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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Amazon Review Section: Breeding Ground for Trolls and Bullies?

Here's the latest on my continued battle with Amazon over its review guidelines, which are, unfortunately, biased toward allowing uninformed, negative reviews - and against positive reviews.

Amazon's guidelines contain an extensive, five-point section that defines the kind of "promotional content" that's not allowed, but it includes nothing to prevent trolls from bullying authors with caustic, negative reviews. There's nothing to prevent people who haven't read your book from going off ad nauseam on how bad it is without backing up their statements with actual examples of what they find offensive.

These are not reviews. They're attacks, and they shouldn't be allowed.

Yet Amazon allows them.

It's pretty clear that this is one of those cases of "you can't fight city hall" - city hall, in this case, being Amazon. But as someone who believes it's important to combat bullying, I can't simply sit by and allow authors to be bullied by trolls who may not even have read their books. That may be fine with Amazon, but it's not fine with me.

After two positive reviews were removed from my books and two negative reviews were allowed to remain, despite their clear mean-spirited nature, I sent an e-mail to Amazon quoting its own guidelines about not allowing "spiteful remarks" in an attempt to restore some sense of equity and civility to the process. I was, predictably, rebuffed. Below is my initial inquiry, followed by Amazon's response:

I am contacting you because I am concerned about that a reviewer appears to be violating your policy against spiteful language in reviewing my books. Sissy McMillan has reviewed only two books in the past four years, and both have been mine. She has given scathing reviews to both, which leads me to believe I am being targeted. Here is her review of my book "The Gospel of the Phoenix":
"I can't believe I was sucked in by this - and I can't get my money back because I did try to read it. Save your time and your money and avoid this boring trash like the Plague!"
There is nothing specific about the content of the book, which leads me to believe she hasn't even read it. In a comment on a review of another book, "Undefeated," she states, "I have seen the stupid and boring writing of this 'author'," once again without any indication she has read the book. She claims to have borrowed the book, but it's not available for borrowing on Amazon and isn't in wide circulation, so this (her claim) seems unlikely, especially considering her lack of specifics.
I understand the value of negative reviews, but negative reviews that merely characterize a work in general, spiteful terms without any specifics as to why the book falls flat seem inappropriate. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Amazon's response:
I've read the reviews submitted by "Sissy McMillan" for the books titled "Undefeated: Overcoming Prejudice with Grace and Courage" and "The Gospel of the Phoenix: Another Revelation of Jesus." I understand your concerns, but these reviews do not violate our posted guidelines, so I'm unable to remove them in their current format.
However, as the author of these titles, you can provide feedback about the reviews by voting or commenting on them. To vote, click the "Yes" or "No" buttons next to "Was this review helpful to you?" To comment, click the Comments link at the bottom of each review.
We try to encourage our customers to give their honest opinions on our products while staying within our guidelines. As a retailer we are interested in cultivating a diversity of opinion on our products. Part of that is allowing our customers to air their honest thoughts on items they have received.  

Apparently, it's OK with Amazon if those "honest thoughts" are unsubstantiated attacks, but it's not OK if they're positive comments. Amazon, it seems, has signaled its intent to be a breeding ground for trolls and mean-spirited attacks (as opposed to constructive, healthy criticism). Defending attacks on the pretext that they are "honest thoughts" is merely a means of condoning bullying. If you agree with me, here's what you can do to make your voices heard.

  1. Whenever you run across a mean-spirited review, mark it as unhelpful and report it as a violation of Amazon's guidelines. Forcing Amazon to spend staff time responding to your requests costs them money. Even if they refuse to act, you will be forcing them to pay a penalty, however small, for perpetuating this unfair policy.
  2. Mark positive reviews as helpful when they are, in fact, helpful.
  3. Mark comments that are rude, personal attacks or unsubstantiated as "unhelpful."
  4. Offer positive reviews to any books you have read and liked.
Do this whenever you're on Amazon and run across these reviews. Authors put a lot of time and care into crafting their books, and the fact that online bullies are permitted to trash someone else's work without providing anything to support their opinions is a gross injustice. In a couple of minutes, they are dismissing months of work. The least they should do is provide a "why" - something Amazon suggests in its review "tips" but does not require - and remain civil.

I take some solace in the fact that I'm not alone. According to a Salon article, amateur "reviewers" have trashed such classics as The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984. Some people seem to enjoy making cutting remarks toward others and their work. Maybe it makes them feel superior. But regardless of their motives, the results promote animosity rather than constructive dialogue and criticism. 

Civility appears to be going out the window in our society - and is being given a huge shove by Amazon's current review policy. I encourage everyone to share this blog and others like it that highlight this problem (no, I don't profit from this blog) and e-mail Amazon to protest the policy. The more people protest, the better the chance is that "city hall" will listen. Doing something is better than doing nothing.


  1. What?? You can't remove a negative comment from someone who is interjecting nothing but negativity into your own blog because you say that the world doesn't work that way? What fantasy world do YOU live in? You most assuredly CAN do this...it's called "delete" and if necessary "ban". Toodles, and blessed be!

    1. Ack...you deleted the comment I was replying to. No worries...you can delete this one as well if you wish, seeing as how it was in relation to the one you removed.

      Incidentally - the comments on Amazon that were 1-star, I reported most of them for abuse in that they were targeting you specifically without contributing anything useful toward the review of your books. Only 1 I left untouched - it was just someone that didn't like your book (boo-hoo) but actually seemed to have read it, and wasn't targeting you specifically.

      Blessings for the coming New Year!!!

    2. Imagine that.. People attacking them because of the way they act. Preposterous! They are so sweet and innocent!

    3. No, people attacking several of the author's works because of a personal vendetta or because they don't condone Paganism when no other review of any other book has been made. You, however, seem to have a serious problem with the author. Perhaps you're this "Sissy McMillan" person in question? Maybe you should, perhaps, move on? Or do you revel in vetting your anger upon a captive audience like some immature child screaming for attention? I, however, will move on. I'm done with you. Good-bye, and may Goddess move you into a path that is less angry and negative.

    4. Dave, thanks for your actions. I'm not asking for people to report all the one-star reviews as abuse, just the ones that seem ... well ... abusive! LOL

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Grow up? You're the one slinging insults and making the "crybaby" comments.

  3. I have no idea who "Raven" is, but I do, from time to time, remove people from my Facebook page - just as I feel justified in removing people from my home if they're rude to me. I don't need a reason. It's my page/home. If someone doesn't want me in their space, I graciously leave. Seems simple enough.

    1. I made one comment on your page. Someone threttened to leave your page after not liking something on it so I said something like "LOL why say something like that instead of just unliking the page" and I got banned for that. Pretty trivial if you ask me. Now you are complaining about posts on Amazon. Quite a few of the positive posts on those books are just as vague as the negative ones.

  4. That's odd, because I agree with the statement you made "LOL why say something like that instead of just unliking the page." Perhaps I banned you in error; if so, I apologize. But I don't recall the incident, and I don't remember you personally, so I can't comment further. Regardless, the issue here is quite different. I've never gone on anyone else's Facebook page and left a message similar to what's being left on some authors' books in the Amazon section. If I did, I wouldn't blame the person for banning me in the slightest.

  5. i suggest you ask your readers to comment on the negative reviews and to clink on the link to "report abuse" for the reviews that are truly abusive. Amazon will review them if enough people do that. This past year, author John Scalzi had several of his books ripped off by someone who had the chutzpah to self-publish the rip-offs on Amazon. Scalzi asked his readers to spring into action, and it worked. See his blog, Whay=tever, for details about how to word the objections so that Amazon really reads them.

  6. Scalzi's blog is named Whatever. This is what happens when you try to type with a cat in one arm. ;-)