The other day I saw some links appear on Twitter to articles describing a British crime novelist who had been using false online identities to post glowing reviews of his own books and, more importantly, was using these false identities to post negative reviews of other authors within his genre. Apparently this is such a common practice that people have a name for it: “Sock Puppets“.
In the past when I’ve had a technical book hit the market, my coworkers and I have often sat around and joked about this kind of thing. I will tease one of them and say that I’ll trade him a positive Amazon review for a glowing performance review at the next quarterly review period.
That’s where it stopped. I joked about it and they joked about it but no one actually did it because writing a false review is fundamentally dishonest. I’ve sat at home at my desk and looked at the reviews of my technical books on Amazon and I’ve read the ones complaining that the material is “just a rehash of crap you can find online with Google” among many other negative reviews.
Fortunately, most of my reviews are positive but still, the negative ones hurt. It’s never crossed my mind to fake an account to artificially bump my star rating average on Amazon or Goodreads or anywhere else. It would never have occurred to me to go around and disparage other authors just so my work could look better by comparison.
Authors are human beings, human beings with feelings, and human beings that spent years of their lives working on the thing being reviewed. Gaming the system, lying in reviews, and otherwise manipulating star ratings and reviews harms everyone, not just the one guy running the scam.
A friend of mine once said:
The best and worst thing about the Internet is its anonymity.
He was right. People do things, immoral and stupid things, when they have little to no fear of retribution. These are normal people that might otherwise be considered “good” or moral, and yet they still do stupid things when the fever of the Internet takes them.
The moral of the story? I would rather sit at my desk, sobbing like a little girl as I read a mountain of terrible reviews of my work than to sit at my desk and carefully craft artificial reviews that devalue the ratings and review systems of reputable websites.