Friday, July 20, 2012

about Stop the Goodreads Bullies, pseudonymity, and cyberstalking

Stop the GR Bullies is an attempt to stop "bullies" from posting cruel reviews at Goodreads. One of StGRB's tactics is to find information online that the "bullies" made public, then share that information at their site. The "bullies" and their supporters say they are being "cyberstalked" and "outed" by StGRB.

A few things I should state first:

1. Reviewers should feel free to say whatever they like about books and authors.

2. Reviewers should expect their readers to say whatever they like about reviews and reviewers.

3. Cruel reviews have always struck me as pointless. When so many good books are overlooked, why waste time slagging books you don't like? Ignoring books helps them disappear. Adding your negative attention to the positive attention a book has gotten only increases the attention that book will get. It's more effective to promote what you love than to attack what you hate.

4. Pseudonymity and anonymity matter. Anyone who is concerned about their privacy should have their privacy respected. Bradley Manning is one of my heroes, and I despise the people who outed him.

If the StGRB uproar was only about cruel reviews, I probably would not be writing about them.

But it's also about free speech:

Reviews should be honest. When reviewers give one-star reviews to books before they're published, the writer is a liar, not a reviewer. Though Fox News legally established its right to lie, lies are not and should not be defended as "free speech". Free speech is the right to share what you believe is true; it has nothing to do with saying what you know is false in the hope of hurting someone.

It's about metaphors:

If metaphors matter, "outing" and "stalking" should not be used lightly. In real life, people who were "outed" did their best to keep their identities private because they feared the sometimes-fatal consequences of being identified as a homosexual or a socialist. "Stalking" is about following people who are trying to go about their daily lives; it has nothing to do with reading or sharing a writer's public writing.

It's about bullying:

Some of the "bullies" are crying that they're being bullied, and that their reviews were not bullying because they didn't physically hurt anyone. But long before the internet existed, people knew that intellectual bullying existed and could be worse than physical bullying. Physical scars eventually fade, but mental scars last forever.

It's about censorship:

Some of the "bullies" are looking for ways to shut down the StGRB site, by appealing to the law or GoDaddy, the site's host.

It's about how to be pseudonymous on the net:

If you want to be pseudonymous, you have to make an effort. What you share in public is no longer private information; when you share it, it becomes public information. (Apologies for spelling out what should be obvious to everyone, but I'm constantly astonished by how many people haven't grasped that concept.)

The easiest way to be pseudonymous online is to be nice. No one tries to "out" anyone for being wonderful.

This doesn't mean you have to be nice. If you want to be abusive, that's your right. But if you want to be abusive pseudonymously, take your pseudonymity seriously. Don't cry that you've been "outed" if your targets, or their friends, or people who don't like abusive people, decide to share information that you've already shared. It may not be nice of them, but the hard version of the Golden Rule applies: Others may do unto you as you have done unto them.

ETA: On G+, I was asked why I mentioned Maning at #4, so I added "and anonymity". Privacy should cover all forms of withholding one's legal identity. Whistle-blowers often want to be anonymous or pseudonymous, and embarrassed people always want to expose and punish them.