Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Banned Book Review Week

In what can only be a tribute to Banned Books Week, Goodreads now bans book reviews.

Well, not exactly. According to their new policy announcement (which has been amended so many times in the past few days that it looks very little like the original anyway) GR is now deleting (without notification) reviews that they feel are harassing, threatening, not about the book, or are focussed on author behaviour.

Sounds reasonable, right? Until…

Let’s talk about Orson Scott Card. Everyone else is. And sure, maybe his particular beliefs don’t have a lot to do with Ender’s Game. So, if I discussed Ender’s Game with you, or wrote a review on it, why would I bring up the fact that Orson Scott Card believes that a large number of gay people are gay because they were molested or raped, and actually desire to live a “normal” life?   

I'll tell you why. It's because readers have every right to purchase a book for whatever reason they want. Or refuse to purchase it. And maybe I don’t want to give my money to a hateful homophobe. And maybe I rely on my friends to bring things like this to my attention, in a free exchange of ideas and opinions. 

But I’m weird like that. I like to spend my money ethically. A book is like any other product, and an author is a brand. I buy dolphin-safe tuna. I don’t buy clothes made by five-year-old kids in Third World sweatshops. Not if I know better, at least. And how will I know better if nobody can tell me?

And it gets really scary...buying a book means more than supporting the ideology of an author I don’t agree with. Sometimes it means that if I rate that book negatively, or tell my friends it’s a piece of crap, I’ll be the one who gets threatened and harassed. Oh, and here’s the best part. Maybe someone will even post my home address on the internet, and maybe even call me at home. Or even try to hire a hacker to find out that information. Now that’s some personal service, right?

I refuse to link to STGRB on my blog. The acronym stands for Stop The Goodreads Bullies, but possibly without the same intentional irony as The Ministry of Love, or other Orwellian gems. If you do go to their site, I would strongly suggest you use a proxy. Also, smarter people than me have talked about STGRB at length before.

But back to my hypothetical attack by a badly behaved author. Let’s say that all of the above has happened to me, as it has happened to others. It seems I now can’t warn other readers on GR that they might now be about to step onto the same dangerous ground. I can’t shelve a book on GR under the tag of “bad author behaviour” even when an author’s behaviour was unarguably bad, and there is plenty of proof of it.

Because GR are also deleting user shelves.

Well, who decides what is an appropriate shelf name and what is not? Is “badly behaving authors” inappropriate if it’s true? In fact, who decides what is a threatening or negative shelf name and what is not? For anyone interesting in that question, I’d suggest not starting with the Salon article claiming an author had her book shelved as “author deserves to be raped”, which, as the update at the bottom adds, never happened. For screenshots, go here.

And what about the shelf called “due to author” that was deleted? Was that negative? What if it was shorthand for "will buy immediately due to total awesomeness of author?" Who knows what it really means? Well, GR apparently knows, because a reader had that exact shelf deleted.

This is where I’d planned to mention something about the Thought Police, but then I worried you guys would think I was over-reacting. And then I thought, fuck it. It’s censorship. It deserves an over-reaction.

Yes, even posts like Nathan Bransford’s extolling us to all be nicer to one another on the internet deserve an over-reaction. I have a lot of love for Nathan, and I agree that yes, we actually all could be a lot nicer on the internet, but who gets to be the arbiter of what is allowable and what is not?

And that’s the thing with censorship or any sort. (On an earlier incarnation of the GR policy, they specifically said it was not censorship. That particularly disturbing c-word has now disappeared. Probably choked on its own sense of irony.) Censorship is a bad thing, even in tiny creeping increments like this. Especially in tiny creeping increments like this. Because, usually, the censors are hoping that they take such small steps that nobody notices they’re even moving.

And yes, I accept that GR is a private site and can change its policies as it sees fit. But to implement a policy like this with no warning, and to begin to delete members’ content with no notification, well, that’s not even giving members (who very nicely built the content of this site for free so that Amazon could come a-courting, and then a-buying) the right of response. Or even the chance to save their content. See that slippery slope? Wheeee!

Apologies for the rant, but this sort of thing makes me angry.
And I hope it makes other people angry as well. 

Oh, and for some people who have summed up this issue better than I ever could have, check out Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud or Amandaw38 via Buzzfeed


  1. I don't use Goodreads for a great many reasons, and you have outlined another reason for me to keep my distance. Thank you kindly, Jen.

    1. I still think that GR is a necessary site for an author, but it will be interesting to see if another site appears to fill the need here for open and free discussions.

  2. Banned book week makes me itch to read every book they ever banned. Like, what if I'd never read Ender's? That would be a tragedy.

    1. Agreed! I have a whole shelf of books that were banned at one time or another. It's interesting to see what makes the list!

  3. It is pretty annoying that they can just decide what to delete on a whim. Yes, the site can do what they want, but if they don't have enough respect for their users, screw 'em. We can post reviews on our blogs.

    1. I think a lot of people out there are now looking for alternatives. Deleting user content without warning was a low thing to do, particularly given that all the value of that site has come from the hours the users spent writing those reviews for free.



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