STGRB: A New McCarthy Era Hits Romancelandia

“It’s Okay — We’re Hunting Communists Book Reviewers!”

Hmmm, now why does the following sound SOOOO familiar?

In the aftermath of World War II, Americans reacted with dismay as relations between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated, the Russians imposed communist control over much of Eastern Europe, and China was on the verge of going communist. People worried that communists might try to subvert schools, labor unions, and other institutions. Government agencies and private groups began to look for evidence of subversive activity. In this climate of fear and suspicion, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which Herb Block had opposed since its inception in the 1930s, became active. And in 1950, a young senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, seeking political gain, began a well-publicized campaign using smear tactics, bullying and innuendo to identify and purge communists and “fellow travelers” in government. Herb Block recognized the danger to civil liberties posed by such activities and warned of them in his work. He coined the phrase “McCarthyism” in his cartoon for March 29, 1950, naming the era just weeks after Senator McCarthy’s spectacular pronouncement that he had in his hand a list of communists in the State Department. His accusations became headline news, vaulting him into the national political spotlight. For four years McCarthy attacked communism, while in his cartoons Herb Block relentlessly attacked his heavy-handed tactics. In June 1954, McCarthy was censured and in December condemned by the Senate. (Emphasis are mine) Source: http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/herblock/fire.html

Oh yes, of course, now I remember! I read something VERY similar over at the STGRB site. In the aftermath of the Melissa Douthit blog post which exposed Goodreads member Wendy Darling’s personal and private information in a attempt to incite fear and silence reviewers, citizens of Romancelandia reacted with utter outrage and dismay as relations between authors and book reviewers continued to deteriorate. Supporters of Douthit’s extreme political tactics formed a secret committee to hunt, expose and “eradicate” their enemies, (commonly identified as people having opinions and beliefs counter to their own), and to execute swift justice on anyone they decide it deserves. They publicly persecute the enemy for all the world to see — and, of course, to remind others just what could happen to them if they too speak out and break one of their many loosely defined laws. They brandish their own ‘special’ form of justice using smear tactics, bullying, mockery, and innuendo to identify and purge communists reviewers and readers and other “fellow travelers” in government on the internet.  They remind visitors everyday how they have a privileged right to use these tactics. They are special snowflakes, and claim to have secret knowledge that allows them to determine who is right and who is wrong in ANY online kerfuffle. They also made a spectacular pronouncement that they have a ‘black list’ of communists bullies. As of today, the committee secretly meets to decide who deserves their wrath and who will be spared, providing screen caps as PROOF. (And everyone know they couldn’t possibly be taken out of context, ever).  Among their supporters, the committee’s words are law thereby eradicating the need for opposing opinions.  And while no one really knows what it takes to get on that list, just be afraid, very afraid, as it might be you next.

((Way to go you STGRB McCarthyists!))

Since even vinegar can catch flies from time to time, I have to wonder how many people truly believe that the STGRB is *NOT* exactly what they claim to stand against. Or do people really believe that they have a ‘power of exception’ clause which allows them to behave in the same manner which they condemn others? So if you either support or are unsure about the nature and purpose of the Stopthegrbullies.com site, please take a seat and let me tell you my side of things. The other half, so to speak. While at first glance you might agree with them on the surface level because YES, the hostility on review sites is escalating and making news in Romancelandia and other book communities. And even I admit they have a point at times, albeit contrived with innuendos and their speculations are often misrepresented as facts. We have seen the hostility all over the internet, not just on Goodreads. The guilty culprits slinging mud and wild accusations include reviewers, bloggers, authors, readers, editors, assistants, their husbands family members…etc.  In truth, every group is guilty of behaving badly these days and it is frustrating to wade through it if all you want to find is a good book recommendation. But wake up folks, the problem is NOT limited to just a few Goodreads reviewers on someones black list of names. The STGRB site started in retaliation against a few reviewers of whom they argued with in places like Amazon and Goodreads. The real problem (as opposed to the one they would lead you to believe) is much, much wider – and it might also include you, a friend, or even your favorite author.

Let’s cut to the chase of matters: book reviews are a HIGHLY SENSITIVE topic for most people in this industry. According the NYT, unethical shops offering paid reviews are flourishing into big business because authors believe honest and unbiased reviews too difficult and timely to obtain. Sources like book bloggers and online reviewers who volunteer their time for free out of their love of reading, and who encourages their friends to read what they’re reading, are ideal but they are no guarantee. Fortunately for consumers, there are many ethical authors strongly recommending against the practice of paid reviews. Bloggers such as ‘Write to Publish’ weighed in on this last year, and the comments were intense. The ‘free’ reviews are at the heart of the issue and why STGRB started waging war on the reviewer community. They want to force their control over the reviewer communities and require all public mentions of any author anywhere (incl. reviews, chats, comments…etc.) be sanitized and formatted to reflect the author (not just the book) in a positive spin, a righteous notion found ludicrous and impossible to enforce by many. But it is their radical eye-for-an-eye tactics and blatant de-humanizing approach to achieve this goal that has the romance book community up in arms.

After first learning about the STGRB site I was horrified and shocked at their tactics, bewildered by their audacity, and outraged at their hypocritical claim of supporting an anti-bully platform when in fact that was EXACTLY what they were doing.  Their site targeted a handful of Goodread members, exposed personal and private details about them, and painted a magnificently ugly and exaggerated image of each person. Then they paraded these profiles to their visitors and roared in glory that they have captured their enemies!  “If we stop these bullies by torture and humiliation, we will obtain peace in Romancelandia!!” (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much.) And I asked myself, how many more amateur reviewers will they capture and torture while they act as both judge and jury before finding them guilty and executing them?!!  I shuddered at the thought of how far they might go, and I was right.  Not even two months later the list is up to 19 now, including me.

You see, I am a frequent user of Goodreads and am online friends with many of those named as ‘bullies’. (I have over 650 GR friends by the way, so despite their accusations we are NOT a small ‘clique’ or ‘gang’).  I have been active in Romancelandia community for over 6-years, and have posted well over 10,000++ posts around the internet chatting up MANY books and authors alike. I have read close to 1,200 romance novels to date and reviewed over 500 of them on places like Amazon and Goodreads. I am not an author (nor an aspiring author) but I have many friendships and acquaintances with authors, which I cherish. I have even contributed my support to several published articles (including one in the national RWA magazine) that were aimed at bridging the gap between reviewers and authors.  This year alone I have reviewed 103 books, 45 of them by new voices (indie or debut authors) who don’t have a fan following – yet.  All in all, the vast majority (99+%) of my interaction online at Goodreads and elsewhere is friendly discussions about books or other shared interests.

Ironically, last January during the back-to-back YA kerfuffles all over the internet (NOT just Goodreads) I purchased the domain name ‘authorsbehavingbadly.com for the sole purpose of making certain no-one would ever use it. The level of hostility was high, and I’ve seen how people will behave when tempers are hot. I feared that such a website in the hands of people bent on revenge could create more damage, and I was right.  I only got the domain name wrong. I care deeply about this community, and I am a supporter of bridging the gap between authors and readers, but not by force or humiliating tactics.  So why am I telling you all of this? Because none of this is information they will openly share with you, despite Stich’s ‘incredible‘ skills of digging up information. They are only looking for dirt to expose, not truth or unbiased information that might conflict with their mission to “expose evil”.  And now STGRB wants me, and others like me, silenced.

So what happened, how did I make their list? Did I write an offensive review all about the author and not the book? Nope, I have never done that. Not my style.  I do comment often (daily!) on Goodreads as I am an avid reader, amateur reviewer and a moderator of a popular romance group.  I can’t say I haven’t upset or disagreed with other posters over the years, even authors, who might not like me now as a result but that doesn’t make me a ‘bully’ by any definition. From time to time I do post on some ‘hot’ threads to give support or provide clarity to a subject, and maybe (gasp!) to provide my own opinion. (I am still allowed to do that, right?) I don’t participate in the quest for exposing ‘badly behaving authors’, but I do agree that many of these authors either did behave badly or have to share the blame for their very public meltdowns (at least the ones I read about). But I have never had any direct infighting with an author regarding any reviews. By my account, I have not broken the original STGRB (v 1.0?)  ‘reviewer rules’ of how to get on the list.  Nor this UPDATED and EXPANDED (v 2.0?)  set of their rules. They must have made an exception for me under their UPDATED, UPDATED and WAY EXPANDED  (v 3.0?) blanket  ‘WTFery McCarthysm’ rules, which basically means all of their other rules don’t really apply.  They can just do whatever they want because…well, just because they said so.

So what ‘proof’ did they use when they added me to their list of bullies? LOL. I called them ‘bozos‘ in a screen cap shown at the bottom of this article.  That’s all they have on me so far. But there is always more to a story, isn’t there? What I feel I did to ‘deserve’ a spot on their side-bar-of-fame –despite not breaking their primary reviewing rules—was to give my public support to many of the people they named as bullies. Guilty by association? Maybe, I really do not know. I’m just on their list, therefore you are just suppose to believe.

Personally, I can handle the bit of fame as I’ve made many new friends as a result, but what is distributing about this is it proves a huge point I have been making all along about how dangerous they are to the fragile ecosystem of Romancelandia, and now other online book communities. The online world already divides authors and readers because fundamentally we have different reasons for engaging in social media, but the STGRB movement is not in any way making things better with their “You’re either with us, or you’re against us!” mentality. In order for them to stay alive their list of “we accused and found’em guilty!” bullies will need to get longer and longer.  How many unsuspecting reviewers in total will they ‘expose’ for their entertainment and justice rituals?  How far will they go at making a public example of people they disagree with?  They may have removed their most offensive content of personal and private info (although they still allow some of it on their site if you look close enough), but their smear campaign is still a threat to many people yet to be named. Their site has already exposed MANY other ‘free’ reviewers in a negative light, not just those on the list.  If you think: “So what?! They deserve to be humiliated! An eye-for-an-eye!! “, what will you do when they parade someone you don’t think deserves it? All in all, I find this is an ugly and unconscionable practice and destructive to the community. The end does not justify the means.

 They are driving fear into the young and less frequent reviewers. They want you to believe they are only stopping negative comments, but they are really stopping many from speaking at all. Do they care how this hurts the authors wanting honest ‘free’ reviews?!  I doubt it, to them it is collateral damage that can’t be helped.  As a direct result of their tactics many bloggers have closed shop, some citing to be mothers with children who will not put them at risk of a similar real life exposure as when one of their named ‘bullies’ received threatening phone calls.  Their sheer negligent and arrogant belief that exposing just enough personal information while accusing these people of terrible deeds was a harmless thing to do backfired and put innocent people at risk.  And many readers have commented in forums around Goodreads how they will not write reviews again, also fearing how far STGRB will go to force their policy across the free reviewer community.  Their message of intimidation was clear: “I know where you live, where you sleep, and who is close to you.” So how many more potential reviewers will these Macarthyist maniacs intimidate into silence?  How far will they take their righteous WTFery McCarthysm’ rule of “…includes but is not limited to”? Who will the side-bar-of-fame list in 6-months or 1-year from now?  If they were honest about it and listed everyone who has behaved badly or spoken thoughtlessly online, that list would be crazy long, don’t you think?  Would you be on that list? Or should I ask, WILL you be on that list?

I am not making excuses for the harsh comments and criticism displayed as examples in their screen caps, they’ve cherry picked from thousands of comments from these reviewers and they are not representative of their finest moments.  But nor am I self appointing myself as the new ruler in town to let  people know they must do as I say or I’ll bully them into submission.  The use of force and intimidation as a means to an end is an outrageous and futile attempt to control all amateur voices on the internet.  I do not consider myself an outsider to this situation. It is killing me to watch them parade more victims across their pages each day. Many are occasional reviewers who were just supporting their friends while voicing their opinions, and staying within the sites posted guidelines. They are also active voices on many groups and forums that chat about books. Their crime is caring about the book communities, not trying to ruin an authors career or make her cry. The uneven handed treatment of these reviewers by STGRB is purposeful IMO, as it incite fear and not understanding. One by one I see both my friends and strangers alike being captured and wrongly crucified by a mad group of righteous McCarthy-minded fools taking comments out of context for their own twisted enjoyment and justice.  They believe this is an eye-for-an-eye justice, but it is a HUGE step backwards to finding unity within the online book communities. They are everything they claim to stand against.

If you are tired of the online infighting, I don’t blame you. I am too. I think we ALL are. If you think certain practices by reviewers, authors, publishers..etc. are disturbing and should stop, that is your opinion. I will likely even agree with you on many of them. But if you think publicly capturing and parading amateur reviewers, accusing them of many misdeeds out of context, and then acting as their judge and jury is an acceptable SOLUTION to this problem – then in my opinion you are incredibly short-sighted and part of the problem.  A great big part of the problem. The guilty culprits slinging mud and wild accusations include everyone: reviewers, bloggers, authors, readers, editors, assistants, their family members.  Online hostility in community rooms is a real issue EVERYWHERE folks.

So far they have been very light on me.  I’ve only been accused of calling them ‘bozos’.  I know that the twisted accusations against reviewers like Kat, Wendy, Jane and others are utterly short-sided and wrong too.  Taken out of context, anyone of us can be seen and painted as horrible people.  We have all had bad days and have spoken things we later regretted.  Many of those ‘bullies’ have been outstanding contributors and a welcome voice in Romancelandia for years, far more than me.  Now we are suppose to believe that all of the great things these reviewers and bloggers have done for us is nil and void because the STGRB site tells us we should?!  Come on folks, WAKE UP.  I realize you want some behaviors to stop, and I do too, but they are not the way to make it happen.

At this point, all I can do is hope that you not get suckered into their false promises and twisted stories. I hope you will not do as they do and target your own list of enemies. I hope you will think about keeping your comments civil, but ALWAYS speak with your true voice. Not a voice someone else tells you to use.  Their site might offer some entertainment to those who like to feel superior to their victims, but they are NOT solving any problems with their tactics — they are making things worse.

I have plenty more to say about STGRB site and the exploding tension around the book community world, but I will stop here for now.  When I get the notion, I may add more.

‘Til next time, happy reading everyone.

Karlynp

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  1. #1 by Katy on August 27, 2012 - 12:48 PM

    This is a really close-to-home issue for me, because I’ve been attacked on GR by many of those accused of being “bullies” by the STGRB site because they misinterpreted me when I was just expressing an opinion, and the more I tried to explain, the more they attacked. So I did what you said, i walked away. Several weeks later, I went back and they had continued to bash on me in my absence. I can’t excuse *that* behavior, either. It’s so upsetting that people get so attached to their opinions that they can’t stand to let others express theirs, and as a result, I’ve retreated into the shadows. How many others have?

    I don’t know what a person can do to make things better, but for me, I’m just sitting back, watching, and trying to maintain relationships with the more reasonable people that I know – like you – who are willing to allow discussion without attacking.

    Best to you!

  2. #2 by Jennifer on August 27, 2012 - 1:59 PM

    But Katy, you’ve allied yourself with the STGRB site. You’ve posted there, commented there and gone crying there for help. Those aren’t “reasonable people” like KarLynP and you know it and you’re hardly sitting back and watching when you’re review policing, turning up left and right on certain people’s reviews making passive-aggressive comments about them. Shall I start pulling up links? I can.

    • #3 by Katy on August 27, 2012 - 4:07 PM

      Jennifer, I was there and posting over the course of, I think, 3 days. Then KarLynP sent me a private message and we had a long discussion. I have not been there since. I am sorry that my previous comments on posts are being misunderstood – as I’ve explained to KarLynP, I am not there to try to change anyone’s opinions, I am just expressing my own, and isn’t that what, ultimately, we’re all arguing about?: The right to express our opinions? Don’t I have as much right to express mine as anyone else? What made me a second-class citizen? And before you bring out the “you posted on STGRB” argument, these things happened to me WEEKS before i gave up in frustration and went there, so… take that into account.

      I’ve tried repeatedly to explain that I’m just expressing my POV, and not asking anyone else to change theirs – I just want to discuss the situation – but as KarLynP has explained, I’m apparently expressing myself badly, and as I become more frustrated, I become short and angry. If you would put yourself into my shoes and see that I’m just trying to talk to people, without the “reinterpretation” that everyone continually puts my words through, you might see things differently.

      while you’re looking at those links, also consider that I tried to remain reasonable and polite while people were calling me names and telling me to go away. Yeah, I did get a bit passive-aggressive a couple times, but damn… I don’t like being attacked any more than the next person, and that’s how I saw it.

      • #4 by behindstgrb on August 27, 2012 - 4:23 PM

        Thanks for the comments Katy & Jennifer. Yes, Katy and I have exchanged some PMs. I felt I owed her an apology regarding some comments I made, and I did that privately. We also discussed the STGRB site, and she listened to what I had to say. I do think there are those who (at first) misunderstand what STGRB is really about. I know the HufPost editor did too before he completely retracted his support once it became clear to him how they essentially stood for everything they claimed to be against.

  3. #5 by willaful on August 27, 2012 - 2:46 PM

    Great post, KarLynP. Well done.

  4. #6 by willaful on August 27, 2012 - 2:47 PM

    (Just posting again to get follow-up notifications)

    • #7 by behindstgrb on August 27, 2012 - 4:24 PM

      Thanks Willaful! Glad to see you here. 🙂

  5. #8 by Madame X on August 27, 2012 - 3:40 PM

    Fantastic article, Karlyn.

    I was in full outrage mode about STGRB when they were posting personal information, but now that they’re mostly focusing on angry rants I find them more or less irrelevant. They have nothing smart or interesting to say, no real insight into…anything.

    I agree that the naming-and-shaming is not really helpful or constructive, but I also think that if that’s all they want to do…well, it’s a part of the dialogue?

    I guess think it’s inevitable that prominent reviewers who have real influence in the online reading community will collect a few haters. I’m not interested in it, but neither do I feel the need or desire to silence it.

    Am I wrong here? I haven’t been targeted (yet) and that might make all the difference.

    @Katy – I blocked you on GR. Not because I “misinterpreted” your opinons but because I disagree with them. We can’t all get along. We can’t all agree. And not all discussions are productive.

    • #9 by Katy on August 27, 2012 - 4:08 PM

      And that’s fine; I’ve never had a problem with anyone have a different opinion. I would rather you block me than call me names and follow me around to start arguments with me at random.

    • #10 by behindstgrb on August 27, 2012 - 4:52 PM

      Thanks Madame X, that means a lot coming from you. 🙂 I don’t want to silence honest dialogue, but I don’t think they represent that by a mile. And if people think they are some sort of super-hero team that can solve this issue, they’re only kidding themselves.

      I am not really sure if I am being targeted or not by them, LOL. Yes, I am on the list but so far there has been zero comments to explain why. All I have seen was the one link to the ‘bozo’ comment. That’s not to say I haven’t pissed people off over the years, so I most certainly must have some ‘haters’, but implying I bash authors to ruin their careers, or that I write bogus reviews is simply false. Their ‘fact checking’ dept needs some work. The worse review I wrote was for Douthit’s book, and I allowed a personal exception with my language but I kept it about the book. I saved my comments for the comment area. She is the most unconscionable author I’ve crossed since DAM. I read a few chapters (honestly!) after getting it free on Amzn. I would have just listed her under my ‘authors to avoid’ shelf otherwise. I am sure this has a lot to do with me being on their list.

      • #11 by Madame X on August 27, 2012 - 7:31 PM

        Yeah, I really appreciated all your comments on the GR Feedback thread, and it was neat to discover another great reviewer amidst the drama.

        I keep thinking of devil’s advocate style replies – well, yes, they’re horrible BUT…and then deleting them. I dunno. I’ll be interested to read your further posts. There’s lots to discuss here.

  6. #12 by mistressminerva on August 27, 2012 - 3:59 PM

    Fantastic post, KarLynP. What you say about how STGRB is damaging the book community is spot on. They are delusional in thinking they’re somehow helping people – they’re hurting way more than their own reputations, unfortunately.

    • #13 by behindstgrb on August 27, 2012 - 5:00 PM

      Thanks Minerva – we completely agree!!

  7. #14 by Iola on August 27, 2012 - 8:32 PM

    Great post. Thanks. Personally, I haven’t visited That Site since the beginning, when they had the personal information posted – I don’t want to add to their self-importance by giving them the traffic.

    • #15 by behindstgrb on August 27, 2012 - 9:41 PM

      Thanks Lola. You bring up a great point. My biggest concern about posting my ‘two cents’ was knowing that their site is already fading into a quiet lull. Fewer people really care as their ‘news’ isn’t really ‘new’ anymore. But my name was on that list, and I wanted to tell my ‘other’ side of the story since their steller ‘investigative journalism’ doesn’t include any fact checking or source checking or validation apparently. Their tabloid journalists, at best, but some people are falling sucker to it.

  8. #16 by sweptawaysteffi on September 17, 2012 - 6:13 AM

    Great post, KarLyn. I love what you’ve done on this blog! If those authors don’t want to be associated with bad reviews and onyly want their book reviewed then they don’t have the right to interfere with bad ratings because they removed themelves from their work prior to making it public. Not need to get personal. Obviously they believe that their book is great, they’ve written it after all. If they don’t want honest opinions, they shouldn’t publish.

    Don’t get me wrong, It’s ok to tell someone their reviews are too harsh and to be nice about it but this has turned into an online crusade.

  9. #17 by Carroll Bryant on January 19, 2013 - 12:02 PM

    The misinformation continues. STGRB is not against negative reviews of a book. I am not against negative reviews of a book. The issue is NOT negative reviews of a book. What I (and STGRB) is against is this: Calling authors rapists, racists, pedophiles, ect, in book reviews that should be about the book and only the book. (Not the author) The issue is also about when reviewers knowingly give ratings and reviews of books (authors) when they haven’t even read the book. (And they admit they never read it yet still give a fake rating / review) And when an issue arises between an author and a reviewer and the reviewer runs off to their friends to “gang up” on the author and suddenly, many people place their fake ratings and reviews up because of “one” incident. Then that author gets labeled as “Badly Behaving”. Then that author’s books gets “attacked” for that authors “behavior”.

    This can have negative effects in book sales for an up and coming author. And the appearance of these attacks leads many to believe that they are designed for exactly that purpose. So when you comment about STGRB being “Judge, jury and executioner” – these reviewers do the same thing against the author (on a personal level) and their book and their career. Where-as a simple honest negative review on a book is just an opinion.

    Worse yet, the attack on me had nothing to do with a negative review as I have never complained about such – but rather – an attempt by reviewers to silence my opinion and my own personal experience with what I deemed “shady practices” of a few reviewers on my blog. So how is it that it’s okay for reviewers to give negative reviews about books yet authors can’t give negative reviews about reviewers? Yet I was attacked by hundreds of reviewers for it. And even deeper, my “personal” life was brought into it (and not by me, I might add) And if that wasn’t enough, these people worked diligently as a “mob” to have me banned from Goodreads. (Sounds like “Judge, jury and execution” to me.)

    So you can continue to cry “reviewers are getting attacked for their negative reviews” all you like. But that is an out-right lie or misrepresentation of the truth. Both sides are “out-of-line” in this situation, and I know two wrongs don’t make a right, but when you have a group of people (reviewers) attacking people (authors) left and right for them expressing their opinions, instead of ganging up on them and their books, why not just click the ignore button? Why can’t a dispute between two people remain between two people? Why does it always have to be a “gang-bang”?

    So let’s stick to the real issue here: It’s not about negative reviews of books, but personal attacks against authors – And attemtps to ruin their reputations and careers with lies and libel.

  10. #18 by Gen X on January 22, 2013 - 12:34 PM

    Nice blog. If you don’t back down from these bullies I won’t. 🙂

  11. #19 by Rafael on February 1, 2013 - 8:31 AM

    I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your
    blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back in the future. All the best

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