Clarification: This is an opinion piece, and does not represent the views of HuffPost Books or its editors. We welcome readers to write a response in the comments or you can contact us if you would like to write a blogpost.
A community of writers and readers has been slowly gathering to address what is happening on the popular user-submitted book review website Goodreads.
The only problem was that no one really knew about it as it was an underground movement. Until now, victims of the bullying were too afraid to speak out publicly about their experiences for fear of being targeted. So, why there is so much fear? What exactly do these people do? We found a comment left by a poster on The Passive Voice that expresses it better than we ever could:
"It isn't so much the individual bully reviews, which are bad enough. It's that they form gangs and roam through GR like rabid animals, mocking, harassing, terrorizing, and humiliating authors. They do it for amusement. They're like Hell's Angels without the Toys for Tots Christmas drive... For FUN, they psychologically torture and harass people."
In other words, if they are given any reason to target an author, they will attempt to destroy that author's reputation and career for either their own personal amusement or for vengeance. We are not talking about honest book reviews giving their opinion on a book. What we're talking about is them trying to create negative hype around an author regarding the author's sanity, or posting malicious reviews that have nothing to do with the novel or were only posted to join the latest petition against an author.
Don't believe us? Look these people up. Look at the patterns of reviews (that often give no context to the actual story) and when these nasty reviews are posted. A book can have 10 reviews, then get 10 more in a single day, all from the same group of bullies. The next day, the same group of bullies all review another book that is currently on their target list. This is not a conspiracy. They are very open about which book they are currently targeting, and the bully reviews always coincide with their current hate-list.
Beyond that, they don't just target authors. Check out this comment an anonymous poster left on our site:
"I've been at the end of their hate, even as a mere reader/reviewer. They don't just go after authors. If you have the guts to disagree with any of them in any way, they will all come at you. Hard."
We launched the site Stop the GR Bullies, to show the public what is happening. It is a site where victims of the abuse can feel safe to post a comment anonymously or send us a private message, sharing their experience without threat of retaliation.
We welcome them, because until now, people have been too afraid to speak out. Our circle of supporters is growing exponentially every day as more and more people find us. More people have been harmed by the GR bullies than we ever knew. We knew there were not just authors but also readers who had had terrible experiences and left the site, but we had no idea how many. We are just beginning to realize it.
With our site, we are trying to create awareness and incite change. Our methods are extreme but after trying to reason with the bullies, after trying to appeal to their humanity, all of which failed, we have come to understand that only by outing them, can we get their attention. We did. Not only did we get their attention, we managed to alert the public as well. We started out averaging 10,000 hits on our site at the beginning and expected that to taper off, but it hasn't. It has only grown bigger. People are talking about it and this is exactly what we want. We want people to address this growing problem that for so long has been ignored. We want the toxic, bullying atmosphere at GR to stop. And we want these people to be held accountable by public opinion. As we've said over and over, this is not about critical reviews. It is about their bullying behavior.
The GR bully rule is that Goodreads itself is a place for readers only and authors have no business interfering with them. While even by their own rules they fail (as they continually attack any reader who disagrees with their opinions, and not just authors) the real problem is that Goodreads is not just for readers. Goodreads invites and encourages authors to participate and engage with readers in groups, reading events, and book giveaways. So, it's not just a site for readers and yet Goodreads does nothing to stop the abuse happening on the fora. Instead, they buckle to the demands of the mob. They allow these bullies to treat authors any way they want.
The bullies argue that this is because readers are, in essence, the "bosses." So we wonder, where is there a work environment where bosses are free from the law to terrorize, humiliate, and demean workers with insults, derogatory remarks, and hate speech? The answer: nowhere. At least nowhere in America. Therefore, it shouldn't be allowed on Goodreads either.
When an individual signs up for an account on Goodreads, he or she agrees to these terms of service:
"You agree not to post User Content that: (i) may create a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement, or physical or mental illness to you, to any other person, or to any animal; (ii) may create a risk of any other loss or damage to any person or property; (iii) seeks to harm or exploit children by exposing them to inappropriate content, asking for personally identifiable details or otherwise; (iv) may constitute or contribute to a crime or tort; (v) contains any information or content that we deem to be unlawful, harmful, abusive, racially or ethnically offensive, defamatory, infringing, invasive of personal privacy or publicity rights, harassing, humiliating to other people (publicly or otherwise), libelous, threatening, profane, or otherwise objectionable; (vi) contains any information or content that is illegal (including, without limitation, the disclosure of insider information under securities law or of another party's trade secrets); or (vii) contains any information or content that you do not have a right to make available under any law or under contractual or fiduciary relationships; or (viii) contains any information or content that you know is not correct and current."
If you surf the GR fora, you will see hundreds of instances where the GR TOS is being violated, which shows that Goodreads is not policing their site. Further, they are unresponsive when posts like these are reported. They are not enforcing their own rules. At all.
We've been asked if we believe there is a any way to encourage and maintain a mature level of conversation on discussion boards. We think there is. In order to achieve this, a site must have a respectable TOS and it must enforce that TOS. Without that, it's a free-for-all where the mob rules.
Don't believe us? We recommend asking Passive Guy of The Passive Voice. PG has been able to maintain a site for over a year now, where people discuss issues and disagree without resorting to underhanded jabs, name-calling, or personal insults. How? Because he enforces his policy. It's not hard and he is just one man.
Goodreads has a whole team of employees operating their site and yet they can't seem to manage to enforce their own TOS. Why is that? If anyone knows the answer to this question, please, come visit our site and let us know.