What you've done is bad, and you should feel bad.

What you've done is bad, and you should feel bad.

I want to start by making one thing clear: buying book reviews as a way of misrepresenting the size of your readership or to artificially inflate your quality is kind of skeezy. I don’t think it’s criminally destructive, but it’s fundamentally dishonest. And it’s definitely not fair to the public or even that subsection of the public that is your readers.

But given that it is kind of skeezy, it’s even more misguided and malicious to lie about someone having bought book reviews.

There is a tweet wandering around Twitter that I shall not link to. Said tweet links to a blog post that I will also not link to. I will not link because I don’t wish to spread the content found in the blog post. I also do not wish to increase the number of trolls the blogger may receive from “defenders” of the writers the blogger has named. I wish neither to lend credence to the article nor to try and prove it wrong.

That’s the fundamental problem with the article.

The article accuses several authors, which are named, of having bought large number of book reviews to misrepresent their work’s quality or popularity. And while I can see why one would like to “out” authors who participate in that practice, I feel it’s just as dodgy to make accusations of wrong-doing without any evidence. And the only evidence the anonymous blogger mentions is that they used to work for a company that “facilitated” the connection of professional authors and professional review writers.

Note that United States law actually agrees with me. If the allegations are demonstrably untrue, it’s called libel (I’m not a lawyer, but I think this falls into the category of “libel per se“) and can be punishable by a considerable amount of money. As the blogger has made specific, factual assertions about specific named persons, they could be heading for a world of hurt if there is no actual evidence to back up the assertions.

Now, it’s conceivable that the statements are true. That’s why I think it would be very bad form to troll the blog. Hence the lack of linkage.

By coincidence, I happen to have gone to school with one of the named persons and his assistant. We’re still on a first name basis. So I asked about this. His assistant got back to me right away. He states definitively that neither he nor the author he works for made any transaction to acquire fake reviews. He did point out that he can’t speak for the publisher, so it’s possible that fake reviews were purchased for the author’s books — but the publisher is a reputable one, and I don’t readily believe they’d do this. He also pointed out that fake reviews can be used as a way of denigrating someone’s public image — though this tactic is usually used to buy fake bad reviews (which I find even sketchier than buying good reviews for yourself).

This is why, as is probably obvious, I fall on the side of doubting the blogger.

I should note that the remainder of this post is mostly conjecture and opinion on my part, but here’s what I think.

  1. The blogger is anonymous. This smacks of cowardice, but could, of course, be a method of protecting oneself. However, given that most authors are not physically threatening and with very rare exceptions don’t have nearly enough influence or money to do real damage to anyone, I am left to assume paranoia (for which the blogger should seek treatment) or else the blogger has a more nefarious purpose. The blogger and their associates do nothing to identify themselves on their site but to hide behind the word “journalist.”
  2. No evidence is presented other than “I once worked there.” Frankly, I think this says a lot about the blogger than the persons accused of buying fake reviews. No apology is given for profiting from the arrangement of dishonest representation, and no records are presented. There’s some vague, non-specific indication that there might be some circumstantial evidence indicating a potential problem for “some” of the authors, but nothing traceable.
    This point, in fact, gives the lie to the term “journalist,” as real investigative reporting would provide the trail to demonstrate the truth.
  3. Several of the authors named are best-sellers. I find it a bit ridiculous to think best-selling authors (or their publishers) would feel the need to purchase fake reviews. They would have very little to gain from a few hundred fake reviews, and quite a bit to lose if discovered. It’s an irrational risk-reward balance.
  4. Many of the authors are not of the character likely to stoop to dishonest tactics such as this.

Neither of these last two provide any proof one way or the other. But they do tell me what is likely and what isn’t. There’s no motive, and it would be hard to believe even if there was. This, again, points to the problem of evidence.

So, my conclusion must be that the blogger has something to gain from making people think poorly about the authors mentioned. Or at least some of them (mixing in more names to throw investigators off the scent). The blog post is sloppy, disingenuous, and contributes to the decline in respect journalists receive for responsible work. Spreading the link or repeating the information is just as irresponsible. Unless there is something more than hearsay to demonstrate wrong doing, you undeservedly hurt the reputation of those accused by sharing.

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