March 6, 2014

Anne Rice fights Amazon trolls


shutterstock_141121771When I was in middle school, I was incredibly honored to get an email response from Anne McCaffrey for a school project that I had to route through her publicist. This morning I tweeted at a half dozen authors whose work I enjoyed. Thanks to technological advancements, the gap between an author and the general public is disappearing, but it isn’t always a good thing. In 2009, the public’s sense of entitlement toward an author’s work led to Neil Gaiman posting on his blog “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.” Today, it has led to a petition against Amazon’s anonymous haters, supported by Anne Rice.

Alison Flood reports for the Guardian that Rice is taking a stand against the “gangster bullies” that frequent forums and review anonymously (and often randomly) to “discipline authors whom they see as their special prey,” according to Rice. Rice recently lent her support to Todd Barselow’s petition seeking to de-anon the review and forum sections of Amazon. Rice rallied her fans on Facebook to support the cause, saying:

“Amazon is such a wonderful system and so many go there to offer heartfelt authentic customer reviews of the books they read; too bad that the anti-author bullies have misused and abused anonymity there for their endless preying on writers. They are a tiny minority, true, but to the authors they harass and torment and endlessly attack, they are no joking matter.”

Rice had to switch from writing vampires to fighting trolls when a forum for advice for authors she was participating in started attracting the wrong crowd. As is usually the case, attempting to respond only “fed the trolls,” until eventually Rice had to leave the thread. Rice is fed up with it. “They’re all about power. They clearly organise, use multiple identities and brag about their ability to down vote an author’s works if the author doesn’t ‘behave’ as they dictate,” Rice told the Guardian.

This is by no means the first time authors accessibility has lead to problems. Flood reminds us of Charlene Harris and Veronica Roth, both of whom faced personal attacks and even death threats when their respective series came to a close.

Barselow is hoping to institute the same identity verification procedures as seen on the purchasing side of Amazon. He proposes that anonymous accounts no longer be allowed at all. According to his petition, “Buyers of products on Amazon must have their identities verified, so it should be an easy transition to implement a policy whereby reviewers and forum participants must also have their identities verified.” Right now Barselow’s petition has just over 1,300 supporters.

But how will Amazon verify identities? Barselow feels that the majority of the biggest offenders are using multiple accounts “to viciously attack” authors or forum contributors. Would making the contribution process more difficult solve the problem? Rice is asking Amazon to “apply [its] own guidelines” for posting verified comments to the anonymous lurkers. Having your Amazon account linked to your forum posts will certainly make it harder for trolls to avoid having posts deleted, but I doubt it will keep the hate from happening in the first place.


Sadie Mason-Smith is a Melville House intern.