Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stop the GR Bullies: Stalking, Tantrums and Bullying

'No Tantrums' photo (c) 2012, Lena - license:

It seems a new site has been started called Stop the GR Bullies, aimed at book reviewers at Goodreads. It seems to be author driven in response to the many many trainwrecks we have see all too often; you know the kind, an author sees a less-than-shining review and unwisely decides to respond - frequently leading to cringeworthy temper tantrums and shocking behaviour.

There is a lesson these authors seem to be sorely missing. They are producing a product and they are producing a work of art. The first means that people will review and critique the product they bought (as is their right), the second means that, given the subjective nature of artwork, some people will not like it - in fact some will loathe it and they will say so. They will never please everyone all of the time and it is no-one’s duty to lavish praise when it is not deserved. The book is not their baby, it is not something precious and special that needs to be treated gently - it is a product that is being sold and, like any other product we buy, if it’s awful - be that new furniture or a takeaway pizza - then we will say so, quite possibly in intemperate and scathing terms. Books are not a special category that makes them somehow untouchable.

That is not bullying. This is critiquing. This is reviewing. This has been going on, not just with artwork, but with every and all products since the beginning of time. It is actually insulting and offensive to call this bullying, especially at a time when we are seeing so much more attention to the bullying rates among schools and the horrendous rate of teen suicide it causes. To try and invoke this imagery because people are criticising your book? No, really, that’s not on.

On to the drama reports - which is one of the things they’ve accused Cuddlebuggery of. Now, I actually read
Cuddlebuggery, partly because it’s amusing, partly to keep my eye out for decent books and, yes, partly because I want to have a heads up if an author is going to explode into chunks of messy outrage should I review one of their books and find it less than utterly perfect. And, yes, I will be avoiding that author, why would I seek them out? And I will say that, yes, they’re snarky, yes they can be (justly) harsh but they are never anything but honest - and every single one of those drama posts they’ve written have been a direct, honest report of actual poor author behaviour (which is considerably more honest than the highly skewed and dubious accounts Stop the GR Bullies has written, to be honest) and they include links back for you to see the authors in all their failing glory.

You are not being bullied if someone honestly reports your actions. If you show your arse to the world and people point out that your butt cheeks are on display, it’s not their fault that everyone is commenting on it, criticising it and disapprove of your arse bare to the wind. You are facing the consequences of your actions and your utter lack of professionalism; not being bullied.

Also, let us add that you’re not being “driven off goodreads” by these mean critics. If someone criticises your book, even harshly, that is not driving you off. If you respond to a negative review (which is already foolish) and people continue to criticise and, yes, even mock, that is not driving you off. If your dubious, unprofessional and unacceptable behaviour is reported and people mock you for it, that is not driving you off. If you leave in these conditions you are not being driven off - you are flouncing.

But, you know what? Even if these reviewers were tearing up your precious, even if they said some truly hurtful, mean and even personal things. Even then this site would still be beyond the pale. At Stop the GR Bulllies, they go to extreme lengths to attack their critics. I actually would run out of space trying to list their terrible behaviour - and I am in two minds of linking to their site because of what they’ve written there:

They post the real name (and if they don’t have it, they keep looking), home city and, if they can find one, photograph (again, if they can’t find one, they keep looking) of the people they’re attacking. This is already frightening and, frankly, dangerous; but they then compound that by listing their place of work and their schedule.

By doing this what they are attempting to do is create real world problems for anyone who happens to not fanpoodle their work. Someone should not lose their job for not adoring your book. If that were not enough, on one entry, they list the restaurants and bars that a woman frequents, including the approximate time that she and her husband are likely to appear and where she goes for walks. How is this not stalking and bullying? After this, it seems almost minor to point to their nasty posts that imply their targets are alcoholics, bad mothers or try to shame them for being unemployed.

Looking through their list of the supposedly problematic people, what is overwhelmingly clear is that they have targeted women. To be fair, most of the commenters on Goodreads are women and that is because on average, women read more than men; however, this attack still fits within a framework in which women online are threatened and stalked for daring to have their own opinions.  

On the issue of internet bullying, Ally Fog recently wrote:

What you fail to understand is that the use of hate speech, threats and bullying to terrify and intimidate people into silence or away from certain topics is a far bigger threat to free speech than any legal sanction.

Imagine this is not the internet but a public square. One woman stands on a soapbox and expresses an idea. She is instantly surrounded by an army of 5,000 angry people yelling the worst kind of abuse at her in an attempt to shut her up. Yes, there's a free speech issue there. But not the one you think.

It is impossible to see this site as anything more than an attempt to silence, bully and scare anyone who should dare not to fall comfortably in line with their position. If they felt they were being unjustly slandered, they could have produced a site correcting lies or slanted information - but they haven’t done that (perhaps because the facts don’t support them). By providing a place of business, as well as other identifying information, these women are being set up for real world consequences, which could potentially result in violence or at the very least financial violence through the loss of employment.

There is a social expectation that to perform femininity properly one must attempt to go unnoticed and at the very least not be seen as aggressive in anyway. One should never get upset, be angry or challenge the common discourse. By enforcing the idea that these women don’t have right to be critical and following up this assertion with stalking, demeaning language, bullying and threatening behaviour, the writers behind Stop the GR Bullies are playing into a sexist patriarchal culture in which women are forced to perform a passive form of femininity in order to be safe from assault. How they cannot see how this feeds into an online culture in which women are repeatedly attacked for the crime of being women is positively beyond me. Have they not learned that women placed in the crosshairs get shot and running from this afterwards does not erase the harm done.

Perhaps the worst offence of this site is to include so many links to anti-bullying sites in their sidebars. Stop the GR Bullies is everything those websites try to fight against; for this site to include anti-bullying links is vaguely akin to a fat-acceptance site including a slim-fast advert.

And, no, this is not the way to support Indie Authors, in fact this will harm them. We’ve posted
about self-pubs (and Indie Authors) before and why they’re important, and part of the reason we did that is because many many reviewers won’t touch self-pubs or Indie Authors. Why is that? Many reasons, but part of it is because these authors have a reputation for unprofessionalism and drama. Now that reputation isn’t always fair, and there’s certainly no small number of more traditionally published authors who have publicly and dramatically lost their shit - but on Goodreads and elsewhere, Indie Authors have a reputation they should be moving away from - not creating a site that revel in it.

Before we finish, we’d like to take the chance here to praise those authors that get it, the good ones who so rarely are noticed among the cringeworthy displays; those authors who respond to reviews with grace and understanding. We have written critical reviews of books we thought had parts we didn’t enjoy and the authors have written to us, thanked us and acknowledged it - LJ Kentowski, Kate Elliot (who even linked to the review), Harry Connolly, Clifton Festa, Kendra Saunders and Nicolette Reed. Others we have loved but still, as is our wont, we have criticised elements and the authors have heard, acknowledged that and not lost their shit - like Kevin Hearne and Diana Rowland. (We apologise to any authors we missed) It was wonderful to see and reminded us, in between the irate fanpoodles, that there are authors who are classy, mature and, above all, professional.

It can be people, I just wish it happened more often.