When Reviewers Attack – The Criminal Case Against Trolls (Part One)

Freedom of speech, the first amendment, is guaranteed to US citizens in our Bill of Rights. But for so many, freedom of speech is misunderstood or, worse, intentionally misused.

I’ve studied the first amendment for many years. First, in college, in Communications Law, as I defended my thesis. Second, in my field of journalism, as I applied this right to many cases where the people’s rights had been infringed.

Citizens of the USA live in one of the greatest democracies in the world, due in large part, I believe, to this right. We’re supposed to be able to criticize our government without fear, to speak our minds and opinions.  We’re a nation that takes this seriously, and we love to speak our minds, even if there is no audience.

You have the right to either like a product or hate a product. If you’re unhappy with a purchase, you can contact the company for a refund – or to just complain about your experience.

You have a right to watch whatever you want to watch on TV – technically. Your parents and/or spouse may not care for your selections, but the ability to choose is in the essence of our country. Likewise, you can read whatever book you want to read – or skip them altogether.

If you read a book and you don’t like it, you have every right to say that to whomever you think is listening.

But you don’t have the right to behave in a criminal manner towards an author based solely on the fact that you don’t like his or her books.  This seems like common sense, but for so many victims of cyberbullying, this simple principle of society isn’t being followed. And what’s worse is there is seemingly no way to stop it.

There has been a lot of discussion about Goodreads, a free service in which readers can log and review books, and the change in policies. Some reviewers are crying, “censorship” and several have deleted their accounts in protest.

This investigation discusses the real threat of cyberstalking and criminal behavior among some reviewers, those known collectively as “trolls.”

I posed the question as why there are so many one-star ratings on Goodreads. See for yourself (https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1520265-why-so-many-one-star-ratings) – many explained their rating system, which I appreciated. But many personally attacked me for asking the question, even though all I was trying to do was get them to respond to me.

No reviewers responded to my emails seeking comments. I offered to give them space to share their concerns, but all I received was a threat from a “Linda H” who told me she would kidnap my children if I posted anything about the investigation.

Clearly, I’m not worried. She has no idea who I am, and the fact that she went on the record threatening to kidnap my non-existent children gives me evidence for conspiracy to commit a federal crime.

Furthermore, threats against a federal employee are punishable by a fine and/or jail time, according to 18 USC 111.

Several stricter anti-stalking laws are under negotiation now. Currently the law on the books is 47 USCS § 223, which outlines the federal statute regarding harassment and prohibits people from using the internet (c) “with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.”

Similarly, the Federal Stalking Law bans people from using the Internet as a means to “kill, injure, harass, intimidate or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass or intimidate another person.”

In addition, these trolls have behaved criminally as they have “placed [authors] in reasonable fear of the death of or serious bodily injury” of themselves or family members, and they’ve “cause[d] or attempt[ed] to cause or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress.”

“Some mental illness can lead to stalking.” Not every troll suffers from a mental illness, but many of them do, or have psychotic tendencies and should be considered dangerous. How dangerous? http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/criminal_mind/psychology/cyberstalking/3.html

In Paul Bocij’s book, Cyberstalking: Harassment in the Internet Age and How to Protect Your Family, he identified several key factors that have been reported (with evidence) by victims (not all of the factors are listed here, only those that pertain to the investigation):

  • False accusations. Many cyberstalkers try to damage the reputation of their victim and turn other people against them. They post false information about them on websites. They post allegations about the victim to newsgroups, chat rooms, or other sites that allow public contributions such as Goodreads.
  • Attempts to gather information about the victim.  Cyberstalkers may approach their victim’s friends, family, and work colleagues to obtain personal information.
  • Monitoring their target’s online activities and attempting to trace their IP address in an effort to gather more info.
  • Encouraging others to harass the victim. Many cyberstalkers try to involve third parties in the harassment. They may      claim the victim has harmed the stalker or his/her family in some way, or may post the victim’s name and telephone number in order to encourage others to join the pursuit.
  • False victimization. The cyberstalker will claim that the victim is harassing him/her.

Some readers have found fault with my use of the word “bullying” and “troll.” I’m a victim of bullying myself for years in middle and high school. Bullying is defined as targeted, repeated, aggressive attacks against a person with the intention to intimidate and/or harm. You’ve heard growing up that bullies are typically intellectually inferior beings who take out the hatred of themselves, their insecurities and limits on others.

That’s exactly what is happening here on sites like Goodreads.

And my use of the word “troll” is based on several sites who refer to these negative, hostile, unprofessional and often immature “reviewers.” I’m not attacking all reviewers, and like I said, I have nothing against people who review yet manage not to commit a crime. If you don’t like the word I’m using, I have to wonder if the word defines you personally.

There is also a gang mentality in place, where some trolls are emerging as leaders of the pack and coordinating efforts to commit crimes against other people. This is a dangerous revelation, and this is what also needs to be stopped.

In Part Two, I chatted with two authors who have been dealing with this abuse for the past few years.

(Update: 10/6/13) I ended up deleting my GR account after I realized no matter what I said to these trolls they would deliberately misunderstand me, repeatedly insult and threaten me, and generally be annoying. I tried to give them a chance to tell their side of the story but they don’t have any real proof; they’re self-righteous without any true meaning. I feel sorry for them that they hate themselves so much. Oh well, over it now.

Stay tuned to One Story Slinger!

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4 thoughts on “When Reviewers Attack – The Criminal Case Against Trolls (Part One)

  1. Pingback: One Story Slinger | When Reviewers Attack – Part Three – Take Control Against Trolls Who Attack

  2. Pingback: One Story Slinger | When Reviewers Attack – Part Two – Evidence of Crimes

  3. Trolling is, as you say wholly unacceptable and it is great that you are tackling this issue. I do feel though that authors such as myself can take steps to protect ourselves by, for example not posting personal data online, for example telephone numbers. My landline is not listed in the telephone directory for the reason that I value my privacy and I’m always surprised when I see authors (and others) posting their telephone numbers online. I do post an e-mail address on my blog and I should, perhaps use a contact form rather than providing this information. However the address given is not my main one and althought it would be annoying I could if necessary delete the account should it result in stalking or other problems. What I am saying is that cyber bullying/trolling is totally wrong but that authors and others can take action to reduce the risk to themselves. However strong the measures in place to prevent cyber bullying you will always get inadequate people who participate in such behaviour. Even when people know that their IP address can be tracked some will still carry on trolling regardless because they are either stupid or have psychological problems.

    • Yes, you are correct – there are ways to protect yourself from the psychos, trolls and other criminals. Thanks for the ideas to safeguard oneself – and for reading! 🙂

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