Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Bullies...

In my past life, I was a high school teacher. Prior to that I was... a summa cum laude graduate, marching band member, choir member, statistician for the wrestling team, treasurer of the drama club, mathlete, and science geek. And those were the good years. In my younger years, I was... less cool than that. (Actually, as odd as it sounds, my high school years were awesome. I truly believe it had a lot to do with the school I went to as it encouraged activity cross-overs.)

The point is between my years of nerdiness and my years teaching, I've seen more than my fair share of bullies. And I've heard about even more.

Lately there's been a lot of talk on the internet about bullies on review sites--specifically GoodReads. The thing is... I think the people using that word either never dealt with bullies or forgot what it was like.

When children are in school and being bullied, there are a few things that they tend to have in common...
- Bullies attack outsiders. They rarely target the jocks or the popular kids or the rich kids. They go after those who are different or who don't have a lot of friends.
- The bullies hide what they do from anyone who can do anything about it. They don't throw kids against lockers in front of teachers. They do it when anyone with authority isn't around. They don't taunt their targets aloud in class, they whisper when the teacher is helping another student.
- They can't be avoided. Bullies are in the same school, oftentimes in the same classes, as their targets. Those students can't just walk away or pretend they don't exist because they are always there.
- They follow their targets. Bullies will wait outside practices to torment students after school. They will send them messages online to follow them home. The abuse is doesn't stop when the target leaves school.
- The people who try to stand up to bullies are often targets themselves. Bullies attack where they see weakness. That means that the only hope for targets is strength in numbers--something that rarely happens.

None of this seems to be true of the instances of "reviewer-bullying." Reviewers are, by definition, critical--it's part of the job. When an author (or publisher or agent or publicist) chooses to send a book out for review, they are aware of the possibility that there will be both good and bad reactions to the work... just like they'll get from readers when the book hits shelves. This is part of the gig.

Are some people jerks--especially with the anonymity allowed by the internet? Yes. Is GoodReads home to a lot of them? Also yes. There are reasons authors are advised to avoid their reviews. It's because even the "good" ones can sting.

The bad ones? Those are brutal. The assholes? Even worse. I've seen some of the horrible stuff trolls have said about books by friends of mine. They are vicious and nasty.

But here's the difference... the author and any of their fans has the ability to walk away from those reviews and foul comments--and never see them again. The "reviewer-bullies" don't seem to be following authors home or sending them death threats. The worst they've done? Gone on Twitter and mentioned their experience with the book and/or author. Contrary to popular belief, Twitter is not high school (or even elementary or middle school)--it's too damn big a crowd for people to just follow. One person tweets a bad experience? Even if it's re-tweeted by a hundred people, it's still only hitting a small corner of the internet. And that assumes there are a hundred people who are going to believe it on face-value.

That's not bullying. It might not be nice, but it's not bullying.

Also? There are a shit-ton of fantastic people who review books and blog about them and use good reads. A negative review doesn't mean someone is not a great person. We're supposed to be adults here. We should know the difference.

On the other side of things, authors need to learn not to feed the potential for negative publicity. I've seen an instance of an author responding in the comments to a negative review by posting all their amazon reviews as evidence the reviewer was "wrong." I've seen where people associated with an author have blasted reviews and reviewers on GoodReads. I've seen authors trying to discredit reviewers (though I'm still a little confused on how you discredit someone's opinion unless you can prove it isn't actually their opinion, but...)

People can disagree without it being bullying. People can have opinions without it being bullying. People are allowed to dislike each other without it being bullying.

To put it another way, if I went out with a guy who mis-treated me, you can be sure I would let all my girlfriends know. That doesn't make me a bully to the guy who treated me poorly, it makes me a good friend to those other girls that I've warned away from him. Some of them might choose to go out with him anyway and might end up liking him, but I would never regret telling them about my bad experience.

Instead of beating up the people whose reviews you don't agree with, either walk away from them or write your own very positive review. Be proactive rather than reactive. And for the love of all that is good, don't choose to become an actual bully in retaliation.

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