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Amazon Anonymous; Or, Why Authors Shouldn't Read Their Reviews

The recent controversy regarding the choice to remain anonymous on review sites like Amazon has been a staple feature in almost every writer’s mind for the past two weeks. With individuals such as Anne Rice making vocal their opinions on the matter (and trust me, Miss. Rice has a pretty strong one,) it’s easy to see why people are torn between the two possibilities.

It’s perfectly understandable why people would want to remain anonymous on the internet. From potential employment conflicts, to differing viewpoints between family members, for safety reasons regarding past or even present incidences, it’s easy to see why Jane Blaine would want to present herself online as KittyX123. For what it’s worth, the internet is not a witness protection program. Post the wrong thing and the suspiscious (or even curious) scriptkitty can get into your personal information. (Edward Snowden, professional scriptkitty, proved this to the United States government.) For some, though, anonymity can be used for control.

The dawn of the internet has created a period in which anonymity is both a blessing and a curse. For some, they use that anonymity to remain silent–to ensure that their identity is kept locked behind a steel veneer from which they can look out with their porcelain facade. For others, they use that influence to exert control over.

As a public figure who has had to deal with the scrutiny of such individuals, I’ve come to develop what most everyone in the entertainment industry refers to as the ‘thick skin.’ Designed to render you impervious from public perception, it’s meant to ensure that you don’t get emotionally involved about something someone else wrote about you and your product and therefor have an adverse reaction because of it. (Some people literally go crazy when this happens. Just ask the editor whose head was slammed into her steering wheel by a disgruntled writer.) It isn’t, however, a failsafe mechanism. Humans are, by design, emotional creatures, and when shown that some might be so vehemently hateful against them that they will say almost anything to get a rise out of you, there eventually comes a breaking point.

Herein arises what I like to call the double-a (the Amazon Anonymous issue.)

I’d mentioned previously that the internet allows for pretty much however much ambiguity you want. Consider this scenario:

Jane Blaine (AKA KittyX123) buys books off Amazon. And she reviews them. Under her username. Knowing completely well that no one will ever know she is Jane Blaine.

The power struggle that is presented here is laid out in the matter of speaking: If you wished to say anything you wanted about anyone or anything and you would never get in trouble for it–either from friends, acquaintances, employers, potential strangers or even the law–what’s stopping you from doing it?

That is the thinking behind the anonymity quotient. In some ways, it works (as I’d previously described above.) In others, it allows individuals to attack you out of spite or merely for the fun of it for whatever reason they choose.

I stopped reading my Amazon reviews a long time ago. Save the one I read and then commented about on my Facebook page last night (which I promptly deleted out of the Why do I care about this? thought,) I don’t find much worth in trolling Amazon or any of the other sites for reviews. The few I do happen to read don’t come from Amazon at all (in this case, professional organizations or review sites,) but even then I don’t usually just sit there for hours on end reading what everyone has to say about me. Maybe it’s because I was so horribly bullied throughout my public school years that I’ve become numb to the paranoia that the bad people are out to get me (they are out to get me, and always will be, because I’m a gay religiously open-minded writer who is mentally ill and happens to write about such issues in my books.) Either way, it doesn’t help when marauding bands of these individuals go about attacking authors under pseudonyms, especially when those unverified rankings and heinous reviews can adversely affect a potential reader’s decision to buy the product.

I don’t believe that people should be stripped of their anonymity. Amazon presents a case in which unverified reviews can be posted willingly without any kind of validation system (though I can’t imagine how they’d do such a thing anyway.) I do believe that this sort of problem isn’t going to go away, and while I agree with many of the statements that people like Anne Rice have given, it’s ultimately up to Amazon to decide what they’re going to do. They are not the arbiter of our use; they are merely a mechanism within which we operate.

Either way, I think the moral of the story is this: Don’t read your reviews. They’re for purchasers, not authors. You put out the product you wanted (or at least you hopefully did.) You should, in that sense, be confident in your work. Not everyone is going to like what you write, do, support, etc. And whatever you do, do not engage with these reviewers. The internet is very much a digital jungle, and for those who happen to get snared within its nets, it’s usually impossible to get out.

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