Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The end of anonymity on Amazon?

A new petition at Change.org calls for an end to reviewer anonymity at Amazon.com:


"…there is an incredible amount of bullying and harassment of some of these self publishing authors taking place on the Amazon platform/system. 

 I believe, as do countless others—many who will have signed this petition—that the reason this bullying and harassment is able to take place is because of the allowance of anonymity on Amazon. People have found ways to exploit this flaw in the system and are using it to bully, harass, and generally make life miserable for certain authors on Amazon. These people are able to create multiple accounts and then use those accounts to viciously attack and go after any author or person that they feel doesn't belong on Amazon or who shouldn't have published a book, made a comment on a forum post, etc. With the current system, if one anonymous account gets deactivated because it was reported for these things, it is easy for the bully or harasser to simply create another anonymous account and continue on with their shenanigans. 
 What I—we—would like to see happen is for Amazon to revise their policies regarding anonymity when it comes to writing product/book reviews and for participation in the forums. Reviewers and forum participants should not be anonymous. By removing their anonymity and forcing them to display their real, verified identities, I believe that much of the harassment and bullying will cease. It may continue elsewhere on the web, but not on Amazon, the largest online retail marketplace in the world, where it really counts. 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."

From my perspective, the end of anonymity on Amazon would be a positive move. However, I don't particularly see this as a vast conspiracy against independently published authors. Anonymity, rather, is a conspiracy against readers, who attempt to use Amazon's now questionable rating system to make purchase decisions. 

There are numerous "fake" reviews on Amazon. Some of these are shill reviews designed to raise a book's average rating.  

Others are ideologically motivated, negative reviews that target a controversial author. These reviews are usually not "reviews" at all, but merely ad hominem attacks in which an ideologue tells the world that he doesn't like a particular author, and therefore doesn't like his/her books, either. (Read some of the reviews for the latest Bill O'Reilly book, and you'll see what I mean.) 

If I want to evaluate a book, it doesn't help me to read twenty five-star reviews that are obviously written by an author's friends, relatives, or diehard blog cronies. Nor does it help me to know that a particular reviewer regards Bill O'Reilly as a fascist. 

Anonymity encourages irresponsible behavior. There are unique situations in which the desire for anonymity is perfectly understandable. (For example: a forum dedicated to the discussion of sexual dysfunction, mental illness, or substance abuse.) But if you're simply reviewing the latest Dan Brown novel on Amazon, why the heck wouldn't you post using your real name? 

Yes, I'm old school on this one--as I'm old school in regard to a lot of things. Online freedom of speech should be balanced by accountability. And accountability begins with posting under your real name.