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.