When Reviewers Attack – Part Three – Take Control Against Trolls Who Attack

Part Three – Take Control against Reviewers Who Attack (Prologue, Part One, Part Two)

Cyberstalking and cyber-harassment are real threats. What can an author do about it?

1)   Know you’re not alone

2)   Decide to stand up for yourself

a. Document EVERYTHING

b. Save EVERYTHING

c. Start a file and print out copies of emails, threatening reviews, criminal notes listing home addresses

d. Know your state’s anti-cyberstalking laws, and review the federal statutes as well.

e. Protect yourself against attacks

f. If you don’t want to speak out for fear of reprisal, make sure you have a good network of friends and family to support you. Reach out to other authors.

It’s time for a revolution. Victimized authors have a legitimate case to sue for harassment against each of the bullies. Stand united and we can take them down – one by one, if we have to.

Crimes are punishable by fines and/or imprisonment or both. Many people are joining a lawsuit against the abuse. Stay tuned to One Story Slinger for follow-up pieces on those legal cases.

Authors can always opt to ignore them. Who really cares about the reviews of a bunch of unprofessional nitwits like the trolls have proven themselves to be? Look into writing blogs to get your books reviewed. Remove your books from GoodReads/Amazon and other sites if you don’t care for their policies. It’s your right to do so.

There are good reviewers out there – and there are good people out there that support you and your efforts to be rid of bullying.

Let’s keep talking about this issue as often as possible. I’ll keep updating my readers on this case and others. The more attention we bring to the psychosis and inanity of the trolls, the more support we’ll have.

Above all, remember you’re not alone. Unfortunately trolls attack many authors but I’m hopeful that over time, as we expose their insanity, inanity, lies, crimes and behaviors we’ll garner more support and eventually put a stop to the bullying.

Bryant, one of the authors who has been cyberstalked and harassed, advised fellow  victims to go to sites like Stop The Goodreads Bullies (STGRB) to “learn what to do and what not to do.”

“Do what your heart tells you,” Bryant said. “Nobody knows you more than you know yourself.”

Resources for victims

http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/stalking-behavior-victims-seeking-help-040513

https://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs14-stk.htm

http://www.fightcyberstalking.org/ (includes ways to report cyberstalking cases)

 

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When Reviewers Attack – Part Two – Evidence of Crimes

Part Two on my series, “When Reviewers Attack,” exposing the truth behind criminal reviewers

(See Prologue & Part One for more info)

I am taking a stand against the criminal behavior. I spoke with several authors who have been victims of cyberstalking crime from Goodreads “reviewers,” or “trolls.”

If you review a book and don’t like it, it’s OK – as long as that’s where your negativity ends. But if you use that as a reason to attack an author’s credibility and integrity online, and/or if you commit a crime against an author, then not only are you a troll, but you’re also a criminal.

Several crimes have been committed in the examples to follow, as you’ll see in the statutes outlined in “Sources.”

47 USCS § 223 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.”

I’ve seen many examples where these laws have been violated. Punishments can vary by states; some states will impose a jail term of up to one year and/or a fine of $500. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Please see the link below from NCSL to view your state’s cyberstalking laws.

I was able to speak to two authors known as crusaders against the trolls and troll-like behavior on Goodreads. Both shared their experiences with this criminal behavior.

Carroll Bryant, songwriter turned published author, is somewhat new to the writing community. He’s been published since 2011, and is set to release his fifth book. For the first few months of being a published author, Bryant said he received terrific feedback from readers and reviewers alike. His worst review, he added, was a three-star rating.

“It’s always great to hear from writers about what they liked and didn’t like about my stories,” Bryant said.

But in 2012, Bryant explained, everything changed. According to Bryant, an 18-year-old reviewer received a free copy of one of his books – after agreeing to write a review. The reviewer backed out, but kept the copy of the book.

And then, Bryant said, she took the incident to a new level when she encouraged friends to basically steal from him – request copies of his book under the guise of reviewing them, but not actually follow through.

Bryant said he began blocking the reviewer and her friends, thinking the situation would blow over. But everything got much worse, he said, because he became a victim of cyberstalking.

The troll was obsessed. She spent three to four months communicating with Bryant’s co-blogger on a site they shared, gaining his friend’s trust by pretending she was going to help with the blog’s design, he explained.

“All the girl wanted to do was leave links to the shared blog on her websites and ‘rub it in’ that she could still ‘get to me’ whenever she wanted,” Bryant said.

Within a few days, Bryant’s inbox was flooded with nasty comments from strangers accusing him of an inappropriate relationship with the reviewer (who was actually 18). His books were trashed all over Goodreads, and Goodreads ultimately closed his account – based on lies perpetuated by the reviewer. (This is an obvious violation of the cyberstalking laws outlined above and in Part One.)

Bryant said he never heard from Goodreads about why the account was shut down.

Goodreads declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.

The trolls attacking Bryant did make a mistake. A complaint based on misinformation backfired when Bryant was able to provide proof that the information was false. This gave him a chance to begin a case against the trolls themselves for their criminal actions, he explained.

Rick Carufel, another published author, is repeatedly attacked on social media and through sites like Goodreads. One of his stalkers created a false social media account and continually pretends to be him – another clear violation of cyberstalking laws. The account has been reported to Twitter.

Carufel explained the attacks on him started years ago when he unknowingly promoted one of his published books in a forum on Amazon that didn’t allow that. Instead of just explaining the rules, several users bullied him and insulted his livelihood of being a writer. That’s when his troubles began.

When he wrote a response to a popular author’s essay, the negative responses and reviews of his work suddenly increased, he explained.

As an author who supports himself by writing full-time, Carufel is more upset about the loss in revenue based on lies and crimes perpetuated against him, he said.

He’s taken the fight to another level by creating his own review website called Double Blind Book Reviews. The site is designed to remove any potential bias against authors and reviewers. This way the only thing that will actually be judged is the story itself.

The site is still under development, Carufel explained.

“I started [to] fight them openly when I realized they were serial stalkers out to destroy the reputations careers and livelihood of as many indie writers as possible,” Carufel added.

Goodreads has made some changes to their policy. Now reviewers can’t just randomly review or rate bomb an author, and reviews that do so are removed.

Some reviewers are crying foul, and censorship, and demand that Goodreads – which offers the site as a free service! – let reviewers do whatever they want.

No reviewers responded to repeated requests to explain this. In fact, most reviewers attacked me for standing up for the injustice than answering a simple question. None of them were willing to speak to me about their behavior, which is just more proof that these authors being bullied are in the right. (They accused me of “taunting” reviewers but I only taunt the criminal reviewers.)

But what can people who are being cyberstalked actually do?

Stay tuned for Part Three – Taking Control.

Sources:

http://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html

https://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs14-stk.htm

http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/telecom/cyberstalking-and-cyberharassment-laws.aspx

http://indie-publishing.blogspot.com/

Author’s Note: Special thanks to Carroll Bryant and Rick Carufel for agreeing to share their stories with me and my readers.

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!

When Reviewers Attack – Prologue of GoodReads Bullying Investigation (Case #09-2013)

It’s early on a quiet Saturday morning. The house is calm (kids and spouse are asleep), and you’re enjoying a cuppa joe or tea – or maybe a glass of OJ. You’ve caught up on the news – well, the comics, that’s most important! – so you’ve decided to check your author inbox. Or maybe you opt to check out reviews of a recently-released book to Amazon.com, or GoodReads.

As an author, you have the expectation that not every reader will like your books. After all, not every publisher liked the story, and heck, not even all your friends did. Their opinions aren’t supposed to be personal – it’s not that they don’t like you, as a person, but the story wasn’t their cuppa tea. You don’t like everything you read either.

But you can have the expectation that a person reviewing your book has read the story in its entirety. You can assume that reviewer has given the book a fair read-through, and is honest. You should be able to assume that the reviewer will not discuss your personal life story or judge the book based on you, the author.

This is how reviews are supposed to work. (And this is how reviews are conducted here, at One Story Slinger.) Reviews on book review sites should be about the book under review. Other readers don’t need a diatribe on why a reviewer dislikes a particular genre, or a lecture on the “evils” of the author’s politics (unless the book is about said politics). Who cares? If you can’t judge a book based on the quality of the story in the pages, you have no business reviewing them.

But so many readers out there are reviewing books poorly – and several have gone one step beyond “poor” into “libelous and slanderous” territory. Still others have ventured into the “criminal” zone by stalking authors, harassing them, and even threatening them.

I was skeptical at first – I’ll admit that. I thought this was about authors not liking reviews from readers and complaining about negative responses for their books. That’s not the issue at all, dear readers. This is about authors standing up for themselves against criminal behavior, against readers who are bullying and terrorizing them, readers who suffer from a mental illness.

That’s right. These “reviewers” AKA “trolls” have a mental illness. They hide behind their computers and think they are clever by taunting hardworking writers, harassing authors and engaging in violent, disruptive behavior. But they didn’t count on me. And they never saw me coming.

This is the prologue to my three-part investigation into the cyber-bullying, criminal behavior and general harassment these trolls are perpetrating on authors they have personal grudges or issues with.

In this investigation, I spoke with authors who have been attacked unfairly and I’ve seen first hand the “reviews” left by the trolls. I’ve read every reviewing policy for the sites involved in this story – if they existed, that is. (GoodReads and Amazon.com are the two big names). I’ve taunted the trolls myself in hopes that they would respond in kind. (And they did.) I’ve tried to get answers for authors on how to cope with this phenomenon. I’ve researched causes and symptoms of mental illnesses like the ones the trolls have.

And I’ve reached several powerful conclusions – to be revealed in Part 3.

So, stay tuned to One Story Slinger this weekend for an all-access pass into my investigation “When Reviewers Attack.”

In the meantime, check out some of my earlier posts on the subject to get more background information:

We’re on to “those” people – Trolls: https://onestoryslinger.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/were-on-to-those-people-trolls/

Trolls Be Damned: https://onestoryslinger.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/trolls-be-damned/

Case #09-2013 – GoodReads Bullying Investigation: https://onestoryslinger.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/case-09-2013-goodreads-bullying-investigation/

We’re on to “those” people – Trolls

Remember in the “olden” days when products sold based on marketing, advertising and word-of-mouth? Well, those days have been long gone ever since the Internet. Now anyone can buy a product on Amazon.com or Sephora or a myriad of other consumer sites and post his or her review of the purchased product. As if other consumers are waiting with bated breath for their reviews.

Reviews have their place, of course. I’d much rather see what others thought of an expensive makeup item Sephora sells before doling out the dough, only to be disappointed. Sites like Steepster.com, in which testers log tasted tea, give participants a chance to review more than just one company’s product. And if you’re investing in a larger purchase – a computer, or a TV – reading reviews from fellow consumers can save you time, money and effort.

The problem is most reviews are on the honor system. You assume that the person reviewing the item has actually purchased/tried/used or in the case of booksellers, read the book. There are exemptions; eBay tracks feedback from actual buyers (although their system is flawed for other reasons), and Adagio Teas requires their customers to purchase the tea before they can actually review.

Take one person with a grudge against a product, company or even a person/author, and the entire review and rating structure is skewed.

This is happening on sites like Amazon.com and GoodReads. While Amazon.com does list your purchased products on an “order” page, there’s no stopping reviewers from posting a review about a product they haven’t actually consumed. (I did a test run on a product – but not a book – that I’ve tried in the past but never purchased from Amazon.com. The review is there.)

GoodReads seems like a good idea in theory. The site is comprised of reviewed books by readers of all level, experience, skill, attitude, temperament, and mental capacity. Readers can log books without having to prove they’ve actually read them. But like many theories the application doesn’t work for the human population, as people are selfishly motivated. And fickle.

GoodReads has a bully problem. Many “reviewers” (known as “trolls”) personally attack authors without actually reading their work, literally judge books by their covers, and harass authors for their politics, beliefs, and other factors that shouldn’t go into the review of fiction. This isn’t a situation of authors not liking negative reviews. The reviews have little to do with the books themselves, and many times the reviewers admit they only read a passage or two and passed judgment.

So GoodReads changed their moderation policy. Their new guidelines require book reviews to be about the book and not the author, among some other changes. This was brought about after many authors pulled their own books from the site and complained. Trolls were committing crimes against these authors – anything from harassment to cyberbullying campaigns and God knows what else.

Trolls responded in kind by leaving one-star ratings on the authors’ books involved (including anyone who spoke out in favor of the changes, siding with the content creators or authors). There was a mass exodus to other book review sites too. But luckily trolls’ criminal behavior has been so widespread on blogs, social media and online that the other book review sites say, “No thanks,” and don’t let these folks join.

Take the post by Stop GoodReads Bullies referencing book review site, booklikes. Clearly people have had enough with this psychodrama.

I’m working on an investigative piece about this kind of behavior, and I hope the trend of review sites ditching these trolls continues.

I say this proudly, even as I’ve received threats and nasty email responses myself. I will be including some of them in my post next week. I think I befuddle the Trolls because I’m not yet a published book author – and my professional work can’t be “reviewed” by them – yet I defend the bullied authors.

Also, added bonus: threats to a federal agent are punishable with jail time and fines. Item of note, Trolls. Yes, I’m her. Your worst nightmare.

We’re on to you, Trolls, and this time, we’ll be the only ones laughing.

“What Makes You Angry?” – 9/3/13 Daily Writing Prompt Result

“What Makes You Angry?” – 9/3/13 Daily Writing Prompt Result

Lots of things make me angry. I am very Irish – my maiden name is Fitzpatrick. And I married a Keenan, so there. Got a problem with that? I’m also passionate, which can lead to anger quickly.

I avoid some topics with friends – like religion and politics. Just don’t make fun of or insult the troops in my presence, and we should be good. I’m not a religious person – I have my beliefs, mind you, but I don’t like to talk about them. You won’t sway my opinion, as I’m passionate, remember? I respect your differences, so respect mine. That’s all I can say on that.

But there are lots of injustices in the world that I will say something about. Animal abuse, for one, is inexcusable. Set up a dog-fighting ring, get busted, and yet you get to keep your overly-priced job in the NBA? Yeah, I got something to say about that. Child abuse is another thing I can’t tolerate. Spanking here and there is one thing, but punching your kid in the face for backtalking you? Yeah, I got something to say about that too.

In the past few days I’ve learned more about cyber-bullying than any After School Special could teach me. It’s not just for teens anymore, as the stereotype says. It’s happening more and more with independent or “indie” authors. These are the folks who may not have the means to fight back. If Trolls – as these bullies are called – harasses the Stephen Kings or Jodi Picoults of the world, their publishing house will take note, and offense. They have lawyers and can get injunctions, cease and desist orders, and even involve law enforcement if they need to. Indie authors may not have these weapons of defense.

I’m not saying indies are going after people who say they don’t like their books. You can give a negative review without insulting and harassing an author. You shouldn’t be able to review a book you haven’t read, but until places like GoodReads changes their policies, so far you can do just that.

Bad reviews are those in which reviewers personally attack and try to instigate violence. either among their Troll-peers or to inflict a response from the writer. Yeah I got something to say about that too. For example, I can’t stand, and I mean, CAN’T STAND (shouting intended) Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. The name reminds me of sitting in my 10th (I think, maybe 11th?) grade English class saying, “It’s just a f&&&ing pickle dish!” But when I review the book, even in informal conversation, I don’t sit there and say, “Edith’s a ho.” That’s basically what these Trolls’ “Reviews” amount to.

Instead I say that I didn’t care for the characters, nor the dialogue, nor the forced symbolism. I firmly believe it’s just a freakin’ pickle dish! 🙂

Why not offer constructive criticism? Instead of just saying, No I don’t like the sample I read, offer what you don’t like and maybe what the indie author could change in future books. I don’t mean they’ll take your suggestions to heart and reprint a book based on them, but maybe in a future novel they’ll focus more on developing characters if they notice readers don’t find theirs realistic enough.

Also, any reviewer who admits he or she only read a sample or a couple passages shouldn’t have their review count towards anything. Heckling without all the information shouldn’t be condoned on these review-type sites. You don’t know what the rest of the book is like! Maybe the character you’re quick to insult becomes the victim of a murder mystery.

For example, I never liked Jane Eyre, the book, until I realized that one of the characters was actually forced to live in the attic! Then I was like, “Yeah, this book has edge for 19th century lit.”

The point is, never judge a book by its cover – never make a decision or review something without all the facts. We shouldn’t take their reviews seriously, either, as in these reviews shouldn’t count towards anything except noise.

I will keep investigating all these claims of cyber-bullying, so if you have one to share, email me. I’d love to hear from other victims. I do strive to be fair and balanced even as many in my field of journalism do not, so I welcome these bullies to contact me too. I’d love to hear your defenses. And places like GoodReads which condone bullying, yeah, I’ve got something to say about you too. But you can state your piece here as well.

Daily Writing Prompt #8.13 – What makes you mad? (9/2/13)

Daily Writing Prompt #8.13 – What makes you mad? (9/2/13)

What makes your blood boil and, with your eyes tightly closed, makes you see red?

Ignorance? People pushing their religion and politics on you? Animal abuse?

Describe that really makes you angry as concise and succinct as possible. Turn that paragraph or pair of sentences into a piece of flash fiction or short story under 1500 words.

Happy Writing!

angry face