Barry Eisler

Monday, September 10, 2012

Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been, A Sock Puppet?

Updated Below

Last week, I wrote a post ("And Why Beholdest Thou The Mote In Thy Brother's Eye…?") about No Sock Puppets Here Please ("NSPHP"), a website established by a group of novelists in reaction to recent revelations of purchased reviews and sock puppetry in the online customer review system.  In my post, I criticized NSPHP for its shoddy execution.  And now, having thought further about purchased reviews, sock puppetry, and the online customer review system, I've concluded that not only was NSPHP poorly executed, it was also mistakenly conceived.


The argument against purchased reviews and sock puppetry, as I understand it, goes more or less like this:

  1. If customers learn that deception is part of the online customer review system, they will lose trust in the system.
  2. If they lose trust in the system, they will stop using the system, or at least use it much less.
  3. If they stop using the system, everyone suffers.

Of these three premises, the only one I can easily accept is the third.  I think online customer reviews have been a huge boon to authors and readers, so yes, if material numbers of customers ceased or diminished their use of the system, I agree it would be unfortunate.  But the third premise depends on the first two, so we ought to examine those.

The first premise is, if customers learn that deception is part of the online customer review system, they will lose trust in that system.

I've done no studies and have nothing to go on here other than my own experience and anecdotal evidence, but I find it hard to imagine that customers don't already realize deception is part of the online customer review system.  Have a look at almost any book -- any product, for that matter -- on Amazon's website, and you'll find some fairly dodgy-looking reviews.  One-star reviews that are vicious, unbalanced, and devoid of any supporting evidence; five-star reviews so over-the-top they sound prepared to start a new religion about the underlying product.  And who hasn't seen a one-star review proudly declaring that the reviewer hasn't even read the book in question, or a five-star review for a product the customer hasn't even taken out of the box yet but is happy over because it was promptly shipped?  So customers must realize, I think, that people leave reviews for all sorts of reasons, many of a type reasonable people would probably agree are unworthy, including the desire to deceive.

And even if customers who hear of purchased reviews and sock puppetry do suddenly come to newly doubt the reliability of the system, how would that doubt manifest itself? A customer who learns that authors are leaving five-star reviews for themselves and one-star reviews for others would, presumably, assign less weight to both, in which case the "damage" caused by the revelations would more or less cancel itself out.  Customers would simply come to look askance at all extreme reviews, positive as well as negative.

But what seems more likely is that, customers already know the online review system is hardly populated by nothing other than disinterested, dispassionate, honest people carefully sifting and weighing evidence before delivering wise and inherently trustworthy judgments.  Customers realize there are many such people writing reviews, but know, too, that there are plenty of scurrilous ones, as well.

If I'm right about what I just wrote, it follows that recent revelations of deceptive practices by authors didn't reveal anything that wasn't already generally known, or at least strongly suspected.  I don't think it follows that anyone ought to be complacent, but the notion that pre-revelation, customers were trusting, and that post-revelation, their trust has somehow been materially damaged, is possibly a bit of a stretch.

Now let's examine the second premise:  If customers lose trust in the online customer review system, they will stop using, or at least use it much less.

I guess this would be true if customers lost all trust.  But take marriage.  An age-old institution that's been pervaded by cheating since probably moments after its inception.  Everyone knows there is cheating within the institution of marriage.  That there always has been cheating, and always will be.  And they react… how?  By refusing to get married? Or do they continue to make beneficial use of the system?

Now this isn't to say we should be sanguine about adultery, or that adultery is admirable.  But what would you say if, in response to revelations that, say, married actors sometimes get visitors in their trailers while on set and that those visitors are not their spouses, a bunch of married people created a website denouncing adultery and beseeching other people to sign their names and enter into monogamous marriages to "drown out the phony voices" and "marginalize to the point of irrelevance" the bad marriages and to "help us clean up this mess?"  I don't know about you, but I'd think that, important as marital fidelity doubtless is, the new website was perhaps a bit of an overreaction.

So imagine an average customer who's familiar with and relies on an online retailer's review system, and who reads somewhere that a bunch of authors got caught buying reviews and using sock puppets to post reviews.  At which point, our average customer does… what, exactly?  Stops relying on customer reviews generally?  Abandons e-commerce entirely?

This strikes me as a huge leap.  I think it's much more likely the average customer will simply modify her approach to using the system.  Maybe she'll get a bit more wary of extreme-sounding reviews (assuming she isn't wary already, and I wouldn't make that assumption).  Maybe she'll start weighting reviews left by Real Names more heavily than others.  Maybe she'll check on how many helpful votes, and what percentage of helpful votes, a reviewer has received.  But to suggest that our average customer will simply abandon, or significantly diminish her use of, the customer review system overlooks how motivated most customers are to use the system.  I see little evidence for such a proposition.  And I can easily imagine that such a customer, who learns by experience how to make better use of the system, could easily become more reliant on, and a more frequent user, of such a system.  All of which leaves me thinking that whatever systemic damage might have been caused by the recent purchased review and sock puppetry allegations is likely to be marginal at best and more likely non-existent.  

So overall, my sense is that customer reviews systems are probably a lot like the Internet itself:  resilient, adaptable, and enticing enough to motivate people to make frequent use of them despite inherent and perhaps even unaddressable imperfections.

I can't help wondering:  in their rush to take NSPHP live, did its authors, in all their internal discussions and deliberations, ever once even ask, let alone consider, this one, simple question:

"How much systemic damage are purchased reviews and sock puppet reviews really causing?"

Of course I don't know.  But I suspect they did not.  The document is devoid of evidence and argument, relying instead only on an unsupported conclusion that purchased reviews and sock puppet reviews are "damaging to publishing at large."  Damaging why?  Because "the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers," which, if you pause to think about it for a moment (and I wish the architects of NSPHP had), you realize is absurd.  First, because it's silly jargon (just what is a "free and honest conversation among readers," anyway?).  Second, because whatever kind of "conversation" readers have been engaging in online, it already is free -- in fact, given the many recent calls I've seen for Amazon to crack down on sock puppetry and other forms of deception with new restrictions on reviewing, it seems like the NSPHP crowd finds that online customer conversations ought to be less free, not more.  And third, because as I argue above, whatever kind of "conversation" readers have been having online, it has never been entirely honest, or even close -- and yet the online customer review system continues to thrive.

(As I argued in my previous post, I still think malicious sock puppet reviews, as opposed to self-praising ones, are particularly worthy of censure because both their intent and likely effect is harm to an individual author.  But the more I consider it, the more I think that even malicious sock puppeteers are more pathetic than pernicious.  What's I find distasteful about them isn't so much that they want to harm someone's sales -- that's one of the motives behind every one of the millions of one-star online reviews -- but rather that they seek to cause that harm while protecting themselves from any potential repercussions.  They themselves enjoy the advantages of author comity, while using that comity as a cover from which to attack.  In other words, these people are not just malicious, but cowardly, too.  But damaging to the system overall?  For the reasons I've argued above, that strikes me as a bit of a stretch.)

Given all this, NSPHP strikes me as a significant overreaction.  I'm glad there's such a thing as chemotherapy, but I wouldn't want to use it to treat a cold.

* * * * *

I know at least some of NSPHP's architects have read my original post, and have a feeling at least some will be reading this one, as well.  I hope you'll all consider the points I make here, and particularly my question about whether any of you discussed, or even considered, the question of how much systemic damage is actually likely to be caused by recent revelations of purchased reviews and sock puppet reviews -- and, if you didn't discuss or consider, what might have led to such a critical omission of inquiry.

After reading my previous post criticizing NSPHP's execution, and this one criticizing NSPHP's conception, I would hope some of the website's architects might regret their rush to action, and I suspect some of them do.  And yet I doubt any of them will withdraw their names from NSPHP's front page, or even simply acknowledge that their premises and conclusions were in error; the actions that followed, misguided and disproportionate.

This kind of stubbornness, while regrettable, is also common.  Because once we've acted, our natural desire to justify our actions, to seem consistent, and to "win" in the face of criticism all conspire to make us commit ourselves ever more deeply to the original mistake.  It was easy for me to withdraw my name from NSPHP:  I had committed none of my personal prestige to the site, and in fact argued publicly that it was a very tough call whether to sign in the comments section at all.  But if you are one of the architects of the thing; one of the original signatories; one of the people whose names appear not just in the comments, but on the front page, too; one of the people who have been reaching out to media -- and not without success -- to try to get NSPHP more attention… it is going to be difficult indeed to admit now that the whole thing was misbegotten, and to publicly own up to your error.  The admission would be tantamount to saying, "I held myself up as a leader among writers, and it turns out I was deserving of neither the position nor of the psychic pleasure I derived from it.  My judgment and my reasoning were unsound, and I got carried away on a tide of foolish emotions, most of which I wasn't even particularly aware of at the time.  Like so many people in so many situations before me, I was in the grip of Moral Panic."

Find me someone who can cop to that, and I'll find you someone worthy of admiration, emulation, and a deserved mantle of leadership.  But such people are rare.  And this is one of the reasons it's important to think before acting -- unless you have cast-iron integrity and are unusually self-aware, when you act in haste and repent at leisure, the dynamic that typically ensues insidiously beguiles you into doubling down on a mistake.

* * * * *

Joe Konrath has expressed his views that NSPHP is a kind of witch hunt, and I think he's right -- a conclusion I've reached not just after considering the site itself, but also from watching the behavior of various NSPHP architects.  Two days ago, David Hewson, one of the architects and spokespeople of NSPHP, tweeted in regard to sock puppeteering:


To which I offered:



I think the meaning of my tweets was pretty clear and I don't think they were insulting (certainly they weren't intended as such).  So I was surprised at the response (sorry, no more embeds, having trouble getting them in here consistently... obviously, I need to find a better way to do this.  But you can follow the discussion on David's and my twitter pages, too, if you like):

DH:  Are you the friend then Barry? You OK with it too? http://twitpic.com/aso28h
BE:  So your Moral Compass App is indeed only needed by others and not by you?
DH:  I think it's needed by someone who thinks lying to the public is wrong. Don't you?
DH:  Oops... by anyone who thinks lying to the public ISN'T wrong. Sorry. Early here.
DH:  And I'm quite happy to have my actions judged - that's what you and Joe have been doing all along, haven't you?
BE:  That's twice you haven't answered my simple question, David. I didn't mean it to be this big a deal, just food for thought.
DH:  Twice you haven't answered my question too. Of course I need to look to my own moral compass. Everyone does. I don't…
DH:  think I'm right all the time. But when it comes to condemning lies I don't think it's hard to find a 'moral' position
DH:  So are you the friend Konrath speaks of? Do you agree with his statement there?
BE:  Those are interesting questions, and yes, you have now asked twice. I'll blog about it tomorrow--grateful if you'd link to it.
So... in response to a question about how the guardians of morality will guard their own morality, David twice demanded to know whether I'm friends with someone he disapproves of, whether I discussed something with that person that went into a blog post, and whether I agree with that person's thinking.  In response to my original question, this isn't just a non sequitur.  It isn't just weird (Joe's post began, I had a long talk with a friend last night, and we realized something obvious.  Amazon allows one star reviews.  In other words, the existing system allows and encourages people to publicly trash books.  Honestly, who cares who he was talking to about this?  What could it possibly be relevant to?)  It's also exactly the kind of witch-hunt reflex that's part of what's been making me twitchy about the NSPHP project from the beginning.  It made me think of:






  • Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, and how Miller himself was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify others present at meetings he had attended.

  • Most of all, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the concept of Thought Crime.


So David's question struck me telling, and worthy of comment.  I'm a lot less concerned about a sock puppet than I am about an inquisition.  The former might damage commerce.  The latter will damage freedom.  One might think artists in particular would be sensitive about such matters.  Apparently, one might be mistaken.

Now, of course a bunch of overreacting writers isn't capable of the kind of harm caused by religious edicts and government committees and actual mobs.  And I understand it's hard for all of us to get outside our own heads and see ourselves with a little more objectivity (see, for example, We do not torture).  But to me, as I've previously noted, there's more than a whiff of the mob mentality about NSPHP, so it was disappointing to ask what I think is a legitimate question about who will guard the guardians and to get a response that was, in effect, "Denounce the Evildoer Konrath!"

David, if after reading this post you still think that under the circumstances your inquiry about whether I'm the friend Joe mentioned talking to before he wrote his blog post, and whether I share some of his views, is a worthy one, please ask it again in the comments to this post and I'll respond to it in an update.  But I hope you'll realize the unfortunate direction you were heading in and retract the question instead.

* * * * *

A last thought.

The topic of deception in the online customer review system seems to have produced a fair amount of strife among authors, as has the topic of self-publishing vs legacy publishing vs Amazon publishing (actually, I don't think it's a vs situation at all; I think it's wonderful that authors now have real choices, and I encourage all authors to find the mix that's best for them.  But I digress).  Much about publishing that for a long time was taken for granted is changing, and changing rapidly.  It can be confusing and even frightening, and it's understandable that sometimes tempers get short, words are chosen poorly, the benefit of the doubt is withdrawn and the worst quickly assumed.  I've seen some really ugly, petty comments being made about fellow authors, and I know the explanation -- or rationalization -- behind the comments is some version of, "He started it!" or "He deserved it!"

Readers of this blog know I've posted again and again to speak out against torture.  Frequently when I do, someone will respond in the comments with some version of, "But al Qaeda flew planes into buildings and murdered nearly 3000 people!" or "But Khalid Sheikh Mohammed decapitated Daniel Pearl!" or "Do you remember what it was like to watch those people who had to jump to their deaths to avoid being burned alive?"

My response is always the same.  I don't think we Americans ought to base our own system of morality, and our own behavior, on what al Qaeda does or doesn't do.  We're Americans.  We don't do what's right because of what our enemies do.  We do it because it's right.  We don't torture only if al Qaeda doesn't torture.  We don't torture because we're Americans.

On a personal level, what this principle means for me is that whether someone insults me is nearly irrelevant to the issue of whether I should insult him.  If I believe insults are counterproductive -- particularly from the standpoint of persuasion, which to me is the primary legitimate purpose of argument -- then I have to eschew them regardless of whether other people find them hard to resist.  It's that Kantian thing again (David, that was for you. ;)).  Or call it the Golden Rule, if you like.  The point is this:  if you think insults, pettiness, and vindictiveness ought to be avoided, then you ought to avoid them.  Lately, even more so than usual, I see people not only failing to avoid that kind of bad behavior, but eagerly embracing it.  For anyone who believes we should be the change we want to see in the world, this is not just a loss for society -- it's also a personal failure.

Moreover, it's personally corrosive.  From time to time, I've been on the receiving end of some fairly hateful stuff here on the interwebs, and if I let myself get worked up in response, my ego would engage.  It would become important for me to "win" the fight, to hurt the other person back, and suddenly what should be really important to me -- persuasion -- would be not only relegated to the back seat, but smothered back there, too.  Meanwhile, I know my judgement would be occluded.  Rather than keeping an open mind, I would actively seek reasons to hate the person who insulted me, I would screen out evidence that he or she might be other than entirely unworthy, and I would get locked in a cycle where my insults produce more anger, leading to more insults, leading to more anger… etc.

Even if you haven't clicked on any other links in this post, click on and consider this one:  Fundamental Attribution Error.

The good news is, whether you get caught up in the negative emotions, and in the behavior they cause and that then reinforces them, isn't up to anyone else.  It's only up to you.  But it's important to realize the best way to avoid getting lost in the hate thickets is to avoid stepping onto that path in the first place.  Because anger, hate, and self-righteousness can quickly become both their own motivation and their own reward.

If any of this resonates personally for anyone still reading this far, I recommend having a look at, say, your recent Twitter feed.  Do your posts hate the sin but not the sinner?  Are they intended to persuade, or is there some other, less worthy motivation behind them?  Are you proud of what you've been saying, or, in retrospect, a little embarrassed by it because it seems beneath you?

What's that saying?  "Be the person your dog thinks you are."

I know many people will be unpersuaded by what I've written here (for many reasons, including the kind of insidious resistance caused by mistakenly committing to something like NSPHP in the first place).  Which is okay, obviously.  We don't all have to agree.  But hopefully we can disagree with a little less vitriol -- even if we think the other person is directing vitriol at us.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  I don't know the answer, but I think we have to at least start by trying a little harder to guard ourselves.


Update:

Well, perhaps predictably, David Hewson posted a comment in which he did indeed attempt to interrogate me for a third time:


[Joe Konrath] says in public he talked to a friend and afterwards wrote, 'Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.'

Were you that friend? Do you agree with him that buying reviews, using sock puppets, and leaving fake one-star reviews aren't wrong? It doesn't take 2,000 words of overwritten flim-flam to answer that. So why do you find it so hard?

My response, as promised, with David's comment in italics and mine in plain text (the full exchange is in the comments section):

Joe Konrath, your co-author of so much stuff on this subject…

Joe is my co-author of stuff on sock puppetry, purchased reviews, and NSPHP?

David, could you provide cites -- even just a single cite -- to back up that claim?  And when you can't, will you pause to consider that maybe you're conflating two separate people, perhaps in part because you've become unhealthily obsessed with one of them?

[Joe] says in public he talked to a friend and afterwards wrote, 'Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.'

Were you that friend? Do you agree with him that buying reviews, using sock puppets, and leaving fake one-star reviews aren't wrong? It doesn't take 2,000 words of overwritten flim-flam to answer that. So why do you find it so hard?


I think it's mostly because the way you ask, and the utter lack of self awareness and historical perspective that characterizes your question, makes my skin crawl.

Also, because it's such a bizarre non sequitur in response to a friendly suggestion that you might want to make personal use of your proposed "Moral Compass" app, and not just generously offer it to others.

And finally, I guess, because it pleases me to act in accordance with my own principles.  Because when self-important grandstanders threaten to brand me as Automatically Suspect if I don't jump through their self-pleasuring hoops, it feels like a badge of honor.

I'm sure you'll understand.  After all, you just refused to answer Mr S Puppet's questions in keeping with some principle of you're own -- presumably the principle that you will not have a substantive discussion with a stranger on the Internet unless he first presents you with a Long Form Birth Certificate, or something like that.

Anyway, I can't think of anything better than your own behavior -- here, on Twitter, and at NSPHP itself -- to elegantly support my contention that NSPHP is by default, if not design, congenitally inclined to witch hunt.  Of course we won't see eye to eye on that, but I'm sure we'll also both be satisfied that readers now have ample evidence by with they can consider and judge for themselves.


Updated Again:

Apologies, David, and everyone else -- I mistakenly attributed Gordon's response to Mr S Puppet in the comments to David.  So the penultimate paragraph (or some version of it) in the update above should have been addressed to Gordon, not David.
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87 Comments:

OpenID amsterdamassassin said...

Hi Barry,

Great article - food for thought again. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I do believe that you should not have to defend yourself to general allegations.

Martyn V. Halm
Author of the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Monday, September 10, 2012 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

This whole thing has me scratching my head. Sort of: yeah, and?

I agree that posting negative reviews of other authors' work is really bad. But I'm of the "put bad stuff out there and it comes back to haunt you" philosophy. It reminds me of the gold miner in Pale Rider looking at the guy riding into town and saying: "Isn't that kind of dumb?"

I've read reviews on a #1 NY Times bestseller's books (who I personally know) and can tell she wrote them. Pretty sad. It's also obvious at that level they're hiring a better company to spam reviews than John Locke did, once you start really examining the glowing reviews and their connection to the reality of the book. And I could care less.

And when your publisher buys a two page spread in the NY Times book review and miraculously your book is #1 on the hardcover list the next week and then disappears faster than Leonardo trying to climb on that board after the Titanic sank, what do you make of that? Or the "bestseller" racks in Target, supermarkets, etc.-- are those really the bestsellers? Uh, no. They're paid placement. It's called business. Some people just have more juice. Is that fair? Is it ethical for a publisher to label a book the #3 bestseller simply by buying the rack slot? Isn't that "deceiving" the reader?

What I find staggering is the amount of energy being expended on something that overall, readers care little about, while the recent settlement by three of the big 6 for 69 million (or 79, depending on your math) to some states for eBook pricing has received scant attention. So DOJ has basically decided, and publishers have tacitly admitted, that pricing was fixed, there was collusion, and we could care less?

Here's what's really funny about that. You know where that payoff money is going to come from? The CEO pay at those publishers.

Just joking.

Author royalties. Wait until you start seeing the negative subtractions from your eBook royalties, which are at a what, whopping 25%?

I've backed off social media a lot lately to do something weird, write, but I keep seeing this swing back against authors, especially indies. From my military training, I know that a strong defense starts being put in place, that means something is vulnerable. I wonder what that is?

Monday, September 10, 2012 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

There's been a lot of guff being spewed about, re., the puppet/paid review kerfuffle and Why This Really Matters. As a LT freelancer with just enough insider/deep background information to make me useful, I can attest that positive reviews, especially when *coupled with* purchases, do have an effect on a product insofar that they affect ratings and visibility on Amazon. Sock puppetry doesn't level the playing field; it gives one an unfair advantage over others — an advantage that's kept strictly hush-hush. It's a shame when we have to police our own, but when the media falls down on the job, who else is there to do this? Would you rather that this story never see the light of day?

As to how this affects the average consumer? Barry, you and Joe are big boys. You can figure this out, and no doubt you can see the profound implications this has for publishing in the long run. When people employ such powerful tools to prop product — any product, not just books — this practice should make us question not just the integrity of the etailer (Amazon), but integrity of the very product itself. (There is a good reason that I rarely purchase *anything* from Amazon.)

The Big Six did this, and the DoJ then did that, and one writer wronged another by calling foul — you know, I'm tired of having red herrings dangled in front of my nose. They smell. Let's stay focused on the topic at hand. What I expect from my more experienced peers in publishing — and yes, that includes you and Joe — is a flat-out condemnation of all fraudulent practices, no matter *who* does it or why they do it or how they're called out on it. Anyone who does not is, to my mind, automatically suspect.

Monday, September 10, 2012 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

Amazon e-book royalties are 70%, I think. Not 25%. Which is why it's more in the author's interest to publish there than through the traditional publishers.

Monday, September 10, 2012 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger James Scott Bell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Monday, September 10, 2012 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger James Scott Bell said...

Barry, I've been observing this thing from the sidelines. There are a lot of hills to die on. I don't think this is one of them. If, in your view, the sockpuppetry and fake reviews don't do that much harm (and I'm of the opinion that they do SOME harm, though it's hard to quantify), then I don't see what harm the NHPHP statement is doing. I get that you weren't comfortable with the calling out of some by name, but that didn't seem a demonstrable harm given the bad press they already got. I dunno, it's like there are two teapots with tempests in them.

Most fair minded people, you included I think, find the conduct of the named authors at least odious, if not pernicious. The expression from the signatories of the NHPHP to call more public attention to the matter may not be an ultimate answer, but it's not a negative in any meaningful sense of that term.

Monday, September 10, 2012 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Livia Blackburne said...

Hey Barry,

You know from our previous correspondence that I generally agree w/ the points you made in your previous post, as well as your points here about empathy, avoiding mob mentality, etc.

I did have a few quick points regarding some of your arguments though (Also, I'm defending in two days was reading quickly, so apologies in advance if I misunderstood any of what you're saying, or if I seem incoherent in these comments.)

1. I'm wary of arguments along the lines of "consumers already know reviews are bad, and they are already wary." Yes, but we shouldn't place the responsibility on the consumer, and/or expect the consumer to be exceedingly careful and critical of every review. Speaking from my personal experience, even though I know online reviews are unreliable, I still sort by average review when I'm in a rush to buy something, and Amazon algorithms do take star ratings into account. Plus, while it's possible to disregard a few extreme reviews, it's a lot harder to separate wheat from chaff if authors are buying a few hundred five stars reviews at a time. So I'm still of the opinion, speaking as a consumer, that insincere reviews are at best inconvinent to sort through, and at worst harmful and deceptive.

2. The diff between a marriage and current author review policy is that marriage is a well established tradition, which everybody agrees on. On the other hand we're breaking new ground right now regarding author policy. In that sense, I do see some value in making a joint statement about what is acceptable/ethical behavior regarding reviews, and what isn't. I do agree with you, though, that perhaps a version like the one you outlined in your previous post would have been better.

Anyways, for the most part we agree but just wanted to make a few points there. Sorry for the incoherence. I'm not subscribing to comments here in an vain attempt to avoid distractions, but I'll be back after things get less busy.

Monday, September 10, 2012 1:04:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Monday, September 10, 2012 1:14:00 PM  
Blogger Eddie Hewson said...

Given how extraordinarily long-winded this piece is I'm surprised, a little anyway, you never managed to mention or answer the question I first asked you on Twitter. Namely do you agree with Joe Konrath when he wrote, after 'talking to a friend', 'Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.'

No answer. What do we get instead? You citing HUAC and Salem while arguing that writing a three-paragraph letter is an overreaction. Oh and naturally you continue to spread the myth there's a witch hunt going on then add to it that I'm an 'architect' and 'spokespeople' for the authors who signed that original letter.

Both these assertions are completely untrue. The witch hunt/mob myth I've addressed here http://davidhewson.com/2012/09/09/the-sock-puppet-letter-sorting-myth-from-fact/

If there's any moral panic it's on your part. Not those of us who wrote the letter then went back to the day job. The idea that the people who signed those three paragraphs (it really is ridiculous you've given them an acronym by the way) are in some way an organisation with 'spokespeople' is simply risible. We're writers who saw something that was wrong and wanted to say, 'Not in our name.' Nothing more.

So we're back to where we were on Twitter. The people who signed that letter believe it's wrong to deceive readers by putting up fake reviews, buying reviews, and badmouthing fellow authors anonymously (if you want to do any of the above in your own name that's your prerogative -- we never said anything about that).

Let me repeat myself because this is 'the heart of the matter' (blimey... nothing pretentious about that as a title for a blog on Blogger is there?)

Joe Konrath, your co-author of so much stuff on this subject, says in public he talked to a friend and afterwards wrote, 'Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.'

Were you that friend? Do you agree with him that buying reviews, using sock puppets, and leaving fake one-star reviews aren't wrong? It doesn't take 2,000 words of overwritten flim-flam to answer that. So why do you find it so hard?

David Hewson (the real one, not a sock puppet)

Monday, September 10, 2012 1:27:00 PM  
Blogger Gordon Harries said...

Just to say that the letter isn’t a manifesto or the proposal for a new kind of relationship between writers, reviewers and readers or any of that malarkey.

It’s a first step. It’s “let’s make poverty history” or “not in our name”. Which is to say, a broad statement that the majority of people who are ill at ease about recent revelations could get behind.

We’re not an organization, not a pressure group and indeed the private website we set up to figure out the language of the letter has long since been deleted. All there is, is this statement.

David isn't the spokesman for the group, because there is no group. Nor was he the architect behind the letter. There were 12 people who weighed in on it. Blame one of us, blame all is all I'm saying.

I really wish one of you guys that feel the need to comment on it would –just for once—not speak to paranoid phrases like ‘HUAC’ and so forth (Really, Barry? We remind you of HUAC? HUAC?) and instead speak to the issues that the statement was attempting to address. Just once.

Monday, September 10, 2012 2:15:00 PM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

Gordon Harries, how can you say Barry Eisler hasn't addressed the points you think are important? The beginning section of this long post was all about why he doesn't think sock-puppeting harms the system. Could you address Barry's point about the adultery overreaction, and whether you believe it to be analogous? And could you address Barry's point about the sinister subtext of D Hewson's 'Are you the friend?' question?

Monday, September 10, 2012 2:39:00 PM  
Blogger Gordon Harries said...

Mr. S Puppet,

Do you think that you could provide a real name. I'm opening to having a substantive conversation, but not with a sock.

Monday, September 10, 2012 2:57:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Melissa asked, "Would you rather that this story never see the light of day?"

Is never seeing the light of day the only alternative to NSPHP? Can you think of any other possibilities?

"What I expect from my more experienced peers in publishing — and yes, that includes you and Joe — is a flat-out condemnation of all fraudulent practices, no matter *who* does it or why they do it or how they're called out on it. Anyone who does not is, to my mind, automatically suspect."

Suspect of what?

Regardless, is there a particular pledge you're looking for? I'm thinking something like, "I hereby flat-out condemn all fraudulent practices without hesitation or mental reservation of any kind." Or something like that. And then, anyone who refused to publicly recite the pledge could be Automatically Suspect. And maybe there could then be some sort of branding, too? We could get online retailers to tag the pages of authors who refused to sign the pledge you demand as Automatically Suspect.

All those examples I listed in my post, and with links, too… alas.

James said:

"I dunno, it's like there are two teapots with tempests in them."

I tend to agree. I don't expect NSPHP to do much harm. Mostly I'm interested in it for what it suggests as a cautionary tale about human nature.

"The expression from the signatories of the NSPHP to call more public attention to the matter may not be an ultimate answer, but it's not a negative in any meaningful sense of that term."

I don't have a problem with calling more public attention to deceptive practices. But as I've argued, in my opinion NSPHP was mistakenly conceived and sloppily executed, and I can't help but be interested in what emotional factors could have caused a group of smart professional writers to produce something so problematic.

Livia, I agree that other things being equal a more honest customer review system would be good. My point is more along the lines of "Customers aren't rubes. They already know there's deception. Therefore revelations of deception are perhaps not as damaging as people assume -- and certainly not cause for something as botched as NSPHP." I'm not arguing for complacency, but rather for more care, level-headedness, and proportionality.

As for the differences between marriage and the online customer review system, my point was only that when people derive value from a system, we shouldn't assume ipso facto they'll abandon it upon learning that the system contains cheating. But agreed, there are important differences between the two systems that should be considered, too. I didn't mean to push the analogy too far, just to offer it as food for thought.

Monday, September 10, 2012 8:07:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Eddie (David Hewson) said:

"I'm surprised, a little anyway, you never managed to mention or answer the question I first asked you on Twitter. Namely do you agree with Joe Konrath when he wrote, after 'talking to a friend', 'Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.'"

Mention it? I quoted it verbatim with an embedded link to the very tweet in question.

What you first asked (and then asked again) on Twitter is what I quoted verbatim in my post. It's still there, but for your ease of reference: "Are you the friend then Barry? You OK with it too?" And "So are you the friend Konrath speaks of? Do you agree with his statement there?"

I think I made a pretty good case in my post for why that's creepy, but if you don't agree, that's cool. As I said at the end, I don't expect everyone to be persuaded.

"Oh and naturally you continue to spread the myth there's a witch hunt going on then add to it that I'm an 'architect' and 'spokespeople' for the authors who signed that original letter."

I don't think the possibility of elements of a witch hunt to the NSPHP project is something that can be analyzed as a myth or not a myth. Rather, it's an opinion, one I've tried to support with evidence and argument. Suggesting an evidence- and argument-backed opinion is somehow "spreading a myth" is like accusing someone of spreading the myth that Obama has trampled on civil liberties. Maybe he has, maybe he hasn't (he has), but myth?

As for calling you an architect of and spokesperson for NSPHP, given your own detailed account of your involvement in the genesis and creation of the website -- in the very blog post you link to in your comment here -- and given your tweets explaining NSPHP policy regarding comments, I felt safe in so describing you. But if there's a description you feel is more appropriate, please let me know and I'll be happy to consider it. I don't think it really has much to do with my argument.

"The idea that the people who signed those three paragraphs (it really is ridiculous you've given them an acronym by the way) are in some way an organisation with 'spokespeople' is simply risible."

An acronym is an abbreviation that's pronounced as a word. NASA is an acronym; CIA is not. Regardless, I'm not sure why referring to No Sock Puppets Here Please as NSPHP is ridiculous. I'd hate to type out the entire name again and again. What would you prefer? You guys invented the moniker; I'm just trying to work with it.

As for your objection to being called a spokesperson, I can't think of a better way to describe someone who seems to speak on behalf of NSPHP. If you want to suggest some different nomenclature, I'm open to it, but again I don't think it really has much to do with my argument.

"We're writers who saw something that was wrong and wanted to say, 'Not in our name.' Nothing more."

If you wanted to say "Not in our name" and nothing more, why did you say so much more than that, and something so different than that? Is it possible what you think you wanted to do was contaminated with other motivations you're not as closely in touch with? That's my strong sense, anyway, although of course I could be wrong.

"The people who signed that letter believe it's wrong to deceive readers by putting up fake reviews, buying reviews, and badmouthing fellow authors anonymously (if you want to do any of the above in your own name that's your prerogative -- we never said anything about that)."

If you've read this post and the one I wrote before it, you'll know I agree.

Monday, September 10, 2012 8:08:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

David continued:

"Joe Konrath, your co-author of so much stuff on this subject…"

Joe is my co-author of stuff on sock puppetry, purchased reviews, and NSPHP?

David, could you provide cites -- even just a single cite -- to back up that claim? And when you can't, will you pause to consider that maybe you're conflating two separate people, perhaps in part because you've become unhealthily obsessed with one of them?

"[Joe] says in public he talked to a friend and afterwards wrote, 'Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.'

"Were you that friend? Do you agree with him that buying reviews, using sock puppets, and leaving fake one-star reviews aren't wrong? It doesn't take 2,000 words of overwritten flim-flam to answer that. So why do you find it so hard?"

I think it's mostly because the way you ask, and the utter lack of self awareness and historical perspective that characterizes your question, makes my skin crawl.

Also, because it's such a bizarre non sequitur in response to a friendly suggestion that you might want to make personal use of your proposed "Moral Compass" app, and not just generously offer it to others.

And finally, I guess, because it pleases me to act in accordance with my own principles. Because when self-important grandstanders threaten to brand me as Automatically Suspect if I don't jump through their self-pleasuring hoops, it feels like a badge of honor.

I'm sure you'll understand. After all, you just refused to answer Mr S Puppet's questions in keeping with some principle of you're own -- presumably the principle that you will not have a substantive discussion with a stranger on the Internet unless he first presents you with a Long Form Birth Certificate, or something like that.

Anyway, I can't think of anything better than your own behavior -- here, on Twitter, and at NSPHP itself -- to elegantly support my contention that NSPHP is by default, if not design, congenitally inclined to witch hunt. Of course we won't see eye to eye on that, but I'm sure we'll also both be satisfied that readers now have ample evidence by with they can consider and judge for themselves.

Monday, September 10, 2012 8:08:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Apologies, David, and everyone else -- I mistakenly attributed Gordon's response to Mr S Puppet to David. So the penultimate paragraph (or some version of it) in my last comment should have been addressed to Gordon, not David.

Monday, September 10, 2012 9:12:00 PM  
Blogger Gordon Harries said...

Okay, at what point did I say that I (Gordon) needed to be presented with a birth certificate? I realize it's better for our detractors if we look unreasonable but I'm willing to come here and respond to both questions and criticisms of the pettition (you’ll note there’s not many comments from people who’ve signed the petition here) is it too much to ask that you –or whoever—meets me half way by providing a name that I can speak to?

Serves me right for trying to engage with your concerns, I suppose.

Monday, September 10, 2012 9:44:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Gordon, that's a fair point, and I apologize if what I said came across as too harsh. When I thought David was making the point, I wanted to focus on what I thought was his inconsistency in insisting that other people answer questions when he was perfectly comfortable in refusing to answer them himself.

Speaking just for myself, I think it makes more sense to focus on the nature of the question in determining how or whether to respond, and less on the online identity of whoever is asking. If the question is worthy, I don't really care who's behind it, and in fact I've responded to many questions by anonymous posters in comments. But you, apparently, have a different guideline, and if it works for you, it's fine by me.

FWIW, I can't control whether people post under their own names here or under pseudonyms, as Mr S Puppet has done. I don't post online except as myself but obviously not everyone follows such a policy.

Thanks again for engaging here and again, my apologies if I came across as harsh. I hope you'll be back.

Monday, September 10, 2012 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Gordon said:

"Just to say that the letter isn’t a manifesto or the proposal for a new kind of relationship between writers, reviewers and readers or any ofetween.

"It’s a first step. It’s “let’s make poverty history” or “not in our name”. Which is to say, a broad statement that the majority of people who are ill at ease about recent revelations could get behind."

Sorry for missing your comment the first time around.

I understand you all intended a broad statement that many people could get behind. I don't think it was well executed in this regard -- see the five reservations I discuss in my previous post. What you've stated as the group's objective, and the means you implemented to achieve it, were in my opinion not well matched.

"We’re not an organization, not a pressure group and indeed the private website we set up to figure out the language of the letter has long since been deleted. All there is, is this statement."

Well, there are David's blog posts, too, describing the group's genesis and organizing efforts. I'm not trying to be argumentative, but I don't know what it would mean to say this group of people isn't in some sense an organization. I'm happy to call it a group instead, though, if you like.

"David isn't the spokesman for the group, because there is no group."

It's not even a group? It's going to get tricky referring to the people who created the site. I'm open to suggestions.

As for David, I referred to him not as "the," but as "one of the architects and spokespeople." I still don't understand what could be inappropriate about these descriptions, or why anyone would object to them. But again, I'm open to alternatives if you and David prefer.

"Nor was he the architect behind the letter."

Again, "one of the architects."

"There were 12 people who weighed in on it. Blame one of us, blame all is all I'm saying."

I do. I mentioned David specifically because the two of us had some back-and-forth on Twitter, back-and-forth I found telling.

"I really wish one of you guys that feel the need to comment on it would –just for once—not speak to paranoid phrases like ‘HUAC’ and so forth (Really, Barry? We remind you of HUAC? HUAC?) and instead speak to the issues that the statement was attempting to address. Just once."

If you've read my previous post and this one, I don't know how you could claim I haven't been discussing the issues the statement was attempting to address. What would "speak[ing] to the issues" mean to you, beyond what I've been doing?

And yes, your non-group really does remind me of HUAC. David's bizarre, irrelevant, and repeated efforts to hang someone else's opinions around my neck, most specifically.

Did you follow the We Do Not Torture link in my post? It's always hard to accept that our purely well-intended efforts could be looked at suspiciously by third parties (this very shortcoming is America's greatest foreign policy blind spot). But because I have no direct access to your intentions and must instead judge you by your behavior, I do indeed look at what you've done suspiciously, for all the reasons I've discussed in these two posts. In fact, I see such a mismatch between your declared intentions and your actual behavior that, believing as I do that you're fundamentally honest, I can only explain the mismatch as caused by the presence of emotional motives you're not sufficiently in touch with.

Sorry again for initially overlooking your comment, and thanks again for engaging.

Monday, September 10, 2012 10:27:00 PM  
Blogger Gordon Harries said...

Barry:

It’s early here and I don’t have sufficient caffeine in my bloodstream as of yet to comment comprehensively, so let me just say this and come back to the rest at lunch time:

What I mean about groups (or whatever you want to call the collection of individuals behind the letter) is that we came together to write the letter, we –for the most part—didn’t know each other well and while we’re all in touch with each other via Facebook and twitter—we are not in anyway ‘tight’. Believe it or not, the point wasn’t to advertise personality in all this but to argue that we find recent revelations distasteful and if you’re swayed by our argument, then please feel free to add your name to our petition here.

Perhaps it was naïve, but I’ve personally been surprised at the level of vitriol in some quarters which ranges from issues that were contentious in the room (the decision to include names was a huge issue) to things that were simply never discussed. (Blurbs) some of it I welcome, as I think a conversation about professional behaviour and what constitutes it is needed on the internet and some of it has been, well, unwelcome. Such is life.

No worries about the mix-up, by the way. These things happen. Back later.

Monday, September 10, 2012 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

RE: "I'm thinking something like, 'I hereby flat-out condemn all fraudulent practices without hesitation or mental reservation of any kind.'"

That works fine for me, Barry. Look, even though I buy your books and I read (and enjoy) your books, I'm not asking you to gratuitously rubber-stamp NSPHP if you take issue with it. And I am not *angry* with you and Mr. Konrath — just disappointed that you (plural) didn't speak out more authoritatively against this nefarious practice, which is just so, so, so wrong on every level.

It's sad — truly sad — when writers have to police other writers because the media has failed to do its job. Now this issue has taken on a life of its own, splintering into less relevant sub-issues and various degrees of fault-finding with and finger-pointing at other parties, when all it really boils down to is, where do *you* (and other writers) stand on fraudulent reviews? If you really do mean what you wrote, then I believe you. It's nothing I wouldn't say myself.

Pax?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:06:00 AM  
Blogger David Hewson said...

I was being vague when I said 'this stuff'. I meant the interminable vamps you and Konrath jointly perform, the ones that conclude everyone who doesn't agree with you is an idiot. No I can see you've kept away from his latest shark-jumping episode, and with good reason. I didn't mean that, and I suspect you know it -- but if you can spot a minute hole to jump through -- why miss it eh?

Really Barry you have such a Goebbels-like penchant for twisting the truth to your own ends that it's quite boring trying to spend one's time correcting each and every sad new somersault. So this is my last contribution here -- twist it as you see fit. I won't be back.

Had I approached you and demanded you answer whether you agreed with Konrath or not then perhaps you could have argued I was somehow pursing you in a fashion that 'makes your skin crawl'. But you know that's not true. You pursued me repeatedly on Twitter, demanding to know whether I needed a 'moral compass' smartphone app too.

Humour's not your strong point, is it? I thought you were joking so I answered lightly. And in case people drifted off in that unceasing diatribe above and missed it, when you kept on coming I answered thus,'Of course I need to look to my own moral compass. Everyone does. I don't think I'm right all the time. But when it comes to condemning lies I don't think it's hard to find a 'moral' position.'

Having been harangued by you on Twitter over a one-line joke I then suggested you answer my question. Do you agree with Joe Konrath when he says, 'Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.'

If you wish to view that simple question as being equivalent to McCarthy demanding whether people reveal, on pain of imprisonment, if they're members of the Communist Party that's your problem.
Contd...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 1:31:00 AM  
Blogger David Hewson said...

Your contortions over a simple issue -- is it OK to lie to the public in order to sell books -- are frankly embarrassing. There is no witch hunt and never has been. There is no moral panic. There's just you and Joe Konrath spinning frantically like false prophets watching the scales fall off the eyes of their flock. A flock who've followed your every word and now frequently find themselves aghast at all the work they've put in, all the money they've spent, and how little they've received in return.

The sock puppet and paid-for review mentality comes in part from the desperation caused by the collapse of this Ponzi-like pipe dream. Not that our letter was aimed at self-publishers. It was just a bunch of authors saying, 'We think this is wrong, and if you do too -- be you author, reader or just someone who loves books -- you can put your name to the letter.'

Lots of self-published authors have signed up for that. A lot more from all backgrounds than have come on here or Konrath's site, which tells me that most people out there can see this as what it truly was: a plea for honesty, nothing more.

Could it have been better worded? Sure, but it's pretty good given the time we had available. Could you have written a better version?

How can I put it? Oh yes. I'm 'unpersuaded' (and I now vow never to use that term again).

I'm not a fan of fisking but one gross error in your comments requires correction. When I pointed out you hadn't run the Konrath quote in your entire lengthy sermon you wrote, 'Mention it? I quoted it verbatim with an embedded link to the very tweet in question.'

Oh please. You updated the piece *after* that comment (by which time I was in bed -- I do live in a very different time zone you know) to insert the verbatim quote. That's why it appears under 'Update' above. Until then it was just a link so people had to go off site to read the wording of Konrath's controversial statement. So people couldn't get the context in the original piece because you omitted it.

Post-editing to try to prove your critics wrong. Way to be transparent, Barry.

Ciao.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 1:32:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

3) NSPHP (yes, I know you're not a campaign, but for ease of reference it's what I'm calling the people who signed) seems to be very much against writers unsupportively trashing one another. Can you explain, then, why an NSPHP signatory yelled 'Tosser!' at Stephen Leather at Harrogate (long before Leather had mentioned his use of sock puppets) if he is so against being unsupportive of other writers, simply because Leather was putting forward a view he disagreed with? Is this not hypocritical? If you want your moral position to make sense, you need to explain why it is the 'anonymous' aspect that makes it bad to be unsupportive, when, for example, most of you don't seem to feel it's bad to be unsupportive to fellow authors by calling them c***ts, cock-monkeys and anuses on Twitter. If you agree that the author of 'Girl With a One Track Mind' did nothing wrong in publishing that book anonymously, and that 'Guido Fawkes' should be able to blog under that nickname, then you are not against anonymity per se. Therefore it must be the trashing of fellow authors you're against. Why, in that case, do you and your co-signatories viciously mock anyone who disagrees with you on Twitter, using snide in-jokes? And if you're against unsupportive behaviour among authors, why is your petition not also aimed at the paid writer-reviewers in newspapers who trash their rivals under their own names, for money, and with the authority of a national newspaper backing their personal opinions? Is this not an equally rival-bashing, biased and reprehensible activity? If not, why not?


4) Okay, so you personally would never give yourself a 5* review or a fellow author a 1* review under a different name. You think it's wrong. Fine. So don't do it. Why the need to publish a statement 'unreservedly condemning' those who do? Barry Eisler's adultery analogy is spot-on, though I rather wish he hadn't mentioned it as he might have planted a seed in your mind - is that, perhaps, what NSPHP has in mind to do next? Shun and revile all adulterous authors? Don't you feel even an ounce of hypocrisy, when you consider all the times you've behaved in a sub-optimal way? I assume that like most of us you have occasionally lied, been cowardly, been spiteful, etcetera. Did the following thought not go through your head: 'Even if I haven't done this very thing, I've done other bad stuff in my time, so who am I to enter into a public moral condemnation of fellow writers who have erred?'?

(to be continued, again...)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:06:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

5) Which has more integrity, a genuine 1* review that is honest about why it doesn't like a book, but under a pseudonym and by a fellow writer, or a review by one's Aunty Muriel under her real name in which she praises one's new book, imagining she genuinely loves it but actually only loving it because it's by her beloved nephew? The former, surely. And yet that second category of reviews - the author-solicited reviews from friends and family which nearly all authors admit to having - have come under no fire at all. In what ways, precisely, do such reviews contain any more integrity?

6) Do you really feel it's appropriate to single out for condemnation three or four men, when the backdrop is that of widespread systemic unreliability; of every author in the world encouraging their social networks to cram Amazon with 5* reviews for their books? How can Leather, Ellory etcetera really be such a danger to a system that is already massively unreliable and corrupt? They are being portrayed as stand-out cases, yet they don't stand out at all. Every publisher in London and New York routinely asks its entire staff to drum up good reviews for its books. When this is the climate and the norm, doesn't it feel a little mean and persecutory to single out three guys and behave in a way that you must realise will turn a lot of people against them? Imagine how horrible it would be to be widely vilified. No, really: imagine it. You're literary Public Enemy no. 1, scared to show your face in public, shamed before the eyes of the whole world. Worse than getting a 1* review or two, right? You must also realise that hundreds if not thousands of writers have probably done the same thing, especially when Amazon didn't have the verified account rule; in that context, do you not care at all that your outing of two or three guys might actually destroy their egos and ruin their lives, and that if that happened, your sense of moral superiority might be partly to blame? Where is your compassion?

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:08:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

7) Why do you and other NSPHP people continually mock Konrath and Eisler instead of engaging with their arguments? It's really alarming, I have to say. You care about this issue, you drafted and disseminated your statement. Therefore, you take it seriously. Konrath and Eisler both engage with it seriously and respond thoughtfully and at length, and what is your response? Too long-winded! 'Konrath's losing his shit over this, it's a train wreck, it's embarrassing.' 'Air with footnotes'. 'Or not, or whatever'. Why the sudden casual/comic nonchalance, chaps? Could it be that you would find it difficult to answer Eisler and Konrath's rather powerful points?

8) If I should be (and am) willing to engage, at length and in detail, with a misguided chap called Gordon and never once mention Jilted John, why is said misguided Gordon unwilling to engage with a (if I say so myself) f***ing clever sock like myself? Does the fact that you're Gordon and I'm Sock really make that much difference? Why? We can still talk, can't we? I would love to tell you my name, Gordon, but I'm scared to. And that ought to tell you something.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:12:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

Huh, weird. My points 1 and 2 seemed not to make it. I will put them here, at the end. They were:

1) In your opinion, is it only authors who shouldn't be allowed to post 1* reviews pseudonymously on Amazon? Why should non-author readers be allowed to, and authors not?

2) And even if no aliases were allowed and only real names were used, can Amazon ever be effectively patrolled for bias, snidery, purity of motivation? Would we even want it to be? Wouldn't we rather have free speech, yes, even for snide writers and snide readers? Some reader reviews under real names might seem pure as the driven snow, but could be motivated by bile. 'I tried ever so hard to like this book, but I'm afraid I just couldn't' - snide, cleverly done, not as obvious as, 'This is the biggest pile of...' Where humans are involved, bias will be, inevitably.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:19:00 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

The people who were most hurt by the recent sock puppet scandal were the readers of a particular author, whose book about gaining followers left out that one major point.

They don't lose trust in the system so much as they lose trust in an author they respected. "I'm popular because I gamed the system" implies to followers that they are less important than getting money or fame.

I think an author needs to think carefully about the kind of long-term damage they can do to their career if they choose to engage in questionable business practices. I am curious to see how this impacts the long-term careers of the authors who have come into the open about using sock puppets. But I don't think it will help their careers, and it might have just cost them a large percent of their readership. If you've spent considerable time developing a readership and a platform, I don't see how abusing that trust is worth the quick gains.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 7:40:00 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Mr S Puppet –

It’s true that I’ve been very insulting about Joe Konrath, and he has about me too. I’m sure neither of us lose any sleep over it. I can’t respond to his posts, as I have the dubious honour of being banned from his blog, which I have always respected. For what it’s worth, both I and David have posted responses to a few general reactions on our own blogs. I don’t believe I’ve been abusive about Barry (I could be wrong; I'm very childish when I'm not being serious). I said his first blogpost on this topic was thoughtful. But yes, I did call this post “air with footnotes”, because (to me) it is longwinded and says very little while giving the appearance of saying more than it does.

What would you have me respond to here? Barry’s position appears to be that he feels sock puppetry is vaguely wrong, but he wonders if the damage done by it is being exaggerated, and believes that the letter was clumsily-written and an over-reaction. There is also some baseless speculation as to people’s motives and feelings, none of which he is qualified to make (Although the “I suspect some people are regretting signing but lack the strength of character to admit it” gambit is played with an admirably straight face). Well, he is entitled to do all of that. I don’t feel the need to argue with everyone who disagrees with me, and I’m sure Barry feels the same.

Some general points.

There is no witch hunt. There is no moral panic. This is an invention of Joe and Barry’s; they are creating and sustaining it. Nobody was “outed” in the letter – all three individuals had publicly admitted their behaviour before it was released, and as far as I know, two remain proud of it. The letter states the facts for context, and then condemns the behaviour, not the individuals. It is not a comprehensive code of ethics, nor was it ever intended to be (so a lot of the subsequent discussion has descended into classic whataboutery). It is simply a statement that the signatories are happy to put their name to. If you disagree, you don’t have to do so; if you agree, you don’t have to either. I doubt anyone is checking, and I know that I’m not.

Everybody who signed will have their own reasons to object to the behaviours. For the record, I think it’s wrong mostly because it’s abusing a system in a way that’s unfair to readers and writers.

Readers are looking to reviews and forums to get honest opinions about books. If the writer is posting pseudonymously, then they are hiding an interest that would colour the reader’s evaluation of the review or comment. Which is fraud. You can also look at it in Kantian terms, if you like: the writer is disregarding the ends of the readers and treating them as mere means to his own. In addition, we hear a lot – certainly from Joe Konrath – that readers are going to become the new gatekeepers in terms of quality. If writers are pretending to be those readers, that’s going to make it harder, isn’t it? To the benefit of nobody but the writers themselves.

It is also unfair to other writers. Someone somewhere compared it to doping in sport, and while no analogy is perfect, I think that’s a far better one than adultery.

My personal responses to your various “whataboutthises” would likely be based on these principles. Others would reply differently, because it’s not a movement or a group, but individuals who were happy to sign the statement as it stands.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 8:46:00 AM  
Blogger AD said...

There's this thing out there called ratemyprofessor.com. The observations on book reviews can apply to this as well. There are shallow complainers and whiners and I am absolutely certain there are professors who go out and give themselves glowing reviews. Do people know the reviews are not sterling silver? Of course. Can the reviews still provide a sense of something? Of course. The issue seems like a shrinking storm that will soon fit in a tea pot, just as soon as people stop worrying about it. A couple of big names got their boob stuck in the wringer on this... and life goes on.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 9:10:00 AM  
OpenID LJ said...

It is not HUAC, not in scale or specifics, but there are chilling similarities in tactics and in tone.

I sense a smugness and superiority in many of the accusers and absolutely none of the understanding or empathy they show in their books towards complex characters and the gray areas of life. What bothers me most is the evident glee taken in the shaming of badly behaved authors and the self-righteousness so many people have displayed, some who have committed equally mean-spirited deeds against other authors.

Mssrs. Dun and Mosby have painstakingly proven the cases they have tweeted about, but I have seen blogs by supporters on both sides calling for readers to spread the word of this deviancy far and wide on the internet, setting up insidious whispering campaigns with no review procedure for truth and accuracy, no checks and balances. This is dangerous.

Sock puppetting is wrong and it is mean. The practice should be called out, as should gossip, blurb logrolling, publisher payments for prime bookstore space, ads-for-reviews, and manipulating the bestseller lists by sending readers to certain stores on certain dates. These institutionalized practices seem far worse than a few drunk authors in a fog of insecurity and paranoia writing bogus OTT reviews that only the algorithms take seriously. Instead of destroying other authors and trying to perfect the human nature of writers, the anti-puppet activists should focus on fixing the institutions. It will not be as much fun as heads on pikes, but it would make for a much fairer industry.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

Steve,

Thanks for your reply. You make some good points. And thanks for engaging with me, my sock-ness notwithstanding. For what it's worth, I would totally agree with a policy that prevented writers from giving themselves 5* reviews and their rivals 1* reviews IF there was some way of making sure that readers who aren't writers would play equally fair and never give a biased hidden-agenda review, and if writers would also refrain from strong-arming Aunty Muriel into reviewing them, voting 'yes this review was helpful' to the good reviews of their books and 'no, unhelpful' to the negative reviews, and if publishers would also refrain from asking their entire publicity depts to provide 5* reviews for all their books. Now, I could be a hardened old cynic, but I don't think any of these things is ever going to happen. Therefore focusing on writers who do this, as if they are the main problem rather than a tiny part of a much bigger problem, seems unfair. To use an analogy, imagine you're a socialist, committed to equality. At the moment there seems to be zero chance that anything even vaguely resembling proper equality will ever be achieved in the world. Should you, as a socialist, therefore be vilified for not sharing your personal worldly goods with a beggar on the street, and instead keeping it for you and your family?

Yes, every writer could refrain from gaming and distorting the online review system. But they should only be asked/expected to do so if everyone is being asked to do so. Don't you think?

I'm not sure you're right that drug taking in sport is a better analogy. Here's why: for a cyclist like Lance Armstrong, his cycling IS his artistic product. He's cheating at his thing. If Leather and Ellory had plagiarised parts of their books, that would be analogous to the doping thing. But their product, their books, have integrity; it's in the online marketing of those books that the integrity slides a little.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

To clarify: I am not personally defending sockpuppeting; I think it's shudder-some and grim, actually. I am at at the extreme end of hating any undignified self-promo, including: RT-ing praise, RT-ing good reviews, asking people to provide praiseworthy quotes for book covers. So, 5* reviews of own books? Grim. But I don't see why (and I would love you to answer this question) I shouldn't be able to give, say, Wilbur Smith's latest a 1* review under a pseudonym when my barber could do so if he wished. Amazon allows pseudonymous reviews; Konrath is right about that. That's what he meant when he said 'Shitty, yes, wrong, no'. And I'm not even sure it's 'shitty' to give another author a 1* review if it's genuine: if the views in that review have integrity, and, as I've already said, anonymity is allowed by the site in question.

Is it whataboutery of me to worry about the hypocrisy of a statement such as NSPHP signed by illegal-drug-trade-supporters, illegal-copyright-material downloaders, serial adulterers, bribers of crime critics with posh lunches, people who threaten those who review them unfavourably with legal action? Don't you have to be sure you're substantially ethically superior to someone before signing such a petition 'unreservedly condemning' someone's immoral behaviour? I'm just asking, by the way. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's certainly how I'd feel.

Finally, however unfortunate it is that the online reviewing system is corrupt and distorted by sock puppets, is the harm done by that, to any individual, anywhere near as great as the harm that might have been done to Roger Ellory by this exposure of his misdeeds? Stuart Neville seems to me to be the person who has suffered most from being targeted from a nasty sock puppet. In whose shoes would you rather be right now, Neville's or Ellory's? Yeah, me too. This to me is the worst thing about NSPHP - it creates greater harm than it attempts to resolve.

Finally finally: you notice I didn't say Laura Wilson has suffered most, though she too was targeted by a sock. That's because she attacked the sock's owner's book first. Under her own name, yes, in the Guardian , but it's still a writer laying into the work of another writer. What I'm trying to say is: there are two issues here, attacking other writers' work and anonymity. Logically, we need to separate the two in order to work out what we really feel is bad and wrong.

Thanks for listening (if you are). I'm only telling you all this because you sound like a reasonable guy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Wyndes said...

Another interesting post! I wanted initially specifically to respond to what you said about negative emotions. Recently, I've pretty much dropped off the internet. I stopped reading blogs I follow, stopped posting to my own blog, stopped following Twitter and had to force myself to log into Facebook to respond to a reader comment. I think it's because of all the negative commentary. The "self-publishing community" began to feel like a really ugly, judgmental, self-righteous place, and I haven't wanted to be part of it. Your post felt like a breath of fresh air.

And then I read the comments, and I think I'll be taking another break from the internet. But before I go, I'm willing to answer the questions.

"Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.'"

No, there is nothing wrong with buying reviews. Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly sell reviews (although PW calls them listings, but it's a chance for a review). The people who buy them do nothing wrong. There is nothing unethical about paying to have your book reviewed. Of course, that's not the same thing as paying to have someone say nice things about your book, which is slightly more questionable. The statement is not 'buying fake reviews isn't wrong', it's 'buying reviews isn't wrong' and despite the vehemence with which some people are attacking the practice, no, it's not wrong. Professional businesses exist to support that purpose and they are neither illegal nor unethical. Darcy Chan paid for a Kirkus review, which she attributed some of the success of her book to. She did nothing wrong!

"Using sock puppets isn't wrong." I write under a pseudonym. So do hundreds, maybe thousands, of other authors. What's the difference between a pseudonym and a sock puppet? Intent to defraud? I'm pretty obvious about my author name not being my real name (it's in my bio) but I would never accuse all the other authors using pen names of being liars. And yet isn't a pen name exactly the same sort of lie as a sock puppet account? If one is wrong, shouldn't both be wrong? Both are lies, after all. Why is one okay and another not? So no, I'm going to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with using a false name, a user name, an avatar name. Of course, if you're using the false name in order to lie and deceive and commit fraud, okay, that's wrong. But until we all start using DNA tags on our online words, quibbling about the names people post under is petty.

"Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong." Okay, fake reviews of any kind are probably wrong. I can agree with this one. But Joe's point was actually that leaving one-star reviews is part of the system. As an author, why should I lose my right to free speech? If I read a book that I think is truly not worth spending money on, is warning fellow readers about it a crime? A sin? Evil? Nefarious? Frankly, I'd call it none of the above.

Deceiving people to make money is wrong. Not being willing to stand behind your own words and criticisms is cowardly. But the sweeping statements that condemn without nuance or perspective is an overreaction.

I'm going to sign with my pen name, so anyone who disagrees with me can go write nasty one-star reviews on my books. I believe that the only false review I currently have is the one-star that's already there, but a few more won't kill me! But my real name is Wendy Sharp. If I was a politician, I'd end with "I approve this message."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Melissa said:

"[I'm] just disappointed that you [and Joe Konrath] didn't speak out more authoritatively against this nefarious practice, which is just so, so, so wrong on every level."

I've spoken about this issue as authoritatively as I can. Which is, admittedly, not very. As I mentioned in my post, I haven't done any studies and am relying mostly on personal experience and anecdotal evidence. I do consider myself a bit of an authority on common sense, and I've certainly tried to use common sense in approaching this issue, but I don't know think my possibly inflated sense of my own powers of common sense make me an authority on anything.

What's interesting, and perhaps ironic, is that it was the architects of NSPHP who presented themselves as authorities -- on how much damage recent sock puppets were going to do to the integrity of the online customer review system, for example -- and yet they provided no evidence consistent with their authority in this area, and I see no evidence that they ever even paused to examine their assumptions.

But I'm getting the feeling that by "authoritatively" you might mean, "the way I see it, with accompanying passion of expression." To which I can only respond, I understand. I'm sometimes disappointed when I know I'm right and people don't share my views, as well.

"It's sad — truly sad — when writers have to police other writers because the media has failed to do its job."

This is the second time you've said this. I'm not sure what it means. Do you see the media's job as involving investigative reports to ferret out instances of sock puppetry? When the New York Times reported on Locke, and The Guardian and Telegraph (IIRC) reported on Leather and picked up the story about Ellory, were the articles in question part of the media failure you've twice mentioned?

And why would it be sad (truly sad, in fact) that writers should hold other writers to account? It seems to me that some level of self policing and enforcement of cultural norms would be desirable in any group, and probably even unavoidable if you want the group to function reasonably cohesively.

"Now this issue has taken on a life of its own, splintering into less relevant sub-issues and various degrees of fault-finding with and finger-pointing at other parties, when all it really boils down to is, where do *you* (and other writers) stand on fraudulent reviews?"

I'm not sure if this is so and to the extent I'd accept your characterization, I don't think I can agree with it. But if you're right in arguing that the only thing at issue here is the question, "Where do writers stand on fraudulent reviews?", then I have to ask you what I asked David: why did NSPHP say and do so much more, and so much that's different, than this? And if there's been some sort of subsequent splintering, fault-finding, etc, might it be because of the significant gap in what people keep saying NSPHP was about, and should have been about… and what it actually is?

"Pax?"

Of course! From the beginning. I think you're mistaken about some of what we've discussing (and I know you think I am, too), but as the saying goes, "I disagree with what you say, but would defend to the death your right to say it."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger mactheweb said...

Enjoyed your article. Some food for thought here. I wonder, in all the strum and drang over the review system, where reader responsibility comes in? With a little effort and some practice, it's just not that hard to sort useful information out of review, whether they've been "sock puppeted" or not.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

David said:

"I was being vague when I said 'this stuff'. I meant the interminable vamps you and Konrath jointly perform, the ones that conclude everyone who doesn't agree with you is an idiot. No I can see you've kept away from his latest shark-jumping episode, and with good reason. I didn't mean that, and I suspect you know it -- but if you can spot a minute hole to jump through -- why miss it eh?"

Good God, David. I'm not a mind-reader. I have only your words to go on, and those words are your responsibility, not mine. If you -- as a writer and former journalist, no less! -- really don't understand that, I don't know what to say that might help.

It's true that Joe and I sometimes do joint blog posts, and that we've combined several of them into a free digital book called Be The Monkey: A Conversation About The New World Of Publishing (available on Amazon, B&N, and on our websites). I think we did our last such joint post back in March -- that is, seven months ago -- a fisk of Scott Turow's defense of agency pricing. Here's a link:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/03/barry-joe-scott-turow.html

Before that, we fisked a leaked Hachette memo which attempted to explain why Hachette is still relevant. Here's a link:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/03/barry-joe-scott-turow.html

None of what I've ever written about with Joe has anything to do with purchased reviews, sock puppets, or NSPHP. So if the posts I mention above are instead what you were referring to -- rather than some imaginary joint post or other joint work on the "stuff" we're talking about here, why did you bring it up at all? Of what possible relevance could it be that Joe and I have periodically done joint posts about the new choices we authors now have -- legacy, self, and Amazon/hybrid -- and about why agency pricing is actually bad for authors, and why Scott Turow, president of the "Authors Guild," is actually a shill for legacy publishing? What does any of that have to do with anything?

But all right, I accept you misspoke -- certainly not something I would throw stones about. When you described Joe as "your co-author of so much stuff on this subject," what you meant was, "the guy with whom you periodically write joint blog posts on various aspects of the writing business." The question remains… why are you so obsessed with Joe? He's Joe; I'm me. He has his own opinions; I have mine. Why are you so determined to try to attribute his thoughts to me? I don't think my own thoughts could be much clearer -- I've written two long blog posts (you've even criticized me for their length), and quite a bit of comment commentary, as well -- setting forth as clearly as I can my thinking about purchased reviews and sock puppetry. If you want to discuss Joe's posts, you recommend you do so at his blog. I would advise a similar rule of thumb regarding the posts of any other writer that concern you.

By the way, may I ask, what are "vamps" in this context? I'm not familiar with this use.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

"Really Barry you have such a Goebbels-like penchant for twisting the truth to your own ends that it's quite boring trying to spend one's time correcting each and every sad new somersault. So this is my last contribution here -- twist it as you see fit. I won't be back."

Well, that was a pretty fast proof of Godwin's law. :)

You indicated above you disapprove when Joe Konrath calls someone an idiot (though I believe his preferred term is "pinhead"). Is it better to compare someone to a Nazi?

And I don't see anything I've "twisted." I think I've been exceptionally conscientious in quoting you precisely and responding to your exact words. I wish more people would do this for me.

Anyway, I'm sorry to hear you won't be back. I understand we have somewhat different views about the severity of harm likely caused by revelations of sock puppetry, and about the appropriateness of the way NSPHP tried to address that harm. This feels to me like a legitimate difference reasonable people might have, and I don't think I've ever addressed you with anything other than respect, here or elsewhere. In response, you compare me to a Nazi and go off in a huff. Of course that's your decision, but I think it's unfortunate. I do hope you'll think about what could be getting you so heated.

"Had I approached you and demanded you answer whether you agreed with Konrath or not then perhaps you could have argued I was somehow pursing you in a fashion that 'makes your skin crawl'. But you know that's not true. You pursued me repeatedly on Twitter, demanding to know whether I needed a 'moral compass' smartphone app too."

You've asked me three times to own or denounce someone else's words, and whether I'm the friend that person discussed his ideas with before writing them. I don't think I'd characterize this as you "pursuing" me -- that's your word. But I would say your insistence has been noteworthy, and, I think, telling. As for what makes my skin crawl about your questions, I'll leave it to readers to judge the explanation I left in a previous comment as they see fit.

As for the rest, our entire Twitter exchange is set forth in my post. I'll leave it to readers to decide whether I pursued you repeatedly, as you put it, or whether there's any worth in your suggestion that your questions might have been illegitimate if you had asked them in response to nothing, but were somehow rendered legitimate because they were asked in response to an unrelated question.

"Humour's not your strong point, is it?"

I guess it depends on who you ask. Although it's true sometimes it's hard to know when someone's joking on the Internet, given that we can't see expressions or hear tone of voice.

"I thought you were joking so I answered lightly."

I wasn't joking, but I wasn't trying to be too hard on you, either. Part of what concerns me about the NSPHP approach is the self-righteousness and lack of self awareness that I sense in the whole enterprise. And because I thought I detected some of that self-righteousness and lack of self awareness in your suggestion of a moral compass app, I thought I'd remind you that you might find a use for such an app, too, because who will guard the guardians?

To which your "light" response was: "DH: Are you the friend then Barry? You OK with it too? http://twitpic.com/aso28h"

That seems exceedingly strange to me. But maybe we just have different notions of what "joking" and "light" mean.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

"And in case people drifted off in that unceasing diatribe above and missed it, when you kept on coming I answered thus,'Of course I need to look to my own moral compass. Everyone does. I don't think I'm right all the time. But when it comes to condemning lies I don't think it's hard to find a 'moral' position.'"

I hope no one missed it -- again, I did quote the entire thing verbatim, and with links.

"Having been harangued by you on Twitter over a one-line joke I then suggested you answer my question."

Did you really feel I was haranguing you? I didn't mean it to come off that way, and even now when I read the whole conversation -- again, quoted in my post -- I don't feel I was haranguing you, just responding, and mildly at that, to a public tweet of yours. But I imagine readers can decide for themselves.

"Do you agree with Joe Konrath when he says, 'Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.'

"If you wish to view that simple question as being equivalent to McCarthy demanding whether people reveal, on pain of imprisonment, if they're members of the Communist Party that's your problem."

I wouldn't (and didn't) say it's equivalent. I said "It made me think of" various related phenomenon, including Orwellian Thought Crime and, yes, the methods of HUAC.

Let me try one more time to explain why the question you keep insisting on makes my skin crawl:

Assume I am the friend Joe mentions talking to about how in fact Amazon allows one-star customer reviews. What would this be relevant to?

Now assume I am not the friend Joe mentions talking to about how in fact Amazon allows one-star customer reviews. What would this be relevant to?

You've asked me this question at least three times -- four, in fact, because you just repeated it again in your latest comment. The question is demonstrably important to you. So it must be relevant to something. It would be very helpful to me if I could understand what that would be. The only relevance I can imagine is that you want to "expose" me as an associate of someone you disapprove of, and thereby attempt to tarnish me by the association. Hence my comparison to HUAC and all the rest.

Similarly, rather than asking my opinion about a subject, you've asked instead whether I agree with what someone else said. The emphasis -- repeated emphasis -- on who rather than what is bizarre, and feels telling. Especially because my own thoughts are laid out in two long blog posts, at least one of which I'm pretty sure you've read and both of which you clearly know of. Again, you've even criticized the expression of my thoughts as excessively lengthy. And yet rather than engaging me on what *I've* written, you're more concerned about tying me to what *someone else* has written.

I really don't know how else to explain this behavior as other than the product of an unhealthy obsession with Joe Konrath. Do you go out of your way to ask everyone whether they're his friend and whether they agree with what he wrote, or am I the only lucky one?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

"Your contortions over a simple issue -- is it OK to lie to the public in order to sell books -- are frankly embarrassing."

I think when someone points out nuances in a position you've taken that you've failed to consider yourself, it can sometimes feel like contorting. That might be what's happening here.

Take the example you just used: "Is it OK to lie to the public in order to sell books." My first impulse was to respond, "Of course not!" But then I thought, "Well, what percentage of blurbs are really honest? In fact, how many blurbs are given for books the blurbing party hasn't even read? Does that mean thousands of writers, in offering exaggerating praise for a book, are lying to the public to sell books?"

And what about the well-known publishing practice of announcing print runs inflated to three times their actual size as a way of creating hype for a book? Is this not, too, lying to the public in order to sell books?

I think the only reasonable answer is yes, it is lying. Certainly it's knowing deception. And yet you don't speak out against these practices. I assume this is because you find these practices less objectionable than you find paid-for reviews and sock puppets. And that's fine by me -- more than fine, in fact, because I think it's important to compare these different practices to try to properly refine the principle we should be hoping to grow out of our reflexive condemnation of deception. But in speaking out against some forms of lying while remaining silent about others, aren't you acknowledging a degree of nuance in the topic that suggests your attempt to dismiss it as a "simple issue" is misguided?

"There is no witch hunt and never has been. There is no moral panic."

These are conclusions, not arguments. If I were to respond in kind, I would have to say, "There is too a witch hunt! There is too moral panic!" And then we would off in the land of the Monty Python Argument Clinic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQFKtI6gn9Y

"There's just you and Joe Konrath spinning frantically like false prophets watching the scales fall off the eyes of their flock."

David… this obsession with putting Joe and me together… I wish you could step back from it. We really are separate people. Seriously! There are reliable witnesses who can attest to having seen us in the same place at the same time, and photographic evidence, too.

"A flock who've followed your every word and now frequently find themselves aghast at all the work they've put in, all the money they've spent, and how little they've received in return."

I have a flock? And they've been following my every word? Stop it, you're going to make me feel important. :)

Well, Joe might have a flock that follows his every word. I can't speak for him because we're not the same person (check the photographs, it's true). Still, I'm pretty sure he doesn't have a flock, either, and certainly not one that follows his every word.

There is, though, one person who *does* seem to follow every one of Joe's words. The person who also seems so unhealthily obsessed with him.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Anyway, I could be wrong about all this. Maybe Joe and I have a flock that follows our every hive-mind word, that now finds itself aghast at all the work they've put in (to what, exactly?) all the money they've spent (on what, exactly?) and how little they've received in return. Even though we've now reached the point where I have no idea what you're even talking about, let's assume that's just me being obtuse. Could you provide just a bit of evidence for these over-the-top claims? Something, you know, from a former flock member, now in ruinous debt because she followed Joe's and my every words… that kind of thing.

And as I said in my previous comments, when you can't offer up even a single citation or anything else that exists outside your imagination to bolster your incoherent claim, will you at least ask yourself what you could be basing your thinking on if it isn't external evidence, and why you would do so?

"The sock puppet and paid-for review mentality comes in part from the desperation caused by the collapse of this Ponzi-like pipe dream."

Wait a minute, R.J. Ellory was part of my flock, and when the scales fell from his eyes, it -- that is to say, I -- caused him to write malicious sock puppet reviews of other authors and positive ones for himself?

Okay, now this is getting good. If you next bring up the Bilderbergs, the Illuminati, and the 9/11 Commission Report, it'll be... Bingo! :)

Look, I don't know what "Ponzi-like pipe dream" you're referring to, but presumably it collapsed only recently? Are you saying there were no sock puppets and paid-for reviews before then? Or that the collapse of the Ponzi-like pipe dream (if I have to refer to it again, I'm going to call it the PLPD) has materially worsened the incidence of sock puppetry and paid-for reviews?

I don't know why you'd stop there when you're on such a roll. Personally, I think the collapse of the PLPD that my evil twin Joe Konrath and I built and then deliberately detonated for own evil ends is also responsible for global warming, nuclear proliferation, and the tragic rise of the yen against the dollar. All of which also predated whatever the PLPD was, but never mind. You're doing great.

"Not that our letter was aimed at self-publishers. It was just a bunch of authors saying, 'We think this is wrong, and if you do too -- be you author, reader or just someone who loves books -- you can put your name to the letter.'

"Lots of self-published authors have signed up for that. A lot more from all backgrounds than have come on here or Konrath's site, which tells me that most people out there can see this as what it truly was: a plea for honesty, nothing more."

I'm not sure how relevant it is that NSPHP got more comments than a typical blog post of mine. It could mean I'm less popular. Plus there are the people who read NSPHP but didn't sign up. I'm guessing there are a lot more "read and passed" than "read and signed," though I could certainly be wrong, but either away, that's probably a material metric, too. As for Joe's site, he seems to get a lot more comments than I do -- probably tens of thousands overall, maybe more. Again, I'm not sure what this pertains to. I'm pretty sure Joe's blog is a lot more popular than mine. He tends to focus almost exclusively on publishing; I tend to write more about politics and civil liberties.

Wait a minute, how did we get on Joe's blog again? Ah, that's right, you brought it up. Again.

Anyway, logically, it is possible that most of the people who signed NSPHP did so simply because they're able to able to see it as nothing more than the plea for honesty that it truly was. Is this the only reason you can imagine, though? As a novelist, you're not able to imagine any other motivations, conscious or less than conscious, that might come into play?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

"Could it have been better worded? Sure, but it's pretty good given the time we had available. Could you have written a better version?"

Actually, I did. It's in my previous blog post, along with some observations about what was so problematic about your version.

As for how little time you had available, as I noted in my previous post, this is telling. What was the emergency? I know you explained in your blog post that time was of the essence because public attention would move on if you didn't act immediately. But if public attention moved on so quickly, would that not suggest the public didn't much care? In other words, that a few revelations hadn't in fact caused all that much harm? So again, why such urgency -- urgency that you yourself just acknowledged caused you to produce a subpar document?

"How can I put it? Oh yes. I'm 'unpersuaded' (and I now vow never to use that term again)."

As I said the end of my post, I know many people will be unpersuaded. That's just the nature of argument. But why the vow?

"I'm not a fan of fisking but one gross error in your comments requires correction."

Please do -- I try very hard not to screw up, but when I do, I'm always grateful when people point out my error. Check out the Mistakes page on my website.

http://www.barryeisler.com/mistakes.php

"When I pointed out you hadn't run the Konrath quote in your entire lengthy sermon you wrote, 'Mention it? I quoted it verbatim with an embedded link to the very tweet in question.'"

David, you're misremembering. Here are your exact words, quoted verbatim from your first comment here: "You never managed to mention or answer the question I first asked you on Twitter."

But again, I most certainly did mention -- indeed, I quoted verbatim -- this question. Please do go have another look at my original post. I'm quite certain you'll find the verbatim quote, with accompanying link: "Are you the friend then Barry? You OK with it too? http://twitpic.com/aso28h."

(As for whether I answered your question, I would say I have, and that you are having trouble understanding it.)

I'm not even sure how relevant any of this is, but it's weird that you keep saying I didn't mention something when in fact I quoted it verbatim. I don't think it's legitimate to get irate when someone quotes your exact words. I wish people would more frequently do me that very courtesy.

"Oh please. You updated the piece *after* that comment (by which time I was in bed -- I do live in a very different time zone you know) to insert the verbatim quote."

Hang on a minute. The Internet is global. I don't expect for you to post at three in the morning from wherever you are to ensure I'll be around to respond promptly from here in California. I don't even expect people to know I'm *in* California, or to care. Half the time I'm traveling. Are you saying you're put out because I posted an update while you were in bed and didn't wait until after you were up and on your second cup of coffee?

I can only say that, as for NSPHP itself, I don't see responding to Internet comments as an emergency activity that should require deference to different time zones. But that's just me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Anyway, yes, I did update the post after your comment. I'm not sure why this is worthy of note. As I said in the blog post itself, "David, if after reading this post you still think that under the circumstances your inquiry about whether I'm the friend Joe mentioned talking to before he wrote his blog post, and whether I share some of his views, is a worthy one, please ask it again in the comments to this post and I'll respond to it in an update. But I hope you'll realize the unfortunate direction you were heading in and retract the question instead."

So: I told you in my post that if you wanted to ask your strange question yet again, you should do so in the comments and I would respond in an update. Which I did. I don't see why this could possibly be problematic under any circumstances, but particularly given that I told you in advance this is precisely what I proposed to do.

"That's why it appears under 'Update' above. Until then it was just a link so people had to go off site to read the wording of Konrath's controversial statement. So people couldn't get the context in the original piece because you omitted it."

But all I was doing was quoting the exact way you yourself asked the question! If it's a problem that people have to click a link, why in the world would you have raised the question the way you did in the first place? Are you suggesting that by quoting you exactly, including your link, I was trying to hide something? Hide what? Or mislead people? Mislead them how? It's as though you're arguing, "Barry, you're misleading people by quoting my exact words!" If people are being mislead by your words, who is responsible for that?

Remember what I said in my post about how, when people get stressed, the benefit of the doubt is withdrawn and the worst quickly assumed? Perhaps something to consider here.

"Post-editing to try to prove your critics wrong. Way to be transparent, Barry."

I'm not familiar with the phrase "post editing," but I assume it means editing something after you've posted it. I have not done so, nor have I ever done so. Once my words are published, I think the only proper course is to own them, and that means I can't modify them or take them down, only explain or retract them, should I feel the need, in an update or some other forum. This is why when I realized I'd mistakenly attributed Gordon's words to you, I ran a cross-out through that paragraph in the update -- so readers could still see what I had written -- and explained my mistake in a second update and in the comments section.

You must know this. I don't think it could be more transparent. I'm having a hard time even understanding what you're accusing me of. It seems like you've become so upset you're seeing things that aren't there. I'm sorry for that. I know we have our differences, but I don't think in any of this I've addressed you disrespectfully. If you're upset, it's because you're upset at the substance of our disagreement, or because you're imagining personal slights and bad behavior that aren't actually there.

I like to believe it's possible to disagree in good faith, and to discuss with good will, on a topic like how best to address deceptive practices in publishing. And overall I continue to believe that, although it's a bit difficult to include in that belief someone who's reaction to disagreement and discussion is to compare the other party to a Nazi and accuse him of all sorts of weird underhanded tactics.

If you heard about some third party discussing an important issue the way you've discussed NSPHP etc here, David, what would you say about that person? Because right now, that person is you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Mr. S Puppet, thank you for all your superb commentary -- so supportive of my points, I'm sure the witch hunters will next demand that I sign a statement attesting you are not me! Such are the times we live in… :)

Bob, LJ and Wendes (Wendy), thanks too for the thoughtful and thought-provoking commentary.

Steve, thanks to you too for weighing in. You said:

"There is no witch hunt. There is no moral panic. This is an invention of Joe and Barry’s; they are creating and sustaining it."

I think I've addressed this already in my comment to David about how a conclusion isn't an argument, and about the appropriateness of categorizing as "myth" (here, "invention") someone's opinion, supported by evidence and argument. As for whether there is indeed something of a witch hunt mentality at work in NSPHP, I'll let my two posts stand or fall as written -- with David's behavior as supporting evidence.

I think your point about "whataboutthises" is a fair one. But I will say that in criticizing the execution of NSPHP, I've done so by reference to the site's own declared aims, and by reference to the explanations of those aims by NSPHP's architects and spokespeople. In other words, I haven't said, "Hey, you guys should have done NSPHP as a poem," which I agree is an inappropriate and annoying habit (especially when it comes to book reviews). Instead, I've said, "If this is what NSPHP was trying to achieve -- as the site and its people claim -- then the means they'e chosen are suboptimal."

As for the speculation that followed about motives, I've never claimed it was anything other than that -- speculation. But as I've said, when a bunch of smart, professional writers produce something as poorly written -- and poorly conceived -- as NSPHP, I think it's fair to inquire into their state of mind. Of course, if you think the site was in fact well-executed, it's probably natural that my criticisms and speculation will seem suspect to you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Mr S Puppet -

Thanks for you replies. While I don't really agree, on first glance, I'll have a think about what you've said. I imagine my own responses to your specific scenarios would be very different from the other signatories. (For example, most people hate the pseudonymous 1 star reviews most, whereas my personal view is that's a lesser issue). But thanks again.

Barry -

Re: there is no witch hunt. "I think I've addressed this already in my comment to David about how a conclusion isn't an argument, and about the appropriateness of categorizing as "myth" (here, "invention") someone's opinion, supported by evidence and argument."

You haven't addressed it. What I said is not a conclusion, but a statement or a premise. I'm hardly going to present an argument to support a negative statement. The onus is on you to prove there is a witch hunt or moral panic, not on me to refute it.

"As for whether there is indeed something of a witch hunt mentality at work in NSPHP, I'll let my two posts stand or fall as written -- with David's behavior as supporting evidence."

Well, then they fall. What happened, in case you missed it, is that Joe Konrath posted he had spoken to a friend and that, between them, they had established that sock puppetry, negative reviews and paying for reviews were not wrong. (He changed that afterwards). David made the joke about him lacking a moral compass. You then joined in the conversation. David's question to you was very clearly an attempt to establish where you stood on a subject you had chosen to engage with him on. As you say, readers can make up their minds.

"I think your point about "whataboutthises" is a fair one. But I will say that in criticizing the execution of NSPHP, I've done so by reference to the site's own declared aims, and by reference to the explanations of those aims by NSPHP's architects and spokespeople."

There are declared aims on the site? Where? I thought it was just a statement that the people who signed it agreed with.

"As for the speculation that followed about motives, I've never claimed it was anything other than that -- speculation. But as I've said, when a bunch of smart, professional writers produce something as poorly written -- and poorly conceived -- as NSPHP, I think it's fair to inquire into their state of mind. Of course, if you think the site was in fact well-executed, it's probably natural that my criticisms and speculation will seem suspect to you."

Good - I'm glad you admit it was just speculation. To return the favour, I find your speculation utterly fascinating and telling in some passive-aggressive and unspecific way accompanied by a random link.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 1:48:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

RE: "Do you see the media's job as involving investigative reports to ferret out instances of sock puppetry? When the New York Times reported on Locke, and The Guardian and Telegraph (IIRC) reported on Leather and picked up the story about Ellory, were the articles in question part of the media failure you've twice mentioned?"

Absolutely, Barry, and here's why: because the media picked up on this so long after the fact, well after the damage had been done. Locke was purchasing paid book reviews in 2010, and the NYT reports on it in 2012 —? Our watchdogs were doing some serious snoozing on the job.

It's like you said — fake book reviews and the people who write them for hire aren't anything new. Since I started freelancing full time (in 2008), I've known that they exist (personally, I would rather bus tables for a living than stoop to this type of thing). Not one reporter, not a single one, questioned Locke's success as anything else but sheer fluke, magic, serendipity, luck, what have you. The shallowest of digging would have led them to this story with dispatch.

I personally don't know of a way ensure that no more shenanigans along a similar line do not ensue. Thus far, Amazon's been unresponsive, and do we really want the FTC to get involved with a (relatively) petty thing like fake book reviews when its got much bigger fish to fry that actually *do* harm consumers, e.g., health fraud? The average consumer — the reader — trusts us to provide an accurate description of what we have to sell, with minimal puffery. We, as writers, are as only as good as our words and our deeds. In a perfect world, there would never be a need for whistle blowing within the ranks. In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to get behind a letter or community statement, because that we all operate above-board would be a given.

BTW, I do feel a certain sympathy for you and Mr. Konrath; seems like this whole thing has put an inordinate amount of pressure on you to somehow "fix it," when in fact, this is something that requires an external solution.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 1:55:00 PM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

Barry and Steve,

Sorry, I have leapt out of the sock drawer one more time because I think there's a misunderstanding between the two of you. Steve, you say:

'David made the joke about him [Konrath] lacking a moral compass. You then joined in the conversation. David's question to you was very clearly an attempt to establish where you stood on a subject you had chosen to engage with him on.'

Steve, I think you might (mistakenly) think that Barry doesn't want to answer the question, 'Do you think sock-puppeting etc is wrong?', or has refused to answer it. But, unless I've misunderstood Barry, I think his point is that he would be happy to answer that question, were it put to him straightforwardly, because that would be asking him his opinion. And he has no objection to giving his opinion - in fact, he is keen to do so. What he's suspicious of is the very different question, 'Were you the friend Konrath was talking to?'

One is question asking for his opinion in good faith. The other is a veiled accusation masquerading as a question: a veiled accusation that takes for granted that being the friend Konrath spoke to would be reprehensible in and of itself. If Hewson had asked, 'Barry, where do you stand on the rightness/ wrongness of these practices?', he'd have had his answer a long while ago. It does rather seem as if Hewson was more interested in the company Barry might have been keeping (in order to condemn by association) than in Barry's opinion.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:13:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Maddox said...

I really believe this whole thing has been blown way out of proportion.

I just went back and reread the No Sock Puppets page (but not all the responses) and keep coming back reaching the same conclusions.

1. While 3 authors were named in the statement, it is my understanding, that the revelations did not originate at this site. I see nothing in the statement that makes me think those who signed are actively going to search out other examples and start naming names. The unfortunate thing is that nobody on the internet can control how others may react. I am sure that there are people who are actively searching for other offenders but nothing in the original statement makes me think that behavior is condoned by anyone who signed. I would expect that if it was a “witch hunt” I would see some type of statement saying that they were pursuing other offenders.

2. Now, I don’t believe the behaviors in question are all equal in their potential harm. In at least 2 of these cases though there seems to be a deliberate attempt to fool the reader, to somehow trick the reader into buying the book in question. I, as a reader, don’t really appreciate someone trying to trick me to essentially give them my money. They are essentially trying to con me. I am not sure how you, Joe or anyone could not agree that tricking the reader is not a great policy.

3. Lastly, when it comes to the statement asking for readers to take back the system I also don’t see anything wrong with that. Is there any question that the system would be better, at least for the readers, if more readers left HONEST reviews. Never did they say come review our books (hell, I could not even tell you who “they” are).

I respect both you and Joe but I really believe you both have somewhat overreacted to this whole thing, reading way more into the statement than was inetnded.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:23:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Steve said:

"What I said is not a conclusion, but a statement or a premise."

You can call it that. I'd call it a distinction without a difference.

"I'm hardly going to present an argument to support a negative statement. The onus is on you to prove there is a witch hunt or moral panic, not on me to refute it."

I've presented my evidence and argument in two long blog posts. So has my evil twin, Joe Konrath. I understand you don't find any of it unpersuasive, but to show up at this point and say no more than the equivalent of "You're wrong!" is just silly. It certainly isn't likely to be productive.

"What happened, in case you missed it, is that Joe Konrath posted he had spoken to a friend and that, between them, they had established that sock puppetry, negative reviews and paying for reviews were not wrong."

I think I did miss that. What I read in Joe's post was only, "I had a long talk with a friend last night, and we realized something obvious. Amazon allows one star reviews. In other words, the existing system allows and encourages people to publicly trash books." Have a look for yourself if you doubt me:
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/09/enough-already.html

That's all Joe had to say about his friend. I'm not even sure why he mentioned this conversation -- it wasn't relevant to anything else he wrote. Maybe he was being modest in indicating that the insight wasn't his alone? Regardless, that was it. I read it as a kind of modest aside, not as a mutual establishment of the fact that sock puppet reviews are not wrong, nor as his friend's endorsement or coauthoring of the blog post that followed.

But here we are again, talking about something someone else wrote. It's strange.

"David made the joke about him lacking a moral compass."

What David said was, "Here's an idea for a new smartphone app. 'Moral Compass'." This is why I like to quote people verbatim, and why I wish other people would get in the habit. I didn't realize David's tweet was directed only at Joe -- it's certainly not apparent from the tweet itself (I know, I know, if I don't understand David's precise words, it's my fault, not his). But I also don't think it makes any difference. The point, which you seem to be acknowledging here, is that David was suggesting jokingly that only a third party or third parties needed help with morality. Was it really inappropriate for me to inquire in response whether he might need a bit of moral assistance, as well, or whether moral assistance was only needed by others? And to remind him of the expression, Who will guard the guardians?

"You then joined in the conversation. David's question to you was very clearly an attempt to establish where you stood on a subject you had chosen to engage with him on."

Clear to David, I guess, and apparently clear to you. For me, the subject I had chosen to engage him on was no more than what was included in my two tweets: "Only for others, or might you find some use for it, too? RT@david_hewson Here's an idea for a new smartphone app. 'Moral Compass'." And "Regardless, let's hope it comes with accompanying "Who Will Guard the Guardians" app, yes?"

How those two tweets could be the logical or legitimate basis for "Are you the friend then Barry? You OK with it too? http://twitpic.com/aso28h" is a mystery to which I think only you and David are privy.

"As you say, readers can make up their minds."

Agreed on that.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 4:04:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Steve said:

"There are declared aims on the site? Where?"

Steve, didn't you help write the thing? Your name is on it, anyway. The site itself says, "These days… the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large… the only lasting solution is for readers to… drown out the phony voices... Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?… Author, reader, agent or publisher or, well anybody who loves books really… if you agree please put your name behind these sentiments below. "

I will grant you this is all vague, diffuse, and poorly worded. But it seems pretty clear your aim was to (i) get people to sign their names in the comments section; and (ii) get readers to use their voices (whatever that means in practice) to help you clean up what looks to you like a mess.

Are you now saying the site had no aims, declared or otherwise? Or that you were unaware of them even after co-authoring and signing it? If you really did write this thing without knowing what it was for, or without any purpose at all, that might explain some of its shortcomings. It's strange that, even now, you seem not to know what's in it.

"I thought it was just a statement that the people who signed it agreed with."

I think it's safe to assume the people who signed agreed with it. I don't know what that has to do with the document having no declared aims. Do you think it's typically a good idea to engage in an exercise like NSPHP without knowing your own objectives, or without even having any?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 4:05:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Laura said:

"Not one reporter, not a single one, questioned Locke's success as anything else but sheer fluke, magic, serendipity, luck, what have you. The shallowest of digging would have led them to this story with dispatch."

That's a fair point. Still:

"This is something that requires an external solution."

That I'm not so sure about. As I said in my original post, I like the idea of (well conceived, well executed) voluntary code of ethics, and as I said in my earlier comment, not only do I think it's not unfortunate that an organization would engage in some level of self-policing, I think it's essential.

Mr S Puppet said:

"If Hewson had asked, 'Barry, where do you stand on the rightness/ wrongness of these practices?', he'd have had his answer a long while ago. It does rather seem as if Hewson was more interested in the company Barry might have been keeping (in order to condemn by association) than in Barry's opinion."

Once again, Mr. S Puppet, extremely well put. I would only add that what makes David's questions about being Joe's friend even more suspect is that I have now laid out all my thinking on the rightness and wrongness of sock puppetry in two pretty comprehensive posts, and a lot of comment commentary, too. So if David is honestly looking for my substantive opinions, they're all laid out right here in black and white. That he would repeatedly inquire instead about whether I had a conversation with Joe before Joe wrote a blog post is, under the circumstances, strange and even creepy.

Anyway, thanks for your exceptionally calm and reasoned commentary. I would compliment you more, but I'm sure there are plenty of people who are already nearly convinced you must be me. Regardless, I hope to see you here more often.

Tom said:

"I respect both you and Joe but I really believe you both have somewhat overreacted to this whole thing, reading way more into the statement than was intended."

Thanks, Tom. I think my first blog post on this topic ("And Why Beholdest Thou The Mote In Thy Brother's Eye…?") addresses all your thoughts, and at this point I'll let the post stand for itself. That's not to say that this whole thing hasn't in various ways been blown out of proportion, but then there's that Henry Kissinger quote I mentioned in my previous quote: "Academic politics are the most vicious because the stakes are so small."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 4:05:00 PM  
Blogger Gordon Harries said...

And you allege moral superiority (or rather a sense of) on our parts...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 4:30:00 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Barry -

There's not much point continuing, as we're descending into the exact same point-scoring you mention in your post. As you say, readers can make up their own minds.

One final correction for clarity. It's not really "strange" to be talking about Joe Konrath here, as his post and David's question to you about it form a significant portion of your original post. Aside from that, thanks for the link to Joe's post. You might want to read it, including the addendum, where he includes the wording it originally included.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 8:10:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Thanks, Steve. I guess it's fitting that what began with Konrath should end with Konrath.

I was thinking more about your odd assertion that NSPHP has no declared aims. At first, because the document does indeed have declared objectives (I quote them above), I thought your assertion could only mean you didn't know what was in the very document you co-authored and signed. I was also surprised that you would think it desirable to have written such a document without including in it any declared purpose. If you intended NSPHP to have any purpose at all, this would have meant you had deliberately obscured that purpose. Or else you must have intended that NSPHP would be purposeless, and were pleased that it is. None of which made a lot of sense.

But then I thought of something else. When you said to me, "There are declared aims on the site? Where?", you weren't actually asking me to help you find the declared aims you yourself had stated and attached your name to. Instead, what happened was this. You saw what looked to you like an opportunity to score a cheap point at someone else's expense, didn't pause to think, and wound up saying something foolish that you now have to live with and try to defend.

Which, if you think about it, is a pretty nice microcosm of NSPHP itself.

You and David should come by here more often -- you're great support for my arguments. :)

Thursday, September 13, 2012 8:22:00 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

'I don't have a problem with calling more public attention to deceptive practices. But as I've argued, in my opinion NSPHP was mistakenly conceived and sloppily executed, and I can't help but be interested in what emotional factors could have caused a group of smart professional writers to produce something so problematic.'

And that’s your prerogative. Just as it is mine to wonder why a smart writer like yourself would react to a reasonably worded open letter by your peers condemning obviously deceptive practices by signing the letter, then posting a long-winded essay on your website pointing out why you’re so much cleverer than the writers who drafted it, then withdrawing your name from the letter and writing another long-winded post expanding on your absurd theory that it’s a witch-hunt comparable with McCarthyism.

Your associating this with the Spanish Inquisition, HUAC and calls to renounce Satanism are bizarre, and more of an over-reaction than the letter you are denouncing. The letter was drafted very carefully, with the input of several writers (the published draft owes a lot to Lee Child’s generous input). We discussed not naming anyone in it, but it was felt that this would be pointless, especially as these examples had already been admitted, and Leather and Locke were unapologetic about it. Roger Ellory’s initial apology via his agent was weaselly, and it was only after the letter was published that he apologized fully. I’ve had contact with him since, and he didn’t feel there was anything unfair or mob-like about what’s happened. Quite the opposite.

I think the letter makes it clear that the examples were a topical jumping off point to open up the debate – it’s clear this sort of thing is rife, and it was time to speak up about it. Without the names, I think the letter would have been seen as toothless. One can always second-guess, and you’ve done so at great and condescending length, but I’m proud of it. I think it’s reasoned, calm, responsible and I’m grateful to all who signed it and said simply, these practices aren’t right. Could it have been worded some other way? Yes, and someone would have objected to the wording. If we’d tried to expand on some of the things you’ve suggested, like proving the self-evident conclusions or delineating the precise differences between the activities morally, it would have taken years to write and ended up as a tract. It wouldn’t have been picked up by the papers. We wanted the letter to be effective and to the point – if your rambling rants with falsely analogous Youtube clips and digressions into subjects such as torture are your advert for how you’d have done it better, I am indeed unpersuaded.

So I for one am very happy with how it’s worded, how we got it done, and who signed it. I think it did just what we wanted it to, which was to get these issues wider exposure and kickstart a constructive debate. That is now going on, at Forbes, The Guardian, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums, podcasts etc. Inevitably, some people will be stupid about it, or make mistakes. It’s very easy to point out others’ mistakes – especially if you look for them. But I don’t see a mob mentality. I think your ‘sense’ of this, and insinuations about people’s motivations and inferior intellect to yours are way off kilter, and that any sensible reading of the letter and how most have reacted to it is evidence of that. I see a lot of people responsibly discussing a problem that affects all writers, and you trying to claim you’re smarter than everyone else with petty semantics, false equivalences and comparisons to a years-long campaign to destroy people’s lives for being Communist sympathizers. It’s absurd, and best left for the high school debating team. I think it’s plain that if there’s any hysteria here, it’s coming from you.

So have at it. Fisk away! Point out all the errors I’ve made and how you would have phrased my arguments better and provided proof for this and that. I won’t be reading – I’ve read enough of your self-important nonsense to last me a while.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Barry -

I think the problem you're having is in confusing "purpose" with "aims", which is easily done. The purpose of the letter and site is for writers (and anyone) to say we disapprove of these behaviours, won't indulge in them, here is a possible solution, and you're welcome to sign below to say you agree if you want to. Discussion then follows, sometimes more intelligently than others. That is also, I suppose, the "aim" of the letter and website. But saying the website has "declared aims" is - as you know, obviously? - a very different thing.

Nice try though.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Jeremy, thanks for your thoughts. I only fisk someone when I find that nearly every sentence of an argument is so off-base that each sentence is worthy of comment in its own right. I certainly don't feel that way about the comment you just left, which, although I don't agree with it, I generally think is fair. Just a few minor points, which I offer as food for thought.

You say, "Roger Ellory’s initial apology via his agent was weaselly, and it was only after the letter was published that he apologized fully." I'm not sure why this would be relevant, unless NSPHP was somehow intended to cause Ellory to apologize more fully.

"We wanted the letter to be effective and to the point."

It's measured against these two objectives that I find the result to be substandard. But I know we disagree on that.

As I've said before, sometimes it's hard, when someone disagrees with your means, to understand that he supports your ends. I share your concerns about deceptive practices in publishing. I just think NSPHP was an ill-conceived and poorly executed way of achieving them. Which, because I share your concerns overall, I find unfortunate.

I don't think I've ever "insinuated" that anyone's of "inferior intellect," though admittedly it's hard to prove a lack of insinuation. Instead, I've repeatedly characterized the drafters of NSPHP as smart, and instead have tried to explain the suboptimal results of your efforts by speculating about what might loosely be described as a state of moral panic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_panic

Which, from the perspective of the drafters, probably does feel condescending and maybe even self-important, but which from mine feels like fair, honest, and productive criticism.

"[You're] trying to claim you’re smarter than everyone else with petty semantics, false equivalences and comparisons to a years-long campaign to destroy people’s lives for being Communist sympathizers."

I don't agree that my semantic points were petty, or my equivalences false (surprise, I know ;)). And to be clear, my references to the communist witch hunts of HUAC and all that were mostly with regard to David's bizarre non sequitur demand that I confess myself a friend of Joe Konrath, which yes, to some extent I saw as a manifestation of some of the witch hunt mentality I sense in NSPHP generally.

"So have at it. Fisk away! Point out all the errors I’ve made and how you would have phrased my arguments better and provided proof for this and that. I won’t be reading – I’ve read enough of your self-important nonsense to last me a while."

As I mentioned, I don't think your comment was fisk-worthy (this is a good thing). I have tried to respectfully point out some of your errors, though, much as you've done for me. I think this is what people ought to do when they disagree. Which is why I find it unfortunate that you, and David before you, prefer to show up, make a few points, and then leave in a huff, declaring never to return.

Anyway, again, I do share some of what I think are your concerns about deceptive practices in publishing. I'm sorry I can't be more positive about the way you've gone about expressing them. The good news -- I think -- is that regardless of how NSPHP was executed, or indeed regardless of whether it had been executed at all, and regardless of all the sturm und drang that's followed, the online customer review system is pretty likely to remain a useful and beneficial part of all of our lives.

Thanks again for coming by.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Thanks, Steve. You might want to quickly look up aim, purpose, and objective in any thesaurus.

As noted previously: "You saw what looked to you like an opportunity to score a cheap point at someone else's expense, didn't pause to think, and wound up saying something foolish that you now have to live with and try to defend."

Thursday, September 13, 2012 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Barry -

If you think the "purpose" of writing a letter, which is external to the letter, is synonymous with the "declared aims", which would have to be stated within it, then that is what you think. Angels and pinheads - ironically enough, returning to Konrath's favourite insult.

Anyway. Enough.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Steve, I've already quoted for you, verbatim, NSPHP's declared aims. I don't know why you keep denying they exist. I don't care if you call them declared aims, or stated purposes, or articulated objectives, or whatever... we're talking about the same thing. Again, check a thesaurus -- I don't know why you haven't done so already.

I also don't know why you would maintain as a point of pride the fiction that the document has no declared/stated/articulated aims/purposes/objectives. I would think this would be an even worse shortcoming than your failure to realize -- as a coauthor and cosigner of the document! -- such aims/purposes/objectives are in the document in the first place.

As for "pinhead" being Konrath's favorite insult -- apparently not only his, since you are now using it yourself. As you say, ironic. But then again, for you and David, it really is all Konrath, all the time. I think he should be flattered.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Barry -

I don't recognise the vast majority of what you quoted as being aims or objectives; they are statements of belief. I think you would struggle to rephrase them as aims, although perhaps your argument will compel you to try.

The pinhead thing wasn't an insult. The angels and pinheads reference was a nod to the fact that you and I are arguing over stuff that probably lost readers' interest some time ago. And it is Konrath's favourite insult, so it brings us full circle. I don't think you're a pinhead.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

Barry, fine, but I don't have time to go back and forth on your blog.

Locke and Leather have been unapologetic about their actions, so we had no qualms about naming them. If Ellory’s first apology had been forthright there might have been a stronger argument for not naming him. As it is, he chose to delete as much of the proof as he could overnight, and many felt his initial statement wasn’t an apology at all.


‘I don't think I've ever "insinuated" that anyone's of "inferior intellect," though admittedly it's hard to prove a lack of insinuation.’

I think it’s plain throughout these posts, and even in your replies: ‘You might want to quickly look up aim, purpose, and objective in any thesaurus.’ What, are you 19? You’ve claimed, at great length, that some of the world’s most successful writers wrote a letter that in your lofty view was poorly conceived and executed, muddied by their ‘self-pleasuring emotions’. It’s transparent the reaction you wanted to trigger was 'If only they'd had Barry on board, he'd have ironed out all these problems and provided the evidence and nuance and clear-headed sense of structure, and it all would have been fine.' If you think that isn’t what you’ve been saying, publicly, you’re even more lacking in self-awareness than I thought. Most people would see explaining at great length why you’re mystified that some ‘really smart’ people have sadly just got it so so wrong as self-important.

But I think your posts on this have also been insulting. You called 'mob' with no evidence, and still have none. I'm sure you could find some, but I think those who signed simply read a short, considered letter about an issue important to them. I’ll take their judgment over your screwy claims we were all driven by moral panic and hysteria. I think you just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take a contrarian view and show everyone how it really should have been done. You wrote above that ‘once we've acted, our natural desire to justify our actions, to seem consistent, and to "win" in the face of criticism all conspire to make us commit ourselves ever more deeply to the original mistake’. True. But in this case the mistake is yours. There’s no mob, no hysteria – just your hunting for it and making ludicrous false analogies to serious events in world history.

‘And to be clear, my references to the communist witch hunts of HUAC and all that were mostly with regard to David's bizarre non sequitur demand that I confess myself a friend of Joe Konrath, which yes, to some extent I saw as a manifestation of some of the witch hunt mentality I sense in NSPHP generally.’

That sense of yours had already led you to post a video of Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate to a perfectly reasonable open letter by your peers condemning writers who deceive readers and sabotage other writers’ careers. Classy.

David was tweeting about Joe Konrath’s shock-jock blog posts, in the latest of which he’d written that he’d had a discussion with a friend and concluded that fake reviews weren’t wrong. Shocked by the wrongheadedness of that, David tweeted a joke about having a moral compass app. You tweeted to David, and he not unnaturally asked you if you were the friend in question, and whether you agreed with Konrath’s statement that fake reviews weren’t wrong. Your assertions that David’s tweets and question here constitute an ‘interrogation’ of you and are comparable to McCarthyism are laughably hyperbolic. Being exasperated on Twitter when a well-known writer refuses to say he thinks fake reviews are wrong is not the same as HUAC. At all.

Perhaps if you stop trying to play debate team captain you'll see that these behaviours damage fellow writers and deserve condemning, and that the letter is a very reasonably worded way to do that.

Or you can continue to miss the point, make odious comparisons and try to show off how much cleverer you are than everyone else by hysterically claiming they're all hysterical.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Steve said:

"I don't think you're a pinhead."

At last, something we can agree on! :)

And back at you. Even when disagreement gets heated, I try hard to remember the other person is as sincere as I am, and try not to conflate what I think is a situational mistake with some overall imagined character or intelligence deficit. Thanks for bringing to bear the same ethos here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 1:40:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Jeremy said:

"Locke and Leather have been unapologetic about their actions, so we had no qualms about naming them. If Ellory’s first apology had been forthright there might have been a stronger argument for not naming him. As it is, he chose to delete as much of the proof as he could overnight, and many felt his initial statement wasn’t an apology at all."

Again, this suggests to me that "name and shame" was a significant aim/purpose/objective of NSPHP. I think such an aim/purpose/objective was misguided, though I also suppose you can make an argument that by naming and shaming insufficiently apologetic bad actors, you might deter such behavior on the part of other potential bad actors.

"I think it’s plain throughout these posts [that you've asserted others are of inferior intellect], and even in your replies: ‘You might want to quickly look up aim, purpose, and objective in any thesaurus.’ What, are you 19?"

FWIW, I genuinely don't think Steve's claim that there's a material difference between the aim of a project and its purpose was caused by stupidity. Steve actually strikes me as exceptionally smart. I think instead, as I've twice pointed out, that the foolishness of his position was caused by the momentary desire to score a cheap point, and resulting thoughtlessness -- which is not at all the same as stupidity. I love words and pride myself on my vocabulary, but I look up words all the time, especially when arguing about their meaning, to ensure I'm using them correctly. Here, Steve clearly didn't trouble himself to do so -- I think again because he was too quick to try to score a quick point. Now, that's just my impression, and I could be wrong. But regardless, when someone is telling me -- incorrectly -- that two synonymous terms in fact have very different meanings, I don't know how to respond other than by suggesting the person check an outside source like a thesaurus or dictionary. I don't think it's childish to do so. If I made an argument based on a misunderstanding of the meaning of a word, I wouldn't find it childish if someone pointed out to me the dictionary meaning.

"You’ve claimed, at great length, that some of the world’s most successful writers wrote a letter that in your lofty view was poorly conceived and executed, muddied by their ‘self-pleasuring emotions’."

In fairness, the writers in question are best known for their fiction, which might be a bit of a different skill set than other forms of writing. Regardless, I try hard to focus on the quality of the product itself, and only secondarily on the reputation of the producer. I think this is a sensible approach but I understand not everyone will agree with it. NSPHP is what it is. By comparison, it doesn't really matter who wrote it, at least not to me.

"It’s transparent the reaction you wanted to trigger was 'If only they'd had Barry on board, he'd have ironed out all these problems and provided the evidence and nuance and clear-headed sense of structure, and it all would have been fine.'"

My actual feelings are quite different than that. Of course I can't prove what my feelings are, but FWIW, I'm relieved I wasn't invited to join because I think I could very easily have gotten caught up in the same atmosphere of moral panic that I think affected all of you. As it was, in retrospect I realize that I, too, didn't adequately consider a number of factors even when I wrote my initial "It's a tough call whether to sign this thing" blog post, and that in initially signing it I was in part reacting to a sense of importance and urgency I've since concluded didn't really exist.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 2:01:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

So while I do like to think I would have avoided several of the obvious mistakes I called out in my previous post, I don't know at all that I would have had the wisdom and perspective to recuse myself entirely. And if I had committed my name and reputation to what in retrospect came to seem an overreaction, I don't know if I'd have the integrity to publicly own up to my error. I like to think I would, but it's hard to be sure until you're really there.

Anyway, my reaction to all this isn't to sit in judgment, but rather to feel, "There but for the grace of God go I." This could have been my mistake. By what was perhaps no more than luck, it turned out to be someone else's.

"I think those who signed simply read a short, considered letter about an issue important to them. I’ll take their judgment over your screwy claims we were all driven by moral panic and hysteria."

In fairness, that's not really their judgment, but rather your judgment. But I certainly could be wrong about an air of moral panic being behind the writing of NSPHP, and being part of the impetus among many people who signed it. I could even be projecting.

"That sense of yours had already led you to post a video of Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate to a perfectly reasonable open letter by your peers condemning writers who deceive readers and sabotage other writers’ careers. Classy."

I know we disagree, but I think that video is incredibly instructive and sobering. I suggested it as cause for reflection, not as an insult.

"Your assertions that David’s tweets and question here constitute an ‘interrogation’ of you and are comparable to McCarthyism are laughably hyperbolic."

Again, not "constitute." But for the reasons I go into in my post and in the comments here, certainly reminiscent of a McCarthist mentality, though obviously differing significantly in degree.

But now that we're talking about it, I can see where what for me felt like analogies that might give someone pause for reflection would instead feel like attacks and insults. I'm genuinely sorry for that, and can only say again that insult was certainly not my intention -- and that I think there is indeed much to be learned from my references. Still, you might be right in suggesting the examples I used, although well intentioned, were incendiary and therefore likely to produce more heat than light. That's a fair point.

"Perhaps if you stop trying to play debate team captain you'll see that these behaviours damage fellow writers and deserve condemning, and that the letter is a very reasonably worded way to do that."

I've already had this discussion with David and Steve, but… to me, this isn't much more than showing up late in the game and claiming, "You're wrong." I know we disagree, but just restating the disagreement isn't productive. If pointing this out makes me look like I'm trying to be a debate team captain, I can live with that.

Thanks again for engaging me on this. I know we don't agree, but I certainly respect your intentions.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 2:01:00 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

Thanks for that. I'm afraid these posts of yours *did* feel to me like you were sitting in judgement: you've suggested the motives of those drafting the letter were 'sanctimonious', 'self-pleasuring', that we were in thrall to 'moral panic', mob mentality and hysteria, and to argue all this you compared what I think is a perfectly reasonable letter with McCarthyism!

I don't think any of us were guilty of any of those things. I'm grateful that something that has been bothering me for a long time got support from some much bigger players and so the issues are now reaching wider exposure, and I hope some constructive solutions emerge.

Thanks again for the response - more light and less heat is precisely what is needed, and I was indeed reacting to what I feel were unwarranted and incendiary attacks on a perfectly reasonable letter. I'm sorry if I over-reacted, but getting this letter drafted and the all the signatories to it was an immense amount of work for all those involved, and we took great care and thought over it. I'm sure we could have done it better - one always can - but I don't think it was an over-reaction, or created from some sense of moral panic. That suggestion seems insulting to me, so I decided to post to your blog.

On your substantive points about where precisely we could have improved the letter, I don't think we'll reach any menaingful agreement. The purpose wasn't to shame authors, but I think I've been through that above. I'm happy with the letter, how we drafted it and why we worded it the way we did - and you're free to continue to disagree, and that's constructive and positive. But please, disagree with the substance of the points made rather than accusing those who wrote it or signed it as being part of a sanctimonious mob intent on a witch-hunt. That's just not the case. I think there are some very tricky issues to resolve about anonymity and pseudonymity online and how this relates to commerce, defamation, libel and people's livelihoods... I'm interested in those, not in pitchforks. I think pretty much everyone is.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 2:28:00 PM  
Blogger Gordon Harries said...

Barry:

Is this honestly the conversation you want to have about this? because I'm afraid your coming across as ill-equipped to understand a perspective that isn't yours.

Which is one of the things that you're accusing the co-signatories of the letter of being.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 2:48:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Thanks, Jeremy. I find one of the hardest things to do when I argue is to remember that the other person is as well-intentioned and sincere as I am, and to construct my arguments and manage my tone accordingly. I get pissed at myself when I fall short of that standard, as I think I must have at times in this post and these comments.

I hope we'll find ourselves at the same conference sometime soon, where we can break bread -- or at least beer -- and discuss all this with more light and less heat, as you say. I have a feeling that our commonalties are greater than our differences. David, this goes for you, too. If I can compare you with a red-baiter and you can compare me with a Nazi, I feel sure there is room for common ground! :) And likewise Steve and Gordon. Hopefully sometime soon we can all go back to the days when we all griped about our publishers and not at each other.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 11:06:00 PM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

Jeremy, Gordon, Steve,

Warning: this might be long-winded. Or, as I prefer to say, long. Because I care a lot about this and the harm it is doing and still might do.

I find your attitude to Barry's points pretty upsetting and dispiriting. I understand that this is an issue about which there is strong disagreement, and so feelings run high, but if you are convinced of the soundness of your own arguments, it would be more effective, and less destructive, to make the best rational points you can about the issue itself rather than to accuse Barry of self-importance. I think that what you are calling self-importance on Barry's part is actually something else that you're failing to recognise, and therefore misidentifying: Barry is very interested in and concerned about this matter, about NSPHP and what it means. Because he cares so much about what is the right thing to do here, both as a writer and as an ethical human being, and because there are several layers, levels and nuances involved, Barry cannot fit his opinion on this into two small paragraphs. If you care passionately about something, it's hard to come across as throwaway and nonchalant, and one generally doesn't want to.

Remember Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men? He kept the other eleven guys in that room ALL NIGHT while he 'long-windedly' argued against sending a boy to the electric chair to die - a boy who might or might not have been guilty. But as Fonda's character so aptly said in a neat one-liner (perhaps fearing accusations of long-windedness), 'It's only one night. A boy may die.' Was it self-important of Fonda's character to present himself as the voice of reason, the one who cares most about a boy possibly dying? Lee J Cobb's character (the bigot who yells viciously at all who disagree with him, if you recall) would certainly have thought so. And yet, what are you supposed to do if you are the voice of reason in a particular situation? Keep quiet so as not to seem self-important? But then...a boy may die.

I suspect you all (Steve, Jeremy, Gordon) dislike analogies and irrelevant film references. So I'll move on very soon, but I want first to quote Fonda's character one more time, from same film. He says to Lee J Cobb: 'Ever since we got in here, you've been acting like some self-appointed public avenger. You want to see this boy die because you personally want it. Not because of the facts.' Now, if you recall, there was another guilty-voting juror who was much calmer than Cobb - the one who wore glasses and never sweated. He wasn't aggressive, didn't make anything personal; he stuck to the facts. And because of this, he was more persuasive: a more effective advocate for the 'guilty' position.

(to be continued...'

Friday, September 14, 2012 3:56:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

That's a lot about 12 Angry Men, right? Yes. Think of it as a peaceful mini-protest. Because it is my right to say what I want to say and take as long as I want to say it. Jeremy, surely you can see it shouldn't be up to you to determine how many words we can all use to make our points? Surely you can see it's better to address the argument, not its length?

Is 12 Angry Men irrelevant? You guys have argued that Barry's 1984 clip - the 2 minutes' hate - is irrelevant, and alarmist, but I disagree. Barry is not being literal; he's not saying that you NSPHP guys will actually trap anyone in a room to be eaten by rats, tortured, killed. It's a common and valid form of argument to say, 'This flawed way of thinking/operating can and has, in both fact and fiction, led to these terrible outcomes, therefore, even if in this case it doesn't lead to quite such a terrible outcome, might it nevertheless be suspect?' Sorry if it seems pedantic to lay it out so...well, pedantically, but you're mistaking a symbolic, rhetorical point for a claim of equivalent harm.

Can't you see that it's not Barry that Barry thinks is important; it's NSPHP? It feels really unfair to me that you are mocking him for taking so seriously the very issue that you and NSPHP drew to our attention and asked us to take seriously. Even if you disagree with Barry, I can't understand why you don't welcome the debate that his dissent has enabled all of us to have on this matter. God, if anyone ever took anything I raised for discussion even a fraction as seriously, I'd be thrilled! Or did you not raise it for discussion? Did you raise it merely to solicit unquestioning agreement? If not, then why act as if you did by ridiculing and personally attacking the dissenting voices?

Jeremy, you have twice called Barry's responses long-winded, and I think that's a) unfair (as I've already said long-windedly), and b) suggestive of the possibility that you are lacking in strong counter-arguments. If I were you and I thought Barry was wrong about the wisdom or otherwise of NSPHP, I would take each of Barry's points and explain why I disagreed. I wouldn't make snide jibes at the number of words he used to make his points. That could be just a personal quirk of mine, but I'd be surprised if it were. Surely people with good, strong arguments address substantive issues and don't simply point and giggle and say, 'Look, he's so verbose!'

Jeremy, why on earth did you feel the need to point out that much of the statement was written by Lee Child? Isn't that rather bizarre? How is it relevant? I have no proof whatsoever of this, so do correct me if I'm wrong, but...could it be that you're trying to hide behind an obvious hero: 'Lee did it, not me, and you're not going to slag HIM off, now, are you?'

(to be continued. Oh yes.)

Friday, September 14, 2012 4:08:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

4) Finally: imagine if the headlines tomorrow said: 'Jeremy Duns found to be an ardent supporter of global inequality. Mr Duns, in the past ten years, has consistently put all the money he's earned into his own bank account, and not given away all but what he absolutely needs to the homeless.' You, Jeremy, might then reasonably say, 'But...but...most people put their earnings into their bank accounts. Everyone does it.' You might then be accused of whataboutery by Steve and Gordon. Just because everyone does it - just because you're only one tiny cog in a massive wheel of something - doesn't mean you shouldn't be held accountable. Does it? In an overall context of dubious blurbing, quote massaging, blatantly dishonest cover copy ('Best debut this year' etc), publishers reviewing own books on Amazon, probably hundreds of authors doing it because the system's already so corrupt that they feel they're missing out and being naive if they don't, everyone you went to school with hearing you've got a book out and feeling envious and posting 1* reviews on Amazon to bring their old school-mate down a peg or two... In the context of all of the above, is it really appropriate and compassionate to behave in a way that you must know will personally harm two or three men, whose reputations might never recover? Is that appropriate, or kind, when you've done things wrong yourself occasionally? Is it appropriate when those men have children? Is it appropriate when you know that probably hundreds if not thousands of other authors have done the same (before reviews on Amazon were linked to verified accounts especially) who will never be named and shamed?

Please could someone offer me one good reason why the NSPHP petition couldn't have been every bit as effective a call for genuine reviewing without including individual names? Insofar as its a message of being supportive to other writers: why did one of its signatories shout 'Tosser' at Stephen Leather at the Harrogate crime festival, long before Leather had said anything about his online forum activity? Why, for years, have many of the signatories bitched about and ridiculed Roger Ellory in public? Why do at least two of the signatories wish they'd never signed, and claim they were very subtly bullied into signing, via comments such as 'Come on, everyone else is on board'? Why do two of the signatories turn out to be the same person - one writer writing under two names: Martyn Waites and Tania Carver? Yes, I know Tania Carver is Waites and his wife, but then she's only half an extra person, isn't she? Not a whole extra person.

And why do the rest of you not worry about any of these considerations and how they compromise NSPHP?

Friday, September 14, 2012 4:50:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

One of my comments didn't make it, so I will repeat here: the reference to Lee Child having drafted some of the statement seems to be trying to say, 'We're with Lee, so we're good', the flip-side of 'You're with Konrath therefore bad'.

Jeremy said, 'You’ve claimed, at great length, that some of the world’s most successful writers wrote a letter that in your lofty view was poorly conceived and executed'. Is Barry not allowed to question something drafted and signed by the so-successful Lee Child? Why not? Must we all accept that writing brilliant novels about Jack Reacher automatically means one must never be disagreed with? Or is it being very rich and successful that means one's point of view mustn't be challenged?

Jeremy said, 'Roger Ellory’s initial apology via his agent was weaselly, and it was only after the letter was published that he apologized fully. I’ve had contact with him since, and he didn’t feel there was anything unfair or mob-like about what’s happened. Quite the opposite.'

Unfairly-punished victims often accept the harsh verdicts/punishments of their judges/detractors in the desperate hope that mercy might be shown.

What process must one complete in order to qualify as an apology judge? Maybe Roger's initial apology wasn't so much weaselly as carefully worded or brief, or only partial, because psychologically it's extremely hard to self-flagellate in public? What did you guys want: 'Yes, I have been an inveterate scumbag - an utterly worthless scoundrel - and I apologise'?

Jeremy said, 'If Ellory’s first apology had been forthright there might have been a stronger argument for not naming him. As it is, he chose to delete as much of the proof as he could overnight, and many felt his initial statement wasn’t an apology at all.' Ah, so the naming wasn't about making clear the issue and providing reference points, it was about punishing Roger for his inadequate apology? If only he'd apologised better, mercy might have been shown? Is that a bit like the the end of The Crucible, where the protagonists are told they won't be hanged as long as they admit they're witches? Or is that another hysterical analogy?

Jeremy said, 'I think it did just what we wanted it to, which was to get these issues wider exposure and kickstart a constructive debate. That is now going on, at Forbes, The Guardian, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums, podcasts etc.' It's also going on on Joe Konrath's blog and Barry's blog - but Jeremy seems less happy that it's going on there. Why?

Jeremy said, 'It’s transparent the reaction you wanted to trigger was 'If only they'd had Barry on board, he'd have ironed out all these problems and provided the evidence and nuance and clear-headed sense of structure, and it all would have been fine.' No, Jeremy, you're totally wrong about that. Look back at Barry's posts - hire a cab if there are too many words for you to travel by foot. Barry clearly says (not word for word, but roughly) that when he feels angry about an issue of ethical wrongness, that anger is often accompanied by a feeling of moral superiority, which he mistrusts. He said precisely the opposite of 'I'm superior'.

Friday, September 14, 2012 5:27:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

I also had three points in the comment that went missing about why I am not happy about NSPHP

1) it causes greater harm than it seeks to rectify: possibly, psychological devastation for two or three named and shamed guys. Who have kids. That's worse harm than any number of 1* reviews could do, I think.

2) the moral hypocrisy problem. Is giving yourself 5* reviews so much worse than: speeding, using mobile phone while driving, cheating on your spouse, taking drugs, illegally downloading copyrighted material? Some of you have done some of those things, right? Or at least something as bad as or worse than favourably reviewing yourself? A moment of spite. Even just your aggression to Barry might qualify, no? Needless vindictiveness. Why didn't the NSPHP signatories think, before signing, have I ever done anything as bad as or worse than favourably reviewing myself?

3) Why is a 1* review from a writer under an alias any worse than one from a reader under an alias? Should Amazon allow neither? What about real name review with no integrity, because of an undeclared personal connection? Should Amazon police our moral purity before allowing us to review? Writers are readers too. What if a writer posts an informed genuine opinion under an alias, and gives a book 1*? Why is a spiteful review of a rival in a newspaper, under one's own name, okay? Isn't that also unsupportive?

You will say this is whataboutery. I would say, in some circumstances, whataboutery is justified, e.g. 'We're rounding up and shooting all the redheads who have cheated on their partners'. In that scenario, it would surely be negligent not to say, 'But what about the blonde and brunette cheaters? Why are they exempt?' in an attempt to save the lives of the redheads?

Friday, September 14, 2012 5:36:00 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Mr S Puppet -

Discussion is great. For me, it was one of the purposes of writing the letter (though not a declared aim). The problem with long responses is that they're invariably difficult to engage with, and length often obfuscates the lack of any real point. If there is also an insistence on "fisking", as there is in some quarters, then verbosity becomes an almost deliberately disingenuous argumentative tactic. We all have lives, right? If it's intended to be a discussion, then you make your points concise and clear. It's an act of intellectual generosity and goodwill to do so.

As I said, I don't see much in Barry's post that demands a response. It's an opinion, most of it speculation. He is entitled to that. Since I disagree with much of it, what point is there is engaging? Barry thinks he has presented evidence of a witch hunt; I think he has not even begun to do so. We aren't going to find common ground there, and - as has happened above - are likely just to end up sniping at each other, advancing the overall discussion not a jot.

There is too much in your comments to reply to, although I appreciate the thought you've put into them. Are there a couple of points you'd like to concentrate on, so we don't end up writing enormous essays at each other? That would be easier.

Friday, September 14, 2012 8:03:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

Steve,

Thank you so much for answering me. I guess the point I am most baffled and confused by is the issue of why writers shouldn't be allowed to give 1* reviews under aliases when non-writer readers are allowed to do so? I would really welcome an Amazon that only allowed positive reviews, as I fear the destructive effect of the negative energy that 1* reviews (and all other forms of online horridness) put out there into the ether. But..the system allows sneery 1* reviews, and it allows pseudonyms. So I'm unclear as to why Roger Ellory shouldn't be allowed to do this when, as I said before, my cleaning lady can. Maybe it was unintentional, but by saying that writers shouldn't review under pseudonyms, NSPHP implied (or at least that's how I interpreted it) that it's specifically writers who shouldn't do this. That makes no sense to me because writers are also readers. I can see the argument that the desire to put down a rival might lead to lack of integrity in the review (which would of course be undesirable) but what if a writer genuinely doesn't rate another writer's book and so gives a negative review that DOES have integrity? If you want to argue that this is impossible when one is thinking about one's rival's book, then I would argue that I can't help being biased against any book that has the words 'in the aftermath of' in its blurb (strange but true!). I can't help being biased against any novel in which a person from the past turns up ominously at the beginning in a 'Remember that murder we committed together all those years ago?' kind of way - because it's a cliche. A friend of mine is biased against any novel which portrays affluent people as suffering in any way - because they're so privileged, they don't know the meaning of true suffering. So...that kind of bias creeps into all reviews. As far as I can see, to take the Ellory case as an example, if that's his genuine opinion of those writers/books, then he should only not be allowed to say so pseudonymously if any other reader also isn't allowed to. Also, currently we have a system in which a Telegraph or Guardian or Mail reviewer (who might also be a writer) can slate a fellow author's work under their own name and no one accuses them of being unsupportive of another writer. As I've said somewhere else in this comments thread, I think we really need to disentangle right/wrong from anonymous/under-own-name.

Friday, September 14, 2012 8:45:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

So, that's the 1-star reviews part, and why I'm unsure about it. Re 5* reviews of own work, and going onto online forums to 'big up' your book under a false name...if none of this had happened and you'd said to me over a pint in a pub, 'What do you think of it?', I'd have said, 'Oh, God, pathetic, how undignified.' I'm reluctant to condemn it in the current climate, though, because it's one of strong moral condemnation and I fear that both Leather and Ellory are suffering severe emotional pain at this very moment because of all this. I think that is a far greater harm to two individuals than pseudonymously praising your own books does to anyone. When I thought about whether to sign NSPHP or not, two thoughts raced through my mind: 1) oh my God, this could absolutely destroy Stephen Leather and Roger Ellory. Imagine being vilified like that by all your peers. Just imagine it. Feeling so hated and so disapproved of by so many people. Just because you stupidly and vainly puffed your own books online. And 2) why isn't anyone else concerned about this? Oh, and 3) I thought, Have I ever behaved dishonestly? And would I like condemnation of my dishonesty to turn up in the Telegraph with the signatures of fifty of my colleagues beneath it?

Yes, it'd be great if the online review system could be more trustworthy than it is - but it only bothers me a tiny bit that it isn't particularly reliable and is likely full of publishers and authors praising their own or their friends' books. I'm happy to wade through the reliable and unreliable and make up my own mind. But it bothers me an awful lot that a group of writers should want to vilify, slate and condemn another writer for his silliness - or even wrongdoing, if you see it that way - in the form of a signed statement that might cause untold harm to said writer's psyche. I hope that makes sense. Maybe I'm wrong, or a wimp - or even worse, a wrong wimp! - but if I'd signed NSPHP I would instinctively have felt that I'd done something far more reprehensible (kicking people when they're down etc) than if I spent the rest of my life giving my own books 5* reviews online. I hope that makes some sense.

Friday, September 14, 2012 9:01:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

And just one more point, Steve - thank you for bearing with me, if you are!

I take your point about it being more considerate, and more conducive to discussion, if one makes one's points as concisely as possible. But I personally find it incredibly hard to be concise on this issue, because there are so many layers involved, and so much has already been said, which then forms new layers. My lack of succinctness bothers me (I think, 'Oh, no, I'm waffling on and taking up everyone's time') but I can't really make my points without making them fully. I try to edit them down as best I can.

You seem to be suggesting Barry might have deliberately used longer statements and 'fisking' as a disingenuous tactic. Or maybe you had Konrath in mind when you wrote that part? I don't know. But after reading your comment, I went back and carefully reread Barry's two posts on this subject, and his updates to both. I don't see any evidence that he's being any more longwinded than he needs to be, or that his motives are anything apart from a desire to be really clear and detailed about an issue that's important to him, you, me, all of us. Each of his paragraphs, in both his posts, makes a new point. I didn't read any repetition. I can see that you and Barry would disagree about a lot of the substantive points, but I feel that Jeremy and David have both been personally unkind to Barry, and that you've been a little dismissive of him. Jeremy called his comments 'self-important nonsense'. With the desirability of being supportive of other writers in mind, I would argue that that's no way to treat a fellow writer who takes a sincere and substantial interest in an issue you yourself raise, even if they disagree with you on said issue. And so I would (and do) question the ethics of people who a) think it's okay to behave in that way and b) simultaneously 'unreservedly condemn' others for ethical misdeeds. I also wonder why you're so polite and respectful towards me, though we clearly disagree, and more acerbic and harsh with Barry.

Friday, September 14, 2012 9:56:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Mr S Puppet, thanks again for your exceptionally thoughtful comments. I think your questions are superb and I hope the drafters of NSPHP will consider them. I tried to make a similar point above, when David asked, "Is it OK to lie to the public in order to sell books?" Well… what about blurbs? What about publishers inflating the size of their print runs? Etc. I think these examples are deserving of a lot of thought. I don't think anyone really believes the issue is as simple as a yes or no answer to "Is it OK to lie to the public in order to sell books." Or, if it is, we're going to have to pull up publishing by the roots -- and do far more harm than good in the process.

Just as in judging the quality of a product I tend to focus, as I noted earlier, on the product and not on the producer, in judging the quality and worth of an argument I tend to focus on its logic, evidence, and structure and not on its word count. It's possible you and I are the exception in that regard, but I'm still pretty sure our approach is right.

Anyway, busy as I am, it did only take me about ten minutes to carefully read your latest round of comments. Not only can I not complain about the diversion -- I'm grateful because it was time well spent. Thanks again.

Friday, September 14, 2012 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Mr S Puppet -

Answering purely for myself, I would refer to what I mentioned above: that of deception of the reader. (And because we aren't a unified movement, I can say that the pseudonymous one-star reviews, while wrong, are not as outrageous to me as they are to others). The issue is whether the reader has all the information disclosed to weigh a review. I think we can agree that if you make toasters for a living, then however interested you are in toast, leaving a negative review for a toaster made by somebody else without acknowledging that fact hides a conflict of interests. Now, books aren't toasters - and yet some writers (bizarrely) do see other writers as rivals, or enemies, and will use the review system to undermine them. The issue is "something is being hidden from the reader". There's a world of difference - in my mind - between a respected reviewer and crime writer like Laura Wilson giving a negative review in a newspaper, with her name on it, and the recipient of that negative review giving his own books 5 star reviews and hers 1 star under a pseudonym.

In terms of naming the individuals - well, I've said all this. There was much debate, but in the end it was felt that to not name them was pointless. They had all admitted it, they had all been in the news, and it provided context for the letter. (If you want more context, I - for one - was sick of reading "it's no big deal; they all do it" comments; the letter provided an opportunity to point out that, no, we don't). Have I done stuff wrong in my life? Yes, obviously. But the things you mention - if a writer has cheated, taken drugs, driven too fast, etc - are totally irrelevant to whether a review they write of their own book or the book of another writer is compromised. It's not deceiving the reader and undermining the review system.

More generally, I'd say your point is an argument that individuals who do something wrong shouldn't be held to account for it. Well, they should - but the letter condemns the behaviour, not the people. Of the three, Roger Jon Ellory has behaved most honourably: he's admitted it, apologised, and everybody moves on. There is no witch hunt against him. The other two couldn't care less. If you want to make me feel sorry for Stephen Leather, you're going to have to work harder. I highly doubt you've been the victim of the personal insults, lies and online smear campaigns over the last month that I and others have.

Friday, September 14, 2012 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

Barry - thank you. I will be an avid follower of your blog from now on.

Steve - thanks for responding. I really feel bad about taking up any more of your time, but also don't want to ignore your response, so...

1) Toaster-maker has hidden undeclared interest - agreed. But I'd say that since any number of people who aren't toaster-makers might also have all kinds of undeclared hidden agendas, the same rules should apply to everyone on Amazon when it comes to leaving fake-name reviews.

2) Infidelity, speeding, drug-taking etc have no bearing on the integrity of the online review system - agreed. They're all totally different issues. I was trying to make the point that they might be seen as 'other wrong stuff' that might render hypocritical anyone who engages in them if they sign any documents condemning equivalently immoral or even less immoral/less serious or harmful acts.

3) You're quite right that the targeting of Laura Wilson by a certain writer was out of order. I don't condone that at all, since that was/those were reviews likely motivated by vengefulness. And I'm not saying no one should review unfavourably under their own name. I only raised that because, even under one's own name, there might be a 'putting down the competition' issue if one is reviewing another writer in one's own genre.

4) I don't believe people shouldn't be held to account for their misdeeds. Really. I only believe they shouldn't be in cases where the harm done by the holding to account is likely to be greater than the harm done by the misdeed itself, and I believe this is such an instance. Also, there are different ways of righting wrongs. Eg, 'Hey, mate, don't be a fool, take down those sock-puppet reviews' as opposed to revealing to the world with a big flourish.

5) If you've been targeted by online smear campaigns, that's awful. You're right, I never have been and I wish that wasn't happening to you. My feeling sorry for sock puppeteers who might now be suffering from feeling hated doesn't in any way preclude my feeling sorry for you if some of them have attacked you back. I guess I just wish no one would attack anyone unless it's absolutely necessary (and is it ever?) because, apart from anything else, attack leads to retaliation, then counter-attack - and more pain is caused all round.

Anyway, thanks for talking to me.

Friday, September 14, 2012 1:03:00 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Duns said...

'Mr S Puppet', I think the conversation may be futile, as your mind seems made up, but I'll give it a go.

There's been a lot written about this, but most of it has been in support of the letter, I think. Two high-profile exceptions are these posts of Barry's and those by Joe Konrath. Konrath refused to condemn any of this behaviour, arguing everything is a slippery slope. He and Barry aren't joined at the hip, of course, but Joe Konrath mentioned Barry's posts several time, they have written several posts about publishing ethics, and they were the two high-profile people objecting to the letter. Both claimed it was a mob. I think that was incendiary, insulting and there was and is no evidence for it.

Can such letters lead to mob mentality? Of course. Can people get carried away? Yes. Have they in this case? I don't think so, at all, and yes, I found the posts self-important and insulting. Linking to Youtube clips of Two Minutes Hate doesn’t strike me as a reasoned argument at all. You seem to think it insulting of me to say that, but I think it’s more insulting to be accused of being sloppy, self-pleasuring, bullying people and having a mob mentality.

I do feel some sympathy for Roger Ellory, for the reasons Steve mentioned, but as I indicated I’ve had contact with him and he doesn’t feel in any way this was unfair. As for exposing him: this is my profession, it affects me and other writers, and I thought what Leather and Ellory did deserved to be exposed. I didn't go looking for either. (Any journalist would have exposed this, incidentally.) As for flourishing it, I did it as responsibly as I could. I wanted these issues to receive wide exposure, because I think they’re important, but I wanted to do it on my terms. I've since turned down several offers to write about this elsewhere, including in the national press, for those reasons. At least one newspaper tried to contact Ellory and he ignored them, contacting me instead, asking me not to publicly post what he was telling me. He then apologized, and we’ve moved on – but he only did so because he was exposed, publicly. And the fact is he deliberately tried to sabotage other writers' careers – in Mark Billingham's case he insinuated he had stolen from another writer. I think that's unacceptable, and deserved to be exposed.

I don't accept that comparing an open letter condemning fraudulent behaviour by authors to McCarthyism is simply an argument of scale – it was, as Barry has now said, incendiary. It also had the opposite effect: if you poke people enough that they are being a mob, posting 2 Minutes Hate etc, they’re perhaps more likely to act that way.

I'm interested in journalistic and publishing ethics, and have written about several aspects of both: I can’t stand plagiarism either, for instance. I don't think I or anyone else is wrecking other people's psyches here. Leather is an unabashedly abusive racist bully – he has yet to apologize to anyone. I've also had a well-known writer smear my reputation under an assumed name, and it had a serious effect on me. I know others who have had this happen to them, and it's affected them, too, sometimes dramatically. So while I have some empathy for Ellory, he chose to do this, and is a grown man. Out of spite, he tried to damage two of his peers' standing. You can say I damaged his, but I think that’s silly – if that's the case you’re now trying to damage my reputation here, so did Barry, and so on ad infinitum.

I think sometimes it's fair enough to say 'This is crap behaviour and we condemn it', and I’m glad we did. The story is, inevitably, more complex – and I don't even know who you are. I won't check back here for every point you or others make, but I'm easily reached by email or phone if you want to discuss more.

Best,
Jeremy

Friday, September 14, 2012 1:59:00 PM  
Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

Thanks for responding, Jeremy. I think at this point I'd like to say that, though we disagree about some things, I have no wish to argue with you, or Steve, or anyone, any more. All the opinions are out there now and arguing any more just feels destructive. You're right about 'and so on, ad infinitum'. It's almost impossible to disagree without seeming as if you're attacking, and I really don't want to attack anyone.

Friday, September 14, 2012 2:17:00 PM  
Blogger Ryssa Edwards said...

Hi,
I love your books, and this is completely off topic, but I'm very curious. An awful lot of very murderous things are happening in this so-called "election" season. What's a good website to read about what's actually going on?

Thanks!

Saturday, September 15, 2012 5:49:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Hi Ryssa, here's my best recommendation:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/series/glenn-greenwald-security-liberty

Saturday, September 15, 2012 9:57:00 PM  
Blogger Claire Chilton said...

I've only recently found this post, and I hadn't heard of the NSPHP until now.

I just wanted to drop you a line to say that I found your post to be insightful, rational and certainly persuasive.

The Fundamental Attribution Error link was really interesting. I've never studied that side of psychology, but I've experienced that moment where I've had to ask myself if I'm making a decision based on logic and reason or my own personal agenda.

I'm sure I'm no angel when it comes to jumping to the wrong conclusion, but I like to think that I see more than myself when I'm in a debate with someone else.

There's a really interesting Stephen Fry video on YouTube where he talks about the ID, and the ego in correlation with commenting, and I think in a lot of ways that ties in with FAE. There's a lot of ego involved when we only see ourselves in an argument, rather than seeing an argument logically or realistically.

I think everyone loses it in the heat of the moment, but I have absolute respect for people who are capable of recognising when their own egos are taking control of rational thought. I'm not sure if I'm that enlightened lol, but I'd like to be.

On the subject of sock puppet reviews, I have seen some awful sock puppet moments on Amazon before, so I think it's fair to say that I'm not a fan of them.

I don't get too upset by the good reviews. If someone wants to blow their own trumpet or whatever, well it's lame, but it seems the lesser sin compared to attacking others. I mean, marketing companies have been blowing false trumpets for decades about everything we consume. It's underhanded and certainly does the consumer no good, but we've survived this long under that kind of system.

My concerns tend more towards the attacking of authors on Amazon and Goodreads. There's a real bully mentality out there that I can't understand or stand by and watch.

It's not a personal issue for me, in so much that I don't feel I've been attacked by sock puppets. I may have been at some point, but I don't feel damaged by anything done to me. Someone wrote some fiction about my book of fiction. Oh well, I'm sure I'll survive.

My dislike comes from seeing what they do to others. There are so many young authors who are harmed by fake people online. I don't feel that the system is fair to them. When you've been rejected a few hundred times, you have thicker skin. So when someone attacks you or your book, it's a lot easier to brush it off.

I hate watching authors as young as eighteen being ripped apart online by sock puppets for doing nothing more than putting their book out there. There's something very wrong in a world that allows that to happen.

I know some people say, well they should toughen up, but after being attacked in a 30-1 scenario on Amazon in the past, I don't think I'd have handled it with as much grace at eighteen as I did at thirty-five. I doubt I'd have written another book after that at eighteen.

Have you seen the Anne Rice petition about removing anonymous posting on Amazon? I signed that one without any second thoughts. I think that might be a rational way to put an end to abuse on Amazon.

I'd love to hear what you and Joe think about that if you've seen it. You guys seem to have a good handle on what's really going on out there.

Personally, I think it's a good thing. A peaceful petition has to be a better solution to dealing with sock puppets.

I don't know if you have rules about posting URLS, so feel free to remove this one if you don't want links on your blog. But so you can find what I'm babbling about, here's the link to the petition:

http://www.change.org/petitions/jeff-bezos-protect-amazon-com-users-and-indie-publishing-authors-from-bullying-and-harassment-by-removing-anonymity-and-requiring-identity-verification-for-reviewing-and-forum-participation

Thanks again for the great post.

Monday, March 10, 2014 6:10:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Eisler said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Claire.

Like you, I don't like when haters and cowards hide behind anonymity online. But my sense is that trying to eliminate anonymity is an over-broad solution, akin to dealing with drug abuse via prohibition (or going after a mosquito with a sledgehammer).

There are a lot of valid reasons for online anonymity, and those would be subject to the petition's proposed rules along with the malignant ones. For me, the trade wouldn't be worth it, but reasonable people can differ on that.

Overall, I'd rather trust to the good judgment of anyone who reads the anonymous stuff to discount it. But again, that's just me, and I get how it seems to other people.

Monday, March 10, 2014 5:51:00 PM  
Blogger Claire Chilton said...

Thanks for getting back to me. You make a great point about the severity of the petition. I can see how the ban of anonymous could harm freedom of speech. I never really thought about that side of it. You just have to look to Egypt as an example of the good freedom of speech on the internet can do.

But for the majority, I think anonymous is a somewhat dangerous thing on a psychological level.

The subject is something I've been fascinated with recently. I did a blog post about online identity, and one of my readers sent me this link:

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/climate_desk/2014/02/internet_troll_personality_study_machiavellianism_narcissism_psychopathy.html

It's a study that explores the sadistic side to being anonymous, which I think too many people embrace online.

I can see the downside to the petition, and I can only hope that Amazon act responsibly in their final decision. Hopefully, they act in a manner that doesn't harm freedom of speech, but does remove criminal abuse from their website.

Perhaps the answer would be a better level of support at Amazon for the victims of online abuse on their website. I don't think the current system of an auto-email telling people 'tough' for every complaint is sufficient, which is basically what you get if you make a complaint.

If someone has been attacked and they report it, they should at the very least be given a fair investigation into their complaint. From what I've heard--which I've not managed to verify--the people who abuse on the Amazon forums also run the victim support. So basically, you probably end up speaking to your attacker.

I think if Amazon put some effort into dealing with each case fairly, and implemented lifetime bans on the people who have acted criminally, then I'd have more faith in their current system.

As it stands today, it is community run, and not all of the community are good people. This is problematic because it means there is no authority figure to stop the abusive activity.

If the petition causes Amazon to address the issues on their website, making it a better place for freedom of speech and a safe user environment for everyone, then that would be a good thing.

I don't think Amazon will ban anonymous on their website, but if the petition makes them address the issues on the website, everyone would benefit from it.

That's how I'm hoping it will go anyway.

There's something broken in the system, and I think it needs fixing. But I agree that perhaps the overall ban of anonymous might be a bit of a sledgehammer.

I think for me, and probably most of the people who signed the petition, we just want to see a change for the better.

If Google can use their search engine to clean up pornography, gambling and organised crime on the internet to a point of putting it out of business, I don't see why Amazon can't be an ethical company that will put an end to online bullying and abuse.

I guess, as an SEO who watched Google clean up the internet, I want to see Amazon step up to the plate and reach that ethical standard too.

It's been great to get a response from you and Joe about it though, so thank you for letting me babble on your blogs about it. I find the troll psychosis really interesting, so I might babble a bit too much about it sometimes.

Monday, March 10, 2014 8:40:00 PM  

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