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.

21 comments:

  1. Shame you're full of shit Shetterly/ People are being real-life stalked, phoned and threatened. That's a crime. Stop the GR Bullies owner is a criminal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If someone called someone at home, I have full empathy for the recipient of the call: the Ku Klux Klan, or someone pretending to be them, made anonymous calls to my mother in the 1960s. Our family was terrified, as I hope you understand.

      I got death threats twice after that, once for writing a comic book about a black female superhero fighting racists, and again when Coffeeandink claimed I had outed her, even though she was using her name in public posts on her LJ at the time. Threats are awful under any circumstance.

      But that has nothing to do with the fact that StGRB has only been posting public information. Sharing public information is legal. Terrorizing someone is not.

      Here's why I don't think anyone connected with StGRB made a phone call: the site is StGRB's response. If someone made a call, it was someone who had been slagged online by the person who was called, or someone who knew that person and hated the slagging.

      This does not justify the call. I hope the caller is caught. Flamewars should never go off the net.

      Delete
  2. Will, just an FYI - the StGRB website isn't about stopping bullying on GR, it's about enabling bullying by people who think their fav works should be sacrosanct. If you'd like a very thorough take on the entire thing, complete with links to all the relevant parties involved, check this site out on LiveJournal:

    http://bookish.livejournal.com/3248363.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Frankly, I have trouble taking seriously anyone who uses "fee-fees" and "special snowflake"--it sounds like the hurt is on the writer's side. And while I'm sure the writers at StGRB aren't in perfect agreement, they do seem to be trying to separate "hated this book" from "want to make fun of the author for lulz" and especially "want to slag a book I haven't read".

      But you may have inspired another post. Thanks!

      Delete
    2. On second thought, I'm not going to do another post about this now. I think the problem of anonymous and pseudonymous assholes is not easily solved—or rather, all of the solutions I can think of are worse than the problem. So I continue to think StGRB is taking a harsh but not unreasonable approach: make pseudonymous people more aware of what they say and how they protect their pseudonymity.

      Delete
    3. And on third thought, okay. Short post coming.

      Delete
  3. I'm not sure anyone has the full truth regarding the alleged phone calls. Seems just a bit too pat, if you know what I mean. First the "I know where you live" one when the thrust of the argument against STGRB was all about outing addresses, and then the "I'll teach you how to speak like a lady" one immediately after the conversation had turned to the topic of Red Dress defenses, slut-shaming and requests for a higher level of discourse equaling suppression of uppity women. Just too on the nose, ya know?

    If they did happen, then the police have that information and can trace the calls and do what they're paid to do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't follow the details as closely, but I said somewhere else that just as you shouldn't assume an accuser is lying, you shouldn't assume the accused is guilty. Plenty of people have lied about being victims, and while the laws vary from country to country, I'd also think the cops could check on the call.

      Delete
    2. I don't know whether the girl was called or not, but I've experienced how much freedom is given in the "stalking"/harassment issue. Depending on the state, the police may do little to nothing. In the state I was in, calling me repeatedly, following me in public areas, and watching me through windows from semi-public areas was acceptable as long as violence against me was not explicitly mentioned. I was told to collect evidence and try to document an explicit threat against my life or safety before the police could interfere.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous, if your local police are not doing enough about stalkers, you should be contacting your local representatives and finding out what organizations exist to improve the laws. And you should be sharing that information on-line and off so people will know things need to be improved where you are.

      Delete
    4. Sorry, same anonymous as the 1:28 comment--a reply to both replies, and my last attempt to beat this dead horse, I promise :)

      I apologize if my other comment came off as assholeish; the word "nice" to me has been overused as a call to insipidity at the cost of honesty. Perhaps my personal experience also causes me to be unable to see how posting a person's routine movements are anything other than an implicit threat of "we can find you" to induce silence and fear.

      During my own experience, I became familiar with the laws of my state. All state laws are posted online. Most require a "credible threat" to safety, or at the very least a proof of intent to alarm, before a person's action is classified as harassment/stalking. "We know where you live" calls, or in my case, even emails from the guy using the term 'stalking' to describe his actions, just didn't count because there was no explicit threat of violence. The police were kind, but told me that they could not take action until things escalated (as they eventually did). Even having been in the situation, I can see why; it would be very easy for accusations of stalking to be misapplied. The legal freedoms on this issue do, however, mean that actions such as posting a person's location become a viable way of inducing fear.

      To me at least, the posting of an individual's daily routine is very different from simply posting simply a name. Since the STGRB people now declare positively they did no such thing rather than standing by their actions proudly, I might suggest that they can at least appreciate this point of view.

      Delete
    5. I'm not going to mindread the STGRB, but I think they were right to delete the info they deleted, even though the person had made it public.

      The older I get, the more respect I have for people who choose to be nice. Anyone can be a bully in one way or another; being nice calls for true strength of character.

      Got a link to STGRB denying that they changed that page?

      Delete
  4. Hate to burst your bubble, but YOU'RE the bully. One of my dear friends have had their friends harassed and information exposed merely because they didn't like the book. THAT'S NOT BULLYING. THAT'S HAVING AN OPINION. You're crossing the line and BEING A CRIMINAL.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1. I have nothing to do with the StGRB site; I've only commented there a couple of times. I don't do things anonymously or pseudonymously, though I completely understand why people do. Life on the net can be hard if you're upfront about who you are, but I've always believed this bit of Bob Dylan advice: "To live outside the law, you must be honest."

      2. As I said before, free speech is messy, but so long as StGRB only shares information that other people already shared, they're operating within the law.

      3. Anyone who is making harassing calls or making threats is being a criminal, and I hope they're caught. The friends of your friend should go straight to the police to try to track down ISPs or work with phone records. I have no sympathy for real bullies.

      4. Sorry to add this, but I got to say whenever anyone talks about "friends of a friend", odds are good they're talking about something that didn't happen. I'm not saying it's true in your case, but when an anonymous person makes claims that can't be checked on, there's nothing for anyone to take away as true. That's another reason I believe people should use their names on the net.

      Delete
  5. I am seriously disappointed that you are defending a site that has incited violence against women, posted someone's specific schedules and personal info online so people can find them IRL, and generally acted like the asshats they were supposedly protesting. Whether anything happened IRL or not, it shouldn't take ACTUAL PHYSICAL VIOLENCE to say this kind of behavior is wrong.

    I thought better of you, and while I have enjoyed reading your blog, I can no longer do so in good conscience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you have any examples of them inciting violence or sharing information that their opponents had not already made public, please, provide quotes or links. I abhor violence, and I believe private information should stay private so long as an individual has kept that information private.

      Delete
  6. I agree that cruel reviews are as pointless, but negative reviews in general have their role to play. They, for instance, help correct the bias generated by solely positive reviews, and a well-argued negative review can be a great start to illuminated discussions among readers (what's the fun in yay-yay debates?).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not opposed to all negative reviews, but I only think they're useful in the situation you mention, where there already are positive reviews and the negative review is trying to create balance. That's a whole different critter than slagging someone who hasn't figured out the writing thang.

      And a lot of fun can be had in discussing why really good things work, because good things tend to work on different levels. Quibbling about details in a generally praised work can be fascinating, as people reveal their personal quirks in what they like. An example: Emma had a lot of fun with the clothing in War for the Oaks. Some readers who love the book love that, some hate that, and some ignore it entirely.

      Delete
  7. Your entire article, especially sanctimonious the use of that saccharine cry to "niceness," reminds me of the old Sondheim song:
    "You're so nice/You're not good, you're not bad, you're just nice,/I'm just right."

    A well-argued negative review, even in the absence of positive reviews, provides information for potential readers. Some may disagree with the reviewer and consider as positives the very aspects the reviewer disliked. Some may direct their interest elsewhere. Isn't that the goal of a review on a website for reviewers, rather than puffing up the tender egos of the authors?

    The initial STGRB site listed the reviewers' physical addresses, pictures, and localization patters (X tends to be at this location from 4-4:30--for an example, here's a screenshot. http://insatiablebooksluts.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/GRbullies.png). Could you explain to me what the constructive aim of this was if not to induce a feeling of fear?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ain't nobody saying there shouldn't be well-argued negative reviews. And if you don't want to be nice, that's your right. But you don't have a right to be an asshole and expect people to be nice in return.

      The STGRB only shared information that the original posters had already made public on the internet. That's how legal news organizations work. I wouldn't have done what they did, but that's a matter of taste, not legality or ethicality. It is a question of morality, but once you've acted like, well the kind of person who would write a first sentence like yours, we're well outside the realm of the Golden Rule.

      I don't think the purpose was fear. I think the purpose was accountability. I use my real name when I criticize folks because I take responsibility for what I say. It's gotten me death threats before, and I won't be surprised if it gets me some more, but I won't be changing my ways.

      Delete
  8. Kudos for you for standing up and saying this. I see a lot of people still have a lot of misconceptions, and I'll say that they probably will feel this way until they end up at the lash end of the whip. I didn't believe there were a bully group on GR - until they attacked me. They will twist your words, put words in your mouth, berate you, make fun of you, be completely nasty, and if you tell them it wouldn't hurt to try to be a bit more considerate of other people's feelings, they throw out the word censorship, they throw out freedom of speech - but heaven forfend if you, yourself say something they disagree with! Freedom of speech for them means freedom for *them* to be cruel, freedom for *them* to make demands, but not freedom for anyone to stand up against them. Their supporters will probably eventually see that. Sadly, by then, it'll be too late.

    ReplyDelete