A message from a troll who “reviewed” my book without even reading it: “Your book is a product and I have the right to trash it as much as I please.”
This really happened. The above sentence was sent to me in a private message on Goodreads by one of the trolls who ganged up one me and ravaged the ratings of my books. Being attacked and harassed by a group of trolls while the platform does nothing to stop it is disturbing enough, but things become even more sinister when books are called "products."
When books are seen as products no different from bottles of soda in a supermarket store, that’s a sure sign the society is in deep trouble. It reminds me of the Communism in Russia where writers were treated as nothing but workforce and were, like factory workers, expected to come to write in the morning and do their 8-hour shifts like everyone else.
It was twisted and obscene and I’m pretty sure books were seen as nothing but products in those dark times of Russian totalitarianism too. Everything was seen and measured in terms of production and everyone was only allowed to exist as a part of the workforce.
There was no distinction between the type of work, no understanding of art or literature. It was all supposed to be in the service of the state (the people) or else you paid with your career if not life.
So when books are seen as nothing but “products,” we are getting dangerously close to this type of totalitarianism where the role and meaning of art and literature are all but lost. In communism, books were treated as products whose only function was to be in the service of the state, e.g. the people. Fail to obey, fail to comply and the people will make it sure to destroy and ditch you like a dysfunctional part of the machine.
Which is, when you think of it, not that different from how things are done in capitalism where the only things that matter are production and consumers, e.g. the people. This can have devastating consequences when art and literature start being treated as no more than supermarket goods whose sole purpose should be to please the consumer rather than intellectually challenge and inspire learning and growth in the society.
Trolls act like censors
Where communism had censors, capitalism has trolls. They both perform exactly the same function — they prevent others from speaking their truth. The only aim of censors and trolls is to shut down any voice, any view, any form of expression that is not in accord with their personal views and taste. They and they alone are allowed to criticize and the ones who have been criticized are not allowed to voice their opinion and reply to the criticism.
Under communism, it was enough to write and publish a single post that challenged the regime and you were done. Your career was finished and you’d be lucky to stay alive. Likewise, it’s enough to publish something trolls don’t approve of and they’ll go after you like bloodhounds and won't give up until they destroyed everything they can — your work, career, private life… They’ll even take your life if they manage to push you into committing suicide.
And what horrible crime do you have to commit to deserve this? In my case, imagine my boldness, I dared to express how a review made me feel and published that on my personal blog. The very same day all hell broke loose.
In retaliation, the author of that review with a group of fellow trolls relentlessly started to harass me, bomb my books with 1-star reviews, and troll my blog posts comments on Goodreads. This went so far that I had to delete the link to my blog on Goodreads and shut down the “ask the author” option. As if that wasn’t enough, they even tried to take down my website!
In their opinion, no one should be allowed to criticize them, while they should be free to say and do to others whatever they please. I happen to disagree with the idea that freedom of speech should be a one-way street where only one side is allowed to express their opinion. I find that even more problematic since more than one person stated in their book reviews that my book should have never been published.
As someone who grew up under the communist regime, I know all too well where such ideas lead to and I’m certainly not going to tolerate this and just let it slide. You cannot and should not just let the unimaginable horrors that were already caused by this same kind of totalitarian mindset slide.
Telling someone that they should not publish something is exactly what communist censors did. If you disobeyed and published it anyway, they’d punish you, just like these “reviewers” tell writers what they should or shouldn’t write and make sure to punish them for writing anything that is not in accord with their taste and personal views.
These so-called reviewers are not in it for a debate or to broaden their horizons. They are in it solely to enforce their personal taste and slam you if you fail to cater to it. Like the communist censors, these are not true book lovers who’d actually care to invest in buying books. They use book review services such as Booksprout to get books for free only to trash them at will.
Dare to speak up and debate their stance, and they’ll come after you with a vengeance and destroy the ratings of every book you ever wrote to make it clear that you need to shut up or else. In their twisted minds, you, as the author, are not the one who has the right to free speech. It’s they, these so-called “reviewers” alone who have that privilege, along with the self-imposed right to dictate what you should or shouldn’t publish.
One of these trolls, for instance, stated that she only skimmed through the sample pages of my book on Amazon. Of course she didn’t even read the book but this didn’t stop her from “reviewing” it. And why would she care to read it indeed, when her interest is trolling, not reading. She’s rated literally hundreds of books on Goodreads and the average of her ratings is 2.3 stars. Need I say more?
When you start looking at books as consumer goods instead of a personal or artistic expression of a living and breathing fellow human being, you are opening the door to abuse. That’s even more true when it comes to memoir, one of the most intimate forms of expression in literature. How can anyone in their right mind call a memoir a “product”?
Was The Diary of Anne Frank a product?! That’s, I guess, how Nazis might see it — a product by a content generator and not an expression of suffering written by a human being undergoing a dreadful ordeal. Nazis too, I’m sure, would severely oppose to that book ever being published and troll its author to death if they didn’t already manage to kill her before.
Actually, one of the “reviewers” who slammed my book even stated that she too writes a diary but don’t publish it, as if publishing a diary would be in itself an appalling idea. I assume she never heard of Anne Frank nor would she ever approve of her diary being published either.
But my book isn’t even a diary. It’s a collection of stories and poems I wrote while undergoing a severe crisis that brought me on the verge of homelessness and suicide. This "reviewer" is thus yet another troll who “reviewed” my book without bothering to read it.
So where are where we going by taking these small but sure trolling steps? Will I soon not only be told what I’m allowed to publish but have my self-publishing career destroyed because I dared to speak up? What’s next? The camps have already been put in place in the States so, I guess, one more book such as this one and I might just be sent to one and be told to drink water from the toilet!
Trolls will be trolls and they are a problem. Most social media platforms have learned their lesson by now, and some, most notably Facebook, have learned it the hard way. Appropriate measures have been taken by many, among others Twitter, Facebook, and Medium where trolling and abuses became increasingly rare as a result.
Goodreads, however, is another story. Other than the statement that they care for the well-being of their users, the platform has done absolutely nothing to stop and prevent the harassment. Talk is cheap and it means nothing when it’s not followed by actions. And no action whatsoever has been taken when Goodreads trolls started to bomb my books with 1-star reviews and harass me in the comments of my blog.
Goodreads never as much as responded to my messages and pleas for help when some of their users set their profiles to private, which made it impossible for me to block them and stop the harassment. These users can thus troll you to their heart’s desires while you can do nothing about it. The platform became a haven for trolls who are having the time of their life there.
The main problem here is that Goodreads isn’t some small, insignificant site. It has 3.7 MIO followers on Twitter where it presents itself as “The largest site for readers and book recommendations.” It’s beyond disturbing that the site so influential that it was even acquired by Amazon keeps turning a blind eye to such harassment while forcing the authors into having their books there!
As hard as it to believe this, Goodreads doesn’t allow me to remove my books from the platform while it’s at the same time doing nothing to protect authors from trolls. I don’t think this is legal and it also represents yet another unnerving parallel with totalitarianism — exposing authors to public harassment and abuse while not giving them a chance to defend themselves.
One of the hallmarks of any totalitarian regime is to take full control over the intellectual sphere. That’s how it starts. This means taking control over authors’ careers, the kind of books they are allowed to publish, and whether they are allowed to publish at all. This can be achieved in different ways, one of which is deliberately destroying the author’s reputation with bad reviews.
In communism, we had the dictatorship of the proletariat. On Goodreads and to some degree Amazon, we have the dictatorship of the trolls who dictate what authors shoudl publish through harassment and review bombing.
Since Goodreads with its millions of users became the largest and most influential site for readers and book reviewers, this blatant obstruction of free speech and diversity that has been left completely unchecked by the platform became a major problem with far-reaching consequences.
Just like censors in communism, Goodreads trolls have been given the power to negatively impact if not destroy the careers of authors literally on a whim. For someone who has experienced communism first-hand, it's absolutely shocking and devastating to see this same kind of mentality taking place in the so-called free and democratic country where freedom of speech and expression should have never been put at risk.
Yet these rights have been put at risk on Goodreads and it’s a high time we start doing something about it. For starters, send Goodreads and its CEO Otis Chandler a message with this prewritten tweet and demand much-needed changes and zero tolerance of trolling, harassment, and abuse.