more observers see only one thing: this is a nasty reviewer who is finally getting punished ‘properly’. And they are happy. They are empowered. There will be follow-ups and reviewers with harsh voices will know what lies in wait for them.
More people need to be talking about how it’s not the reviews, and to support that, stuff she’s said in reviews needs to not be listed as part of her crimes. More people need to be talking about that, but frankly, I’m afraid to be one of them.
November 6, 2014 @ 5:40 pm
I think one person slinging hate is way different from “All GR critics hurt my fee-fees!”
Not only did we have that author who stalked a reviewer (going to her house, calling her at work, then whining about it in a national newspaper), this week it was revealed (on Jezebel, I think) that some author guy drove cross-country to find someone who’d given him a bad (not bullying!) review, and HIT HER ON THE HEAD with a full bottle of wine. Requiring stitches.
Yep, when we’ve got people stalking and committing assault and battery, I’m pretty sure I know who the REAL bullies are.
November 6, 2014 @ 5:58 pm
“For a shit-crust topping on the shit-cake, have a gander at what Bacigagaga wrote in 1999,” May not technically be bullying, but it is, as you said, nasty… and overly hostile and simply unnecessary.
RequiresHate/Winterfox/Benjanun Sriduangkaew Linkspam » Rants and Ramblings By An Old Bag
November 6, 2014 @ 6:32 pm
[…] Bullying by Jim Hines, and mirrored at his blog. “I think we all — myself included — need to do a better job of distinguishing between an […]
Jim C. Hines
November 6, 2014 @ 8:36 pm
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to go anonymous for this sort of conversation. I think it’s important to call out and talk about this stuff, but even more important is for you do take care of yourself and do whatever you need to feel safe.
November 6, 2014 @ 10:06 pm
Reading through this, I find it chilling that one writer, and one who is just starting her career, can have such an influence on publishers, con panels and so on. One person should never have such power to destroy the reputations and careers of others, and I have to wonder how and why this was even possible.
I don’t know enough about this blogger and have never run into any of her personas. I never even heard of her until this all blew up. But it worries me that one person (and one where no one even knows who she actually is) can be so influenial. One thing I haven’t seen here is whether or not anyone has met her in person. Obviously, someone is writing those stories everyone is raving about, but how can anyone know she’s for real as a person.
The anonymity granted by the web is something that troubles me sometimes. Authors have always adopted pen names and have had public identities that are separate from their real ones, and for very good reason. Wanting to keep your identity secret when you’re blogging, tweeting, reviewing and so on also makes sense, given how wacky people can be about even respectfully worded opinions that are even remotely controversial. But the ability to create anonymous personas also encourages a lot of nasty, even scary behavior as well.
November 7, 2014 @ 12:02 am
This kind of interweb trolling is why I keep separate handles for different things: professional, original stuff, gaming, fanfic writing, reviewing coffeepots. One firestorm a few years back was enough to tighten access to personal info. Threats and extreme trolling, including the things like that physical assault in Scotland, are why I don’t support mandatory use of birth names. Stalking victims do NOT get enough support so anonymity is the only solution.
Calling out mean is not worth responding such vitriol.
November 7, 2014 @ 2:18 am
The kind of horrifying things I’ve seen people put their real names to, be they repellent Facebook posts, racist tracts, or even worse, has convinced me that arguments over on-line anonymity are a smokescreen. People don’t really care if the Internet knows they’re unmitigated assholes, because the Internet’s response isn’t a meaningful threat 99.9…% of the time. It’s only when there’s a possibility of immediate, personal reprisal that they go quiet. The guy whose mother just got insulted for cutting someone off in traffic probably isn’t going to follow his antagonist home, or run him off the road. The one who just got slurred by some ass within reach, however…
November 7, 2014 @ 2:22 am
This, first and foremost. The work is under review, not the author. I’m sure most of us have opinions about the authors we love and hate, but a harsh ‘review’ of a person is uncouth at best and downright libelous at worst.
November 7, 2014 @ 10:42 am
# The fact that someone doesn’t like your work doesn’t make you a victim.
But there’s an issue with RH’s reviews that isn’t being recognized here: they were often outright slanderous. RH wouldn’t just say she didn’t like a work, she’d draw conclusions about who the writer was for having written what they wrote. She’d attack the writer through their work and tell everyone that this or that story or blogpost proved that the writer was guilty of this, that or the other and was an evil person who should be made to suffer. If you took ‘should be made to suffer’ out of the equation there would still be a lot about RH’s critique that was unacceptable.
Had she not been pseudonymous, and operating outside of the US/UK (or at least claiming that) I think that she’d have found herself in court defending a libel or defamatin case a long time ago.
RH would go into a writers work and ‘find stuff’ in there, stuff that she was often projecting into the work herself. It wasn’t just RH that was doing this. Once the accusations had been made, it was pointless for the author to protest that the work was being misrepresented (although I did manage to once, but that was on the basis of a couple of lines that disproved the ‘attack argument’, I could very well have cut those lines out, and then where would I be? Well, I’d be where I and a lot of other writers were: accused of things and unable to defend ourselves.
There’s an interesting exercise that I suggest everyone try. Take something written by your favorite writer, or better still by yourself, and attack it. Look to the characters and attack them as being stereotypes, or if they’re obviously not stereotypes, attack them as being inauthentic. IA female character can either be accused of being a passive, inept male fantasy of a helpless woman that needs a man to support her, or, if she’s running around blowing stuff up, then she’s a fetishized action-girl, or a man in a woman’s body, or whatever. Play this game honestly and you’ll quickly discover that for anything you write, any character, any situation, there will be an appropriate attack, and that this attack is not merely an attack on the character, but as RH demonstrated so well, it can be an attack on the author through their writings. For me ( I was one of the people attacked by her) this was the most disturbing thing. Having someone call for my head to be separated from my body was unpleasant enough, but it was the reputational damage of being accused of all manner of thing through my writing, and the realization that there was no way of avoiding that attack, that was really nasty.
November 7, 2014 @ 11:33 am
I was unaware of the situation. I read one or two of Sriduangkaew’s stories, enjoyed them, and ordered Scale-Bright when it came out. I would occasionally check out the ‘beekian’ blog, but that was the limit of my knowledge. (I’m not an active member of any blogging community right now, other than lurking and occasional comments)
I first became aware of the issue and the site RH when Kameron Hurley mentioned it on her blog. Now that I’ve read Laura Mixon’s report, I am outraged at the damage that this person has done and apparently gone to a great deal of trouble to do.
November 7, 2014 @ 12:53 pm
The more I read, and the more I think about all this, the more I’ve come to realize that I’m not entirely certain what you’re saying here, and I might disagree with you for probably the first time in ever.
I disagree that RH’s “reviews” were really that. You said: This was a review, and reviews aren’t about the author. They’re for readers. You’re right, reviews aren’t about the author, they are about books. HOWEVER, that idea doesn’t apply to Requires Hate. RH didn’t really review books, she made it very personal, and attacked people. Her behavior was beyond bullying, it was straight up abuse. There are people suffering years later from PTSD as a result of her behavior and actions. RH has created a lot of pain, and done a lot of damage over the years, and part of her MO was/is to call into question the motivations of anyone doubting her. To make people who recognized her behavior as abuse into the enemy, so that others would look at her and either see a victim of oppression and stand by her without question, or be so terrified to speak against her that they remained silent.
At first read, I really had the impression that you–you, of all people, and that’s why I’m coming back and thinking to myself that it really can’t be true–were being dismissive of RH’s actions because they were just “reviews.” That you were saying RH isn’t a bully, or an abuser. But then you do address the violent calls to action she posted in her “reviews.” So… I’m confused as to where you stand on the issue, or if you’ve even decided where you stand.
Because I highly respect you, and the work you’ve done for women, I’ve decided to come back and ask for clarification.
What are you actually saying here about RH/BS in particular?
November 7, 2014 @ 1:08 pm
It’s easy to do. It’s also not a big deal. I’m pretty sure nasty reviews that use the book as a platform to attack broader issues are a long-standing tradition of book criticism. It’s kind of the point of literary criticism, in fact. Saying that it’s not okay to take a controversial stance and draw on the book to support it (including projecting what you want to see or misreading) would destroy an awful lot of literature essays. More importantly, saying that book reviews have some kind of responsibility to be both accurate and undamaging is massively chilling to book reviewers. _Most_ book reviews get details wrong, especially if the book intersects with strong core values of the reviewer. The current discussion and its supporters are providing plenty of ammunition and precedent to attack any almost any reviewer who isn’t sickly-sweet positive.
November 7, 2014 @ 1:21 pm
There’s a difference between taking a controversial view in a book review, and vitriolic, violent attacks on the author. There’s a difference between using “a book as a platform to attack broader issues,” and using a book as a platform to attack its author.
It’s okay to get details wrong as part of a genuine mistake. It’s not okay to purposefully get details wrong in order to further an agenda, especially if that agenda is a personal attack on the author, who is a person and not just a faceless, book-creating entity.
A book review doesn’t have to be sickly-sweet positive about every book they review. But neither should they be hateful and abusive. It is possible to be critical without being abusive.
Jim C. Hines
November 7, 2014 @ 1:32 pm
Partly, what I’m trying to do is distinguish between reviews and bullying. There’s a difference between a negative review, even a harsh/angry/nasty one, and harassment. For example, a review I did of a Xanth novel a while back was, in my opinion, both pointed and nasty. I was quite angry about the rape jokes and over-the-top sexism in the book, and I think that came out in my review. I’m okay with that.
RH made valid points in her reviews, and at times pointed to things that were problematic in the texts. If she wrote a review and said “this is shitty writing,” that might make me cringe, but it still feels like part of a review, particularly as she would point to specific things that she felt were examples of bad writing. I might not agree, but that’s okay.
There are a lot of authors out there who seem to think that any harsh or negative review is bullying. The Stop the Goodreads Bully site is a good example of that, in my opinion.
But of course, RH went beyond reviews. She attacked authors personally. She called for others to attack them. She bullied and harassed authors and readers alike, and rallied others to join her in those attacks.
I don’t know all of the details, and some of the things I do know haven’t been made public yet. Some things might never be made public. I do think this is an abusive personality, and someone that needs to be called out for her behavior. But I also want to make sure we’re not conflating harsh reviews with abuse and harassment, which is a thing I’ve seen happen too often.
Does that make sense?
November 7, 2014 @ 1:36 pm
Yes, it does. Thank you for the swift response and clarification.
November 7, 2014 @ 2:15 pm
I found Laura J. Mixon’s article unconvincing. Mind you, it’s the very nature of harassment that makes it difficult to prove (people don’t want to be identified, etc.), but I though her methods were more for show that rigour, and that the few quotes she provided did not add much to her text. It felt more like a “this person has been mean to me and I don’t like her” post then a real overview of the bad things RH has done (which, admittedly, would have been a LOT of work). I should make clear that I don’t doubt that RH crossed the line in her interactions with a lot of people, I saw it myself back then. I’m just saying that Mixon’s account does not do it for me.
Mixon lists some of things RH has done, and while some of them are obviously reprehensible and should not be tolerated, the first 2 she notes sound alright to me:
“She has been involved in efforts to suppress the publication of fiction and reviews for those works that in her sole opinion should not be published.
She and her associates have pressured con-runners to disinvite speakers from panels and readings, constraining their ability to do business.”
The last one on Mixon’s list is equally empty to me:
“In light of the harm she has done, her apologies do not even come close to addressing the damage she has done, much less undoing it.”
That’s just a truism. I assume she means that she is not ready to forgive and forget, and that’s okay, but I don’t think anyone expect any apology to immediately undo the wrongs of the magnitude discussed here.
I also think there is another layer to this that seems to be forgotten by some of the people that are currently expressing their hate of RH. Yes, RH harassed people, but she has been the subject of (in my opinion) worst abuse herself. This abuse did not come as a result of her harassment, but because of the legitimate negative reviews she wrote. All this to say that I think the point Jim raises is important.
@ Erica Wagner:
You said: “Reading through this, I find it chilling that one writer, and one who is just starting her career, can have such an influence on publishers, con panels and so on.”
My take on this: if it’s too good to be true… Like I said, RH crossed the line from time to time, but I don’t believe that a single new writer manipulated herself to the top of SFF circles and managed to control the actions of people in the field. Honestly, while some of RH’s action simply cannot be defended, some of the hate she receives at the moment appears to come from people who attribute their failure to her actions. (Along with the hate that was always there because she was a woman of color with opinions on the internet. [Although, again, this does not justify the fact that sometimes she was also a harasser.])
From what I remember, you were a notorious troll (and harasser) of RH yourself. Or is it one of those “when I do it to her it’s okay, because she said mean things about books I like”? To me, your comment shows that you really don’t seem to care about the issues Jim tries to raise, namely that writing negative reviews is okay, and harassing people is not.
November 7, 2014 @ 3:16 pm
She suggested that Colum should be beheaded.
You might not be taking this seriously, but the authorities here in the UK are, and in the light of recent events in London it’s not your judgement to make as to whether Benjanun’s online activities might escalate, but theirs.
November 7, 2014 @ 5:46 pm
Certainly, it is possible. But I’ve seen reviews that offered the mildest criticism and middle-of-the-road opinions classed as ‘bullying’ and described as bringing an author to tears. And I have yet to discover a way to tell if somebody has accidentally made a mistake they don’t care enough about to remedy, or if they’re maliciously trying to cause damage. Occam’s Razor usually suggests the former.
It is either all right for reviews to be hateful and abusive, or it is not, and if so ‘hateful and abusive’ ought to probably be defined and monitored by law. But the internet is littered with hateful abusive reviews of bad books or books that promote a message of domestic violence or active racism or other crimes. People read cruel sporkings of popular books for fun. It’s entertainment. It can’t only be okay if everybody really dislikes the book, and it can’t be left up to an individual’s judgement over whether a review is ‘hateful and abusive’ or else it simply won’t stop.
November 7, 2014 @ 5:52 pm
If this is about the threat that somebody be beheaded, why do people keep talking and talking and talking about her reviews? The takeaway here is that you can’t make a mistake in a review, and you dare not write anything that might upset anybody, or else you’re a bully and one step from being a sociopath, and please don’t even dream of ever being a writer if you’ve ever written some nasty reviews because people _will remember_.
This is _terrifying_.
November 7, 2014 @ 6:07 pm
Thank you for your reply Liz.
I obviously have no knowledge of everything she said. I did saw her say we should kill all men. There is even a hashtag for it (maybe she even created it, for all I know). I don’t see how the fact that she was an a*hole to a bunch of people would justify her harassment, or CP’s comment above.
“You might not be taking this seriously, but the authorities here in the UK are, and in the light of recent events in London it’s not your judgement to make as to whether Benjanun’s online activities might escalate, but theirs.”
I don’t understand were this is coming from. I didn’t comment on whether her online activities were escalating or not, and for good reason : I have no idea. Rest assured that my nonexistent comment on this issue also did not try to substitute my judgement to that of authorities in the UK. To be honest, I also have absolutely no clue what you are referring to, and I would appreciate if you could point me in the right direction (but would understand if you don’t have the time to do it).
I’ll say it again (but slightly differently) that I know RH has harassed people. I saw it with my own eyes. I know she is not perfect. I still stand by my previous comments*.
(*Although I should add that your comment made me search for more on Colum Paget and I could not find the trolling/harassment I remembered [only some comments reflecting racist thought patterns and concern trolling]. I apologise, CP.)
November 7, 2014 @ 7:06 pm
“From what I remember, you were a notorious troll (and harasser) of RH yourself. ”
Citation damn well needed. Seems like every critic of RH is being accused of being a harasser these days. Funny Colum has been nothing but polite and respectful everywhere I’ve seen him comment, and has even knocked on the head the idea that people should ‘find’ RH. Giving you a massive side eye over this, mate.
Jim C. Hines
November 7, 2014 @ 7:20 pm
The fact that a review brings an author to tears doesn’t mean the review is mean or bullying. It can be, but it can also be a matter of authorial ego. Reviews can sting. But that doesn’t mean reviewers should hold back. The pain of negative reviews is one of the things we sign up for when we put our work out there. (I also sign up for the joy of fan mail and positive reviews, which help to balance out the negative.)
Similar to your Occam’s Razor comment, I try to operate on the presumption of good will. I.e., I try to assume someone is acting in good faith until I see proof or a strong pattern to indicate otherwise.
I’ve written at least one review that was pretty harsh, at http://www.jimchines.com/2011/12/well-tempered-clavicle/ Hateful? Possibly. I hated the book, and when I tried to read a short story by the same author a week or so back, I hated that too. For similar reasons, sadly.
I don’t think there’s a clear or easy line. And I know I’ve read my share of reviews that felt cruel. But so long as that review is focused on the work, I wouldn’t presume to call it harassment, or to say the reviewer shouldn’t have the right to shred that work.
November 7, 2014 @ 9:21 pm
You are right Ann, see my next comment, which I posted on the wrong spot.
“(*Although I should add that your comment made me search for more on Colum Paget and I could not find the trolling/harassment I remembered [only some comments reflecting racist thought patterns and concern trolling]. I apologise, CP.)”
Again, apologies for my bad memory and for insulting CP without anything to back it up. Obviously, I should have checked before posting…
November 7, 2014 @ 10:44 pm
You’re saying that suggesting someone be raped by dogs or have acid thrown on them is the sort of minor oopsie that anyone might make in a thoughtless moment? That it scares you that you might be held to account if you tripped and, whoops! harassed multiple targets over months or years? If this prospect is “terrifying”, good.
The line between “book review” and “rape threat” is not actually all that fuzzy.
November 8, 2014 @ 8:26 am
Re: UK problems – an author in, iirc, London, got upset over a review of one of his books. He found out who the reviewer was, where she lived. He travelled iirc Scotland, followed her to her work, and then hit her over the head hard enough to knock her out and she had to get stitches and other emergency medical treatment. So yes, sometimes the threatening words become real world violence.
November 8, 2014 @ 8:49 am
I must say I’m even more confused now. I get that RH now both an author and a reviewer, but I can’t get myself to believe that now that she is published, she will start attacking authors she criticized as a reviewer (or harassed online). Do we have any indication of people being harassed by her for writing bad reviews of her stories? Either way, it’s not hard to imagine that some people would consider it in their best interest not to speak out or simply not to review her work in the first place.
(I do realize that my evaluation of the small likelihood of escalation from online harassment to real world violence is of little comfort to people who might feel unsafe. [Also, I note that although I didn’t think my first comment touched this issue, Liz did correctly predict that this would be me opinion before I consciously thought about it.])
November 8, 2014 @ 2:39 pm
I, too, was confused as to where you stand on this, Jim. I wasn’t sure how to appropriately put it into words, but I was wondering the same thing.
I completely agree that it is important to define the difference between ‘bad reviews’ and ‘bullying’, and that even though harsh criticism might sting, that does not mean the author is being victimized. Even if negative reviews aren’t accurate, they cannot be termed as attacks.
But, in this case, we’re not just talking about bad reviews, we’re talking about personal attacks on the author, online abuse, and death and rape threats (even if they were not meant to be taken literally) – and none of that should be acceptable, no matter how much RH hated reading those books.
Thanks for clarifying, Jim. And thanks for asking this question, Celestine.
November 9, 2014 @ 8:17 am
“You shall know them by their fruits.” While a review of a work is not the same as a review of a person, I don’t think it’s wrong to comment on those facets of a person revealed by their work. This is especially true these days when almost all authors have an online presence and so can be known by more than just the stuff that gets an ISBN. There’s no clear demarcation and it’s not wrong to call someone an idiot or a bigot if they come out with something of tent-peg levels of offensiveness.
November 9, 2014 @ 2:46 pm
Jim, you’re just not getting it. Your review isn’t remotely like the kind of thing requires_hate was doing.
1) You didn’t accuse Anthony of anything *himself*. You said there were issues in the book, but you didn’t make any comments on his character that might be considered remotely defamatory.
2) You didn’t call for Anthony to be murdered, disfigured, or serverely wounded. You didn’t say he should have acid thrown in his face, be beheaded, be made to drink acid, eat his own private parts, or have his hands cut off so he’d never write anything again.
3) You didn’t make offensive remarks with regard the authors race, gender or sexuality.
4) You didn’t call for genocide against the authors racial group, or suggest that the author was “a good argument for this”.
5) You didn’t stalk them on twitter and constantly pounce on anything they said and accuse them of racism, sexism, homophobia or witchcraft so that your thousands of followers would pile on with insulting comments to the author.
Jim, and the other commentators here, did you see anything of what requires_hate was posting while she was posting it? Did you see her twitter activity? Did you see any of the stuff that was there before she deleted it?
Requires_hate attacked people, both directly and through their work, in the most disgusting ways imaginable. Did you read the Mixon report? There’s a very, very small sampling of the things she said there?
Requires_hate was doing things that, here in the UK, people are in jail for right now. It’s not a matter of ‘harsh critique’.
Jim C. Hines
November 9, 2014 @ 2:52 pm
You’re missing the point. Please step back, take a deep breath, and read again. Please try to move past the all-or-nothing, black-and-white perspective.
RH posted reviews. She also did a lot of other terrible things. Nobody is defending her attacks or harassment. What some people are pointing out is that the reviews themselves — the reviews of the work, not the personal attacks on the authors — were harsh and angry and sometimes over-the-top, but also had value.
Yes, I’ve read Laura’s report. I’ve spoken to a number of people who have been involved with this, and I’m aware of a fair amount of the behind-the-scenes things that haven’t been made public yet.
None of your examples #1-5 have anything to do with what I’m talking about when it comes to reviews.
RH did some horrible things to you and others. She also made some valid points in her reviews. These are not mutually exclusive things.
November 9, 2014 @ 2:52 pm
This makes sense. It really didn’t seem to be what you were saying above though.
I don’t think there’s any danger of many people really conflating harsh review with bullying.
At the bottom of this page, there’s a harsh review that a story of mine got:
This doesn’t bother me at all (especially not because the story scored very highly with the rest of the readership over at DSF). Someone didn’t like my story: fine. Notice, he didn’t accuse me of anything, he didn’t speak about me at all, just about the story.
This is a totally different thing from what RH was doing, and harsh reviews are not going away any time soon. But we can’t have another RH, or sooner or later, there’ll be real trouble.
November 9, 2014 @ 3:22 pm
# Again, apologies for my bad memory and for insulting CP without
# anything to back it up. Obviously, I should have checked before posting
That’s okay, this stuff was all two years ago, and it’s very messed up by now. RH would likely have said I was trolling her and god knows what else. I did try to speak to her sometime after she called for my beheading. The beheading comment came straight out of the blue, I’d had no contact with her before that. I did also write a blogpost about her, in which I didn’t mention her by name, but I was completely freaking out because I’d never encountered anything quite like her, and in fact didn’t believe she could be real. I was convinced that she was a right-wing “false flag” operation intended to discredit left-wing politics. This developed into claims that I was saying she couldn’t really be thai, because she used english so well, etc, etc. Basically everything I said from then on only made things worse. One reviewer went so far as to accuse me of racist stereotyping in one of my stories, but I was able to disprove that by reference to two lines in the work itself (which I could easily have cut from it).
The thing is a lot of stuff was said about me, and most people had no reason to disbelieve it, and in most cases I had no argument that I could use to defend myself, because when RH “found” things in your work, you couldn’t prove that it was her interpretation that put them in there rather than the author.
# everywhere Ive seen him comment, and has even knocked on the
# head the idea that people should find RH.
I have to say I’m changing my opinion on this a little, in the sense that at the start I didn’t want the police involved, but gradually I’m changing my mind on that. I’m not seeing the community take any ownership of this issue, and the things I’ve read in the Mixon report worry me a lot more than my own personal experience did.
One of the things that bothered me deeply about RH was that she was operating pseudonymously, but she’d draw people who were exposing their real-world identities into her games, and often these people didn’t seem to know where their bright-lines were. For instance, I would never call online for the extermination of any racial, gender, religious or other group. The ‘kill all men’ hashtag might have seemed funny to the people involved in it, but if RH had done anything extreme enough to attract outside attention (and I’m amazed that what she was doing already wasn’t enough to do that) or if she’d have attacked an important figure online, she’d have been able to delete her account and vanish, but all the people associated with her would have been caught in the trap. In that context a hashtag like “Kill all men” might look somewhat differently to a lot of people coming to the situation from outside.
I now feel that nothing’s going to really change in the community, and if RH, or someone like her, starts up again in a year or two, they’ll quickly be able to resume operations as before. They’ll be emboldened but in some ways more careful, and they’ll be out to settle some scores (which is why I think a lot of her victims, including some known ones, don’t seem to be saying too much). Eventually things are going to go too far, and then it won’t be requires_hate who has to bear the fallout.
Rather than have that, I’m leaning towards thinking that a conviction wouldn’t be a bad thing. To be honest, a lot of my ‘I don’t want people going after her’ comments were made before I’d digested everything that was in the Mixon report.
November 9, 2014 @ 3:35 pm
# None of your examples #1-5 have anything
# to do with what Im talking about when it
# comes to reviews.
But RH did those things in her reviews. You can’t separate the two. She didn’t write a review saying “this author cant write for toffee” and then call for the author to be murdered elsewhere, she did both together.
# RH did some horrible things to you and others.
# She also made some valid points in her
# reviews. These are not mutually exclusive
I agree, they’re not, but at least some of her ‘valid points’ were lies. She accused me of exotification because a character was sat on a batik cushion, and of my story being set in and insulting version of the third world when it wasn’t. RH was a mistress of claiming there was stuff in the work that wasn’t there.
Most of the time, once she’d made the accusation, you couldn’t argue with it. I was lucky in being able to disprove an accusation made by someone else, but likely that person was not as skilled as RH herself.
There’s plenty of harsh reviewers out there, but people don’t live in fear of them, its “meh” if you get a bad review. RH attacked authors themselves *through her reviews*. In your harsh review, you dont do that. There’s no comparison between your review and hers.
An RH version of the review you wrote would declare that the author was racist scum who needed to be murdered, and that would happen *in the review*. The review would be used to provide evidence to tar and feather the author. That’s how RH worked.
November 9, 2014 @ 3:45 pm
# If this is about the threat that somebody be beheaded, why do people
# keep talking and talking and talking about her reviews?
Because she did that kind of thing in her reviews. In the case of the ‘beheading’ comment, that was on twitter, but I saw her reviews, and the bad ones were terrifying, she’d work herself up into a frenzy of accusation and start describing what needed to be done to the author (admittedly they weren’t all like that, but the ones that were, were appalling).
# The takeaway here is that you cant make a mistake in a review,
# and you dare not write anything that might upset anybody,
# or else youre a bully and one step from being a sociopath,
No, it isn’t. The takeaway here is that it’s not acceptable to write a review that accuses the author of Peter Pan of being a peadophile who needs to have his private parts cut off and be forced to eat them. That’s the kind of thing that RH wrote.
I keep saying this, there’s loads of harsh reviewers out there, but no-one is discussing them. They’re writing harsh reviews right now, and they’ll be doing so forever, and mostly we won’t even discuss them. RH was special, that’s why we’re discussing her.
At the end of the day, RH’s reviews were, in some jurisdictions like the UK, almost certainly actionable under the law. Likely in many places that have defamation law, they would also have been actionable. You can say whatever you like about a book, and that’s fine, but you can’t say whatever you like about a person. If in your review you say “This book is rubbish, it should be burned” people might disapprove of that, but it’s not a legal issue. If you say “This book is rubbish: the author should be burned” that’s a whole other thing.
November 9, 2014 @ 5:35 pm
Colum, I agree with everything you said in your other comments: harsh reviews are separate from bullying and abuse EXCEPT when the bullying and abuse happens in the reviews, which certain happened with RH. In those cases, they cannot be separated.
November 9, 2014 @ 7:54 pm
1) The Stop the Goodreads Bullies wasn’t initially started because of bad reviews exactly. It was because gangs of Goodreads participants were trying to pile on 1-star reviews of books they hadn’t read and mob/jiggle the Goodreads protocols to make the author/books look as bad as possible on Goodreads and online because the authors were seen as violating some sort of author or people behavior standards these people had.
It was a tactic that actually developed first on Amazon, when Anne Rice went on an epic rant on Amazon itself about Amazon customer reviewers who were slamming her work or slamming her work without having read her books, causing people to seek “revenge” by 1-star reviewing more of her books and then a lot of other people’s books, including authors who agreed that they didn’t like people giving them 1-star reviews if they hadn’t read the books. Amazon then later encouraged loyal customers to go after Macmillan titles, when they were having a terms dispute with Macmillan, and give them 1-star reviews without having read them. The 1-star mob attack became a common on-line tactic. It’s also an entirely legitimate if unpleasant tactic, as no one has the right to tell others that they can’t review books, whether or not they’ve read them, or collectively organize boycotts or 1-star review mobs, etc.
Some of the reviewers doing these sorts of things also engaged in nastier, not kosher behavior beyond reviews, including harassment, and that, along with the mob 1-star tactics, caused a number of people, including authors, to create the Stop site. But that site quickly got out of hand with using the same sorts of harassment techniques that they were against, and causing more 1-star mobbing to occur because they claimed it shouldn’t be allowed to occur.
Consequently, people who love books — authors and reviewers — are often at war with each other in a deeply senseless battle that if it keeps up will drive folks away from Goodreads altogether. And it is basically up to the authors to walk away and leave the reviewers to stew, however nasty they think those reviewers are. That doesn’t mean putting up with stalking, harassing and other non-review tactics that are illegal, etc. It does mean dropping the narrative that nasty reviews are bullying of authors.
2) Because they aren’t. Reviews are editorial opinions, which can be expressed in casual verbal conversation on into written form in a publication. There are no rules about having opinions and writing them as reviews, no requirements, no boundaries placed on our opinions. A publication that pays for reviews will have their own standards and legal requirements, but someone on Goodreads, Amazon or elsewhere on the Net can review a book in any way they like, whether or not they’ve actually read the book or read it with correct facts. That’s their right.
And that right includes having angry, hateful opinions about the author of the book and writing those opinions about the author in the review. If a reviewer believes from reading your book or otherwise that you the author are a rapist, virulent racist, sexist, homophobe neoNazi, etc., they can say that. You have no control — nor should you — over their opinion of you. A reviewer can have the opinion that you should have been killed at birth. A reviewer can have the opinion that you are a sad example of your cultural race. A reviewer can be a Klansman, a member of ISIS, anybody.
Stepping in and saying that the person is not allowed to have that opinion because you think it’s ill-formed or nastily worded is not your right as an author. It is not “challenging bullying.” Authors have no say over what people say about them or their work. They do not have the right to try to stamp out opinions they don’t like, however vile. That is not to say that they have to put up with actual, direct harassment, doxxing, stalking, etc. But someone expressing an angry, hateful opinion of you and your work is not the same thing as that. As an author, you become a public figure. People are allowed to have opinions of public figures and express them. You won’t be able to stop it, and when you do protest it as an author, you have a commercial interest in going after the reviewer and therefore have no credibility to most others in that protest.
3) That’s a really hard thing for authors to learn, to protect themselves best they can against actual, illegal attacks and ignore reviews completely. But it’s exactly why Mixon should never have compiled her dossier on RH, a reviewer and fellow author. As an author and as currently an award judge, Mixon could give info to others who are not authors if she felt that RH was engaged in illegal practices and bullying practices such as blocking authors from professional opportunities that needed to be looked at. But doing it herself, as an author, removes pretty much the credibility from what she’s doing for most people. Because as an author, she has a vested, self-serving financial interest in trying to control things. This is why authors need to stay away from reviews as much as possible, whether they are bad or good. Nobody needs the authors chiming in on the review process.
If RH has influence on convention panels and publication opportunities, that’s because people handed it to her, not because she has any actual power or authority to do it on her own. That is something that can be looked at, as well as any direct harassment and stalking, on the Web and in conversations with those who have given her influence and may have allowed discrimination in a personal vendetta. But again, in the public sphere of the Internet, authors are not effective advocates for editorial-based disputes concerning their work, or even the work of their author friends.
As the author, you are the one putting out a product. Those using or encountering the product have no obligation to you whatsoever in their opinions of it or you as the creator of it.
November 9, 2014 @ 8:03 pm
I have a problem with you logic. You’re basically defending verbal and emotional abuse as okay, because it’s someone’s opinion. No.
November 10, 2014 @ 12:24 am
Although I agree that authors should generally stay away from reviews and leave them and the people who write them alone, I don’t agree with your at-all-times and no-matter-what position on this.
I once asked Amazon to take down a reader-review that contained a major spoiler on a brand new release. The reader had enjoyed the book and discussed how moved she was by the incident in the book, so it was a very positive review. But issuing such spoilers is something an edited reviewer knows (or gets told) not to do, whereas this unedited reviewer did not know–and I didn’t want the specific details of a major plot-reversal to be spoiled for readers looking at reviews to see whether or not they’d like this new book.
I also once asked Amazon to take down a reader-review where the reviewer claimed the only reason the book, which this person thought was awful, had been published was that I gave the editor sexual favors in exchange for publication.
This person was protected by the shield of anonymity and free to publicly accuse me of such demeaning and unethical behavior without experiencing any consequences for such unfounded accusations against me. The forum at that time didn’t even provide a means for me to say, nope, note true–unless I wrote a “review” of my own book which said that. I don’t agree that a claim like that belongs on a review page of a book just because it’s an assumption someone makes about the author and can issue without any accountability whatsoever. Amazon agreed with me that it didn’t belong there.
It also turned out that this “reviewer” had been leaving similarly scurrilous comments on various other people’s books, too, and I gather they lost their review access altogether after Amazon saw what was happening. Which is a decision I agree with.
I don’t agree that irresponsible behavior in public is acceptable just because it expresses how someone feels. I don’t have the energy, focus, paranoia, or resources to SUE someone who claims I exchange sex for publication, but I’m not inclined to let someone simply say that in a review of the work without any accountability whatsoever.
November 10, 2014 @ 1:32 am
“along with the mob 1-star tactics, caused a number of people, including authors, to create the Stop site.”
Kat, you have got the history of this completely wrong. Please see the timeline section of the front page here http://stopthegrbullies.net/
STGRB was and remains the project of a single person with a massive grudge, who’s attracted hangers on and other grudgewankers, but this was never about what people at GR did – unless you count that single person.
And nothing whatsoever could justify what that site did right from the start – outing and doxxing reviewers at Good Reads just for writing reviews she didn’t like.
Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes
November 10, 2014 @ 9:25 am
[…] been thinking about some of the comments and emails I received after my blog post last week about online bullying and harassment. Several people expressed confusion about exactly what I was saying. Was I defending attacks on […]
November 10, 2014 @ 9:29 am
Problem is also that this reviewer was saying things like “this author needs to be killed” and otherwise was inciting people to harm said authors. Not nice, and in most cases illegal. Just like your right to free speech doesn’t include yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. And saying an author is a pedophile, etc is considered defamation in most jurisdictions, regardless of how well known an author is. Just because someone has a public face doesn’t mean they are legally subject to any sort of written or verbal abuse someone wants to subject them to.
November 10, 2014 @ 12:33 pm
The site was clearly a harassment site and I’m not supporting it. I thought it was an incredibly stupid idea even before I learned about doxxing and other illegal actions they took. But the calls to “get reviewers” as an idea did come from the early 1-star mob movements years before that site was created — and largely was initially an Amazon problem — and a lot of the online outrage about stuff at Goodreads was concerning that idea. A lot of the claims that Goodreads participants were doing that sort of thing may have been propaganda used to justify attacks. It seems that a lot of authors don’t understand how Goodreads works. The idea that Goodreads participants are “bullies” fundamentally shows this. (Which does not excuse if a reviewer actually does stalk, etc. an author of course, anymore than it excuses an author stalking, etc. a reviewer.)
Bear in mind here, Anne, I’m stating that reviewers have the right to say what they choose about books, including doing 1-star reviews of books they haven’t read. But I appreciate you correcting the record I may have gotten wrong about the start of that site.
November 10, 2014 @ 1:41 pm
LR — asking Amazon to take down a review with key spoilers isn’t what we’re talking about here. As for the sexual favors claim, Amazon has a right to decide whether it will have certain things allowed or not. But, the person had the right, on the Internet or in the world, to believe that about you and express it. People say that belief about many actresses on getting their roles on the Net all the time. The actresses don’t go around suing all these people. It’s not illegal to express those opinions about actresses, whether it’s true or not.
I read a number of Orson Scott Card’s books and liked them. Then I felt his stuff went downhill and stopped. Then I found out that he is, in my opinion, a homophobic asshat who has worked to get gay people jailed, killed, etc. I will never read his stuff again, I joined the boycott on the Ender’s Game movie, I’ve been involved in a number of Internet discussions about him re this issue. And no, Orson Scott Card doesn’t have grounds to sue me for defamation. No, I am not verbally and emotionally abusing Orson Scott Card. I can talk about Card in a public restaurant and on the Net. I can talk about whether I think Woody Allen is a pedophile or not.
People have opinions. Sometimes they are hateful opinions. Often they are ill-formed. But it is not illegal for them to talk about those opinions in public, including on the Net and in their personal book reviews. It is not at all the same as yelling “Fire” in a theater. Authors do not get to control the narrative that others have of them, and in attempting to do so, authors will almost always lose and generally piss off even more people, rather than defend their reputations.
There are things that are illegal — harrassment, stalking, doxxing, death and rape threats. (To be clear, saying that you wish someone would kill the author is not a death threat. Saying to the author, I will kill you, is a death threat.) Hacking into actresses’ personal data and publishing nude photos of them, and so on. Those aren’t expressing opinions but directly attacking the author and trying to harm the author’s personal life. There may be instances where a person is directly attacking an author’s business deals and legal action may be warranted.
There are other things that aren’t illegal and involve a trickier area of protest. If you are trying to keep an author off a convention panel, are you doing a personal vendetta or are you protesting because you think that author really shouldn’t be there? When people protested Elizabeth Moon speaking at WisCon in the wake of her expressing opinions about Muslims and assimilation, causing her to be dis-invited as Guest of Honor, they were not committing a crime. The people who protested that protest of Moon, who disagreed with the anger of the other people, they were not committing a crime either. When Larry Correia created a “sad puppies” slate for the Hugo Awards because he believed social activist liberal authors were taking over the awards in a grand conspiracy he had no evidence for, he was not committing a crime either.
These are things that are going to get discussed, often in awful ways, and they can be brought up about this RH person. But an author like Mixon bringing them up looks like an interested party going after someone on a vendetta. That’s not what Mixon is trying to do, but that’s the opinion that a lot of people will have of it because she’s an author. She is therefore seen as having reasons, not necessarily ethical ones but instead financial ones, for bringing RH down. So a non-author would have been a better choice for bringing the information up about RH.
Authors freak out about negative reviews and negative accusations about themselves as authors. They think negative reviews have more power than they have. Most people, however, never see any of the reviews, tend to be highly skeptical of negative reviews they might see even from trusted sources, and are much more affected by word of mouth positive reviews if they read them. So authors need to pick their battles, as we know. Where they are being directly and illegally attacked, facing identity theft, where they are losing gigs, etc. from a direct attack, then they may have to take steps. And it may be that some of RH’s actions fall under that banner.
But expressing negative, false, angry, accusatory opinions about books and their authors in personal reviews do not, nasty as it might be. Nor does expressing belief that the U.S. government is hiding evidence of aliens, that evolutionary theory is a hoax and creationism should be taught in science class, that President Obama is a Muslim atheist, or any other crap people believe about institutions and individuals. That’s a really hard thing for authors or any artist to deal with, especially when they aren’t celebrities or bestsellers. But authors can’t punish people for their opinions that the book and the author suck, and for reasons that the author doesn’t think are true. If they try, it’s not going to work.
November 10, 2014 @ 6:12 pm
“A lot of the claims that Goodreads participants were doing that sort of thing may have been propaganda used to justify attacks.”
Yes, it was. 100%
November 15, 2014 @ 12:21 am
I have difficulty believing that people who are actually looking to buy a book would make a purchase decision on idiotic reviews like this. Elitist Book Reviews is my favorite review site. They write thoughtful negative reviews and give you detailed reasons why they don’t like a book that come down to more than personal taste.
I would be willing to bet that reviews like this only play with trolls who are not looking to spend money and people looking to steal books from download sites. Who cares what they think?
I can’t see this impacting anyone’s sales. If I see a review like this I immediately move on. Angry reviews are not useful to me when I am looking for a new book to read. I do find thoughtful negative reviews useful.
I also agree with Larry Correia on this… I think most of you guys are upset because she did this to liberals. I don’t think you would care if she did this to conservatives. She was in your club and she backstabbed you. Her reviews would have no impact on whether I buy your books. I do like Jim’s books… or I wouldn’t post here.
Just ignore her. Why give her all this attention? I don’t get it. If your looking to save the internet from trolls… uh… dude you need more realistic goals.
November 18, 2014 @ 4:39 pm
I certainly appreciate your calm, measured breakdown of the incident. Shocks me that some people would leave a review like that about anybody, but there are some odd ones out there.
November 19, 2014 @ 4:25 pm
Hm. Victims of domestic violence get this “advice” all the time. I see the parallels here. You need to articulate the differences. Preferably knowing actual details of the case.