?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

A rant

And my rant for the day. Which I'm trying not to turn into a rant, because it didn't start out that way.

Elsewhere on LJ, while looking at the small interest list of people who list Eva Ibbotson -- who has become a staple in my comfort reading list -- I happened upon a post about Amazon.com and its review system.

Up front: I don't really care about amazon.com and its reviews. I don't care what a novel's star ratings are. I simply do not care. Actually, let me clarify that: Every four months or so, when I'm ego-surfing, I will read what other people have written about my books. And I'll think about what's been written. The reviews I've received are not universally positive. Am I happy that people think I'm boring and pointless? Not really. Am I devastated? Not really.

This could be because I don't actually pay attention to people's reviews for other writer's novels on amazon.com. Or that I tend to shop in bookstores, so I don't see them. I don't care enough to have ever had anything yanked from the site. Once or twice I've been curious about a comment made, and that can lead me to other discussions - where the people who've left the comment are open to those - but that's about it.

I commented on the LJ in question -- and I'm sure in retrospect that it seemed like I was slamming them, and my intent with the first post was merely to point out that a number of their angry assertions were -- in my experience -- not the whole of the truth. The author wasn't wrong about what they did post, but assertions such as "authors have all the power" in pulling reviews, for instance weren't entirely true -- anyone can get a review they don't like yanked from any page, provided they can give a good reason for it; it's not a power that resides with just the authors.

This started a small exchange, and in the end, I shut up and ruminated on it for a week and a bit, and now I'm posting here.

The LJ user in question was also upset at the amazon.com introduction of the Real Name policy, and I don't understand this. I don't understand the sense that because their future anonymity has been strongly discouraged, they're losing a fundamental right to their freedom of speech. They did list one of their reasons for annoyance being psycho authors who could then track down people who wrote justifiably negative reviews. Which, fair enough. (They also had some complaint about authors encouraging others to balance out the negative reviews with positive ones -- and I don't have a problem with that; I don't do it, but if someone is going to publicly say positive things about your books and you care what your star rating is on amazon it seems perfectly reasonable to ask those people to post their public opinions in that venue.)

But… the person also said, in the exchange that followed my original response, that people speak more freely when wearing masks. And it's this point that I'm now addressing for a few hundred words before I twist back again.

The fact that people are more "honest" when they don't have to face any consequences for that "honesty" is probably true. This is, imho, endemic in that a certain cowardice motivates some people to lie without the safety of a mask, and it occurs to me that I would find that type of person of little interest in real life because they would not be there; they'd be the sum of their insecurities about hurting my feelings, or about my getting angry about a divergence of opinions, and I am so not interested in that that words utterly fail me.

If a person isn't there as the truth of themselves then who the hell am I talking to, and more to the point, why should I bother? If the only way I can get honesty is when you enter a booth and drop your name and take on a different persona, I can't see the point in even the idea of friendship with you, because you're obviously not whoever you claim to be when we first meet.

Okay, okay, I was wrong. Sue me. I'm ranting. That was a big damn digression. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong, because it often happens that I am, and, contrary to the podium-pounding, I'm aware of it <wry g>.

Let me just get this out of the way: Amazon is a business. They don't have to support freedom of anonymous speech. They don't actually have to support comments at all because they're paying the bills. If they've decided that it's far less hassle to deal with a Real Name environment -- if they've decided that Real Names will cause them less email hassle, etc., then they're saving money -- and as a business, since they're supposed to be making money, this is perfectly well within their rights. They may have also noted that where people are forced to use Real Names, there is a pressure toward civil discourse -- or even silence. I've noticed that flames can erupt anywhere where real names are used -- but they tend not to be of the "I'm going to come to your house and kill you", add swearing and bad spelling as appropriate, variety. They tend to be heated. But real.

I don't understand the concept of privacy on the internet to mean "I can say anything I want under an assumed identity in a public forum" as if it were a right. Private and public are not the same thing. Private is that thing you do when you aren't putting yourself forward in public. Putting yourself forward in public in a way that you feel will somehow protect you from everything you choose to say doesn't strike me as a fundamental freedom. It strikes me as an act of cowardice. You have freedom of speech. You can use it. Insisting that you be able to use it on condition that no one actually know who you are, because you can't speak freely otherwise is to imply that you're living in a country in which you don't have freedom to speak. Which, okay. I believe the person lives in the US; I don't. There are certainly civil liberty issues which have become uncomfortable when seen from a distance. So…

There are exceptions. And I'm not going to argue the merit of the exceptions; I'll just say they at least make some sense to me. Reasons for not having a public identity while you operate on the internet that at least make sense to me:

1. "I use this identity to download illegal mp3s and movies", That would be logical to me, and I would have let the entire matter drop on its head at that point.

2. "I write porn or fanfic under this name and I don't want the hassle". I understand that. Also, if you write professional fiction and you write fanfic, this could cause you career difficulties. If you write fanfic at all, this could cause you legal difficulties. This also makes sense.

3. "I don't want my employers to find out what I've been saying and fire me". Makes sense as well, but. My advice, given internet security? Don't. Just … don't.

4. "I don't want the mob/gang/etc. to kill me" makes a lot of sense as well, although admittedly this is a bit of a stretch in most cases.

But… "I want to write reviews on Amazon" does not seem to fall into any of these categories for me. Turning a discussion about the ability to post reviews to Amazon.com into a discussion about internet privacy issues (the person doesn't want perspective employers to be able to find their reviews) doesn't seem to me to be the same thing.

But for other things? Public is public. The ability to lash out while hiding behind a rock is… not public. It's almost an act of cowardice, to me. Private is private. To try to do the one without doing the other doesn't seem to make sense. To feel that you can only say what you truly think if you're pretending to be someone else… strikes me as wrong on so many levels. Not in the moral sense, but in the sense of being true to self, of being oneself.

The point made by the other person was that the name shouldn't matter; it's the discourse, the ideas, the points made, and the quality of those points, that should count. And I can see this argument; there are times when we give authority more weight than content, which is stupid.

But if those things do count, I fail to see the merit of hiding one's identity. The fact that it's considered a right -- that freedom of speech and anonymity are considered almost synonymous, is baffling to me. You've got the right to say whatever you want, and you've also got the right to live with the consequences of saying it; that's the point of choice and speech, isn't it?

Comments

( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
blythe025
Oct. 24th, 2004 06:25 pm (UTC)
Yes.

I don't really read Amazon reviews either. In fact, the only time I did was when there was all that hub-bub about Anne Rice going on, and I got curious.

For me, reviews in general, whether from amazon or a professional reviewer, have absolutely no effect on my decition to buy or not buy a book.

As for the so-called "right" to anonymity . . . I don't know. I really don't know where I stand on that. I have never really tried to hide my identity on the internet. I never saw the need.

I don't have a problem with people who choose to not share their identity (except for those few people who want to flame and insult others, but leave their name off so that no one can can return the favor).

I don't think I could call it a right, but I don't think that the choice shoudl be taken away from people as a whole, either.

Does that make sense?
blythe025
Oct. 24th, 2004 06:27 pm (UTC)
Not that you said the ability to be anonymous should be taken away. I didn't get that impression at all.

Mostly, I'm just rambling.
Right or Privilege? - msagara - Oct. 24th, 2004 06:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Right or Privilege? - blythe025 - Oct. 24th, 2004 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Right or Privilege? - msagara - Oct. 24th, 2004 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Right or Privilege? - elialshadowpine - Oct. 24th, 2004 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
madwriter
Oct. 24th, 2004 07:07 pm (UTC)
Even Live Journal isn't all that secure--especially LJ, really, since it's open source. I was actually able to identify somebody who was harassing me by looking at his server log-ins (with the help of someone more computer savvy than me, anyway), proving that it was someone I actually knew.
msagara
Oct. 26th, 2004 02:56 pm (UTC)
Even Live Journal isn't all that secure--especially LJ, really, since it's open source. I was actually able to identify somebody who was harassing me by looking at his server log-ins (with the help of someone more computer savvy than me, anyway), proving that it was someone I actually knew.

Yes. Exactly so. Without any difficulty or problems whatsoever. I also like the so-called security of web-mail. Which I won't go into, because it's its own rant.

I assume that if someone wants, they can read pretty much anything I send through the ether. It doesn't always make me tactful or polite, but then again nothing is guaranteed to make me tactful or polite 100% of the time.
thegraybook
Oct. 24th, 2004 08:24 pm (UTC)
I've always felt Penny Arcade had a trenchant point about Internet anonymity here.
msagara
Oct. 24th, 2004 11:58 pm (UTC)
Hee!

Sorry; it was my first reaction to seeing it; it reminded me of old usenet flame wars, the like of which don't exist anymore. Not that this is a bad thing, since there was far more heat generated than anything resembling light.

cathellisen
Oct. 24th, 2004 09:30 pm (UTC)
anonymity
I don't think that the loss of anonymity should stop someone from writing a negative review. What it should hopefully do is cut down on ad hominem attacks.

It's too easy for people to post 'reviews' on the lines of, "You're stupid and you suck and your writing sucks so bad because your dog died." or whatever.

If you want to write a review then you should have the courage of your convictions. Not liking something is not a bad thing, but writing a negative review that centres on the author's faults and not the book's, is.
msagara
Oct. 24th, 2004 11:56 pm (UTC)
Re: anonymity
If you want to write a review then you should have the courage of your convictions. Not liking something is not a bad thing, but writing a negative review that centres on the author's faults and not the book's, is.

This is sort of my take on it as well. And, as I said, not all of my amazon reviews have been glowing, but that's part and parcel of putting your work out in public. People are allowed to have whatever opinions they want -- I appreciate it if they don't write, say, "Your writing sucks since you had kids" or an equally personal variant, but by and large, their experience might make a difference to other readers.

I did once write to someone who clearly hadn't liked my first book, because he'd given 1 star reviews to the last two in the series. Mostly, I wanted to know why he finished the books; they're not short, and it's a lengthy investment of time, given the stark reaction to the first one. He was actually happy to hear from me, and we had a lengthy back and forth about why he found them emotionally traumatizing, and about my lack of intent to cause that sort of trauma -- but he did confess that the latter two reviews were written from that state of upset, because he hadn't actually read the books. The conversation itself was interesting, and gave me insight into different modes of reading, which I'm still thinking about, so from my perspective, it was good. (My husband told me he hadn't read them before I sent the email, but I thought he must have, or why bother posting? and in this, he was right).

I didn't ask him to take them down; he offered, but I told him "controversy doesn't hurt". It doesn't, in my experience, and as amazon doesn't have any policy that I can see when it comes to reviews (such as, having to read the book), it was just as valid as anything else. Otoh, he did take them down.

I've noticed this at the store: If one person loved a book and one person hated it and they both post reviews, it has the effect of engendering curiosity in readers, because they want to know either who to believe or what they think, given the polarization.

So, even if the bad reviews sting, the overall effect isn't a bad commercial effect: And the more polarized, the more people are curious.

And the net effect of Anne Rice's rant on her sales? Books that hadn't moved off our shelves for months and months have sold out in the last one <wry g>.
alfreda89
Oct. 24th, 2004 09:49 pm (UTC)
I can see the purpose of anonymous posting in some cases...such as, you're a Wiccan and live in TX or OK and would probably be fired if your employer found out you were reviewing books on witchcraft.

I use a handle just to slow people down...you can figure out who I am from my postings, I am an author and don't hide my website. But I don't want to make it too easy to find me. I'm a single woman and until recently I lived alone.

I have done an anon posting on Amazon--a book I really liked but didn't want people to say, "oh, she's a friend of the author" and give the review less weight. Haven't checked back to see if I was outed by the new policy. But the book has been out long enough that it doesn't matter.
msagara
Oct. 26th, 2004 03:00 pm (UTC)
I can see the purpose of anonymous posting in some cases...such as, you're a Wiccan and live in TX or OK and would probably be fired if your employer found out you were reviewing books on witchcraft.


I hadn't realized how legal it was to fire someone for their religious beliefs, fwiw. And I'm finding many of the additional reasons to be anonymous interesting, and though-provoking.
(no subject) - alfreda89 - Oct. 27th, 2004 07:30 am (UTC) - Expand
naominovik
Oct. 24th, 2004 10:20 pm (UTC)
Putting yourself forward in public in a way that you feel will somehow protect you from everything you choose to say doesn't strike me as a fundamental freedom. It strikes me as an act of cowardice.

Yes. Exactly.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, Amazon isn't even actually *requiring* real names -- they're just making it an option for those who wish to have more credibility to use their credit card to certify their username is their real name.

There is an argument #5 to add for anonymity, which is that expressing an unpopular political opinion can frequently carry risks, and there's a proud tradition in US democracy of anonymity for such purposes (Alexander Hamilton's Federalist papers being the classic example). But again -- not so much for posting reviews on Amazon.

Though I'm actually surprised that Amazon does take down reviews at the request of the author. Do you know if they require some reason beyond the author disliking the comment? Does it have to be inappropriate or personal?

I will say that I for one frequently *do* use Amazon reviews to find books, though less so for fiction than for research. They're invaluable for figuring out which of say ten books on a subject is the one that people in the field actually like and use.
msagara
Oct. 24th, 2004 11:46 pm (UTC)
Though I'm actually surprised that Amazon does take down reviews at the request of the author. Do you know if they require some reason beyond the author disliking the comment? Does it have to be inappropriate or personal?

Amazon will take down reviews at the request of anyone who can make a case for it. If an angry fan writes in and says "this @#$#@ review contains spoilers so I'm never buying a book from your site again", they'll take the offensive review down. Likewise, someone can write and say "this isn't a review; the reviewer even said they didn't read the damn book", and they'll take it down.

It doesn't have to be the author making the request; someone just has to be offended enough to do it.

I will say that I for one frequently *do* use Amazon reviews to find books, though less so for fiction than for research. They're invaluable for figuring out which of say ten books on a subject is the one that people in the field actually like and use.

My husband said the same thing after he read this; he finds the good reviews very helpful in choosing which books to order. I don't order research books on-line, yet -- I have to be able to pick 'em up and read a good enough chunk that I feel it will be relevant to my needs, which are often fairly specific. He doesn't look at ficition at all on-line, though.
verdandiweaves
Oct. 25th, 2004 03:08 am (UTC)
I started to ignore amazon reviews when I found out a friend of my reviews his own books anonymously there. Before this I had enjoyed reading what other readers had written. After all, you can tell a great deal from how a review is written - if it is a rant, then my rule of thumb was to ignore it, but positive and informative reviews helped me make up my mind about ordering something a little more adventurous than normal.
I am wholeheartedly in favour of as much anonymousity as you can get on the net - unless you are hurling accusations. I think we all have a right to some privacy. Before I started on lj I found the top five google searchs on my real name gave away a great deal of information on me, including my age. I'm not famous, and I've never deliberately posted that information anywhere.
I friends lock a lot of my posts, and among other things, I talk about the various things my son gets up to, and even post the odd picture. I would never like the tales of toddler misdemeours to be found by his peers when he goes to school - and as for the pictures, that's obvious.
I also have some internet friends who have difficulties with depression, and on line we can talk about these without everyone in our streets knowing this is a problem- and this can be surprisingly helpful.
Also, from working as a psychotherapist and a psychologist, I do not see a strong link between telling someone your real name and telling the truth. :) Identities, and how we present ourselves, I believe, change all the time - and while I would never give my address to someone who I didn't know the real identity of, not knowing this, will not stop me having them as an on-line friend. (or Ljiend!) :)
Now, that's me rambling. :)
msagara
Oct. 26th, 2004 03:12 pm (UTC)

I am wholeheartedly in favour of as much anonymousity as you can get on the net - unless you are hurling accusations. I think we all have a right to some privacy. Before I started on lj I found the top five google searchs on my real name gave away a great deal of information on me, including my age. I'm not famous, and I've never deliberately posted that information anywhere.

This is the thing I'm not sure I understand. Yes, of course we're all entitled to some privacy; I would even say we have a right to it. But acting our speaking in a public forum is in some ways giving up privacy in order to be heard in said public forum. It's like want to have your cake and eat it, too.

I friends lock a lot of my posts, and among other things, I talk about the various things my son gets up to, and even post the odd picture. I would never like the tales of toddler misdemeours to be found by his peers when he goes to school - and as for the pictures, that's obvious.

I talk very seldom about my children or my husband's lives on-line. That's the way in which I maintain their privacy. My life is different, because it is mine.

I also have some internet friends who have difficulties with depression, and on line we can talk about these without everyone in our streets knowing this is a problem- and this can be surprisingly helpful.

Yes. I can see that this could be useful. We talk a bit more openly in life about things like this, and depression isn't a perjorative, but I'm aware that this isn't always the case.

Also, from working as a psychotherapist and a psychologist, I do not see a strong link between telling someone your real name and telling the truth. :)

I obviously see that there isn't that link, or I wouldn't have ended up ranting <g>.


lensedqso
Oct. 25th, 2004 03:45 am (UTC)
I write a lot of reviews (not for Amazon) and I do use a handle rather than my real name when it's allowed. It's not because I'm not willing to say what I have to say under my real name, and I have posted under my real name when the situation required it. I don't go out of my way to hide my real name, and a lot of folks who read my reviews know what it is.

That said, there are several reasons why I'm more comfortable with the handle. One I keep coming back to is keeping my professional name out of the flame wars and assorted nastiness out there. Some people still believe in guilt by association.

There are a lot of people on one of the ranked review sites who feel that their reviews are posted so people can tell them how great they are and expect you to put their reviews at the top of the heap no matter what. I don't do that - I call them as I see them. As a consequence, I get a lot of nasty email and - more pertinently - comments on my own review.

I have a friend who used to put that site on her resume. She's an excellent reviewer and also rated other people's reviews as she saw them rather than going with the popularity vote. People also sent her hate mail and left nasty comments on her reviews. She actually lost a job because her potential employers went to look at her reviews and saw angry accusations flung her way. At worst, they saw her as guilty of all sorts of horrible things. At best, they saw that other people didn't like her and she didn't play well with others.

I've been looking for work off and on for almost three years, and although I'm not willing to play the popularity game - I call them as I see them both when writing and rating reviews - I am also not interested in having all of the nastiness these people push out viewed by potential employers.

I also like to use a handle because I don't always have a sense of the quality of an online publication until I've been around it for a while and I do have some sense of reputation because, even though it's a completely different sort of writing, I do make my living as a writer. In addition, regardless of their quality, there's a tendency to look down on sites that don't pay terribly well or don't have a formal editorial process while I look at them as an opportunity to regularly write for publication on topics of my own choice and keep my writing sharp. My writing has never been so crisp. At the same time, I don't want to lose all opportunity for that higher paying and more prestigious work because they look down on some of the other places I've published my work.

Just my two cents.
msagara
Oct. 26th, 2004 03:20 pm (UTC)
That said, there are several reasons why I'm more comfortable with the handle. One I keep coming back to is keeping my professional name out of the flame wars and assorted nastiness out there. Some people still believe in guilt by association.

I think having a handle and having anonymity aren't quite the same in this context. I find, personally, that not knowing who the reviewer is in context renders their reviews meaningless. Or, in English: If I know that you've reviewed other books I've liked, I'm more likely to trust that your take and mine will be similar enough that I'll pay attention to what you've said.

If you use a different handle or post anonymously every time, I won't, in fact, have that context on which to draw, and am much more likely to ignore you. Or, worse, take reviews as an aggregate, and lump you on a scale. Which takes time. Which I don't have. Which means I often don't bother.

I have a friend who used to put that site on her resume. She's an excellent reviewer and also rated other people's reviews as she saw them rather than going with the popularity vote. People also sent her hate mail and left nasty comments on her reviews. She actually lost a job because her potential employers went to look at her reviews and saw angry accusations flung her way. At worst, they saw her as guilty of all sorts of horrible things. At best, they saw that other people didn't like her and she didn't play well with others.

Noted.
(Deleted comment)
msagara
Oct. 26th, 2004 03:29 pm (UTC)
Two things I'd like to respond to: when you meet people for the first time, there's always an element of lying present. It's called politeness ^_^ Just because we humans tend to judge people in the first 5ms we develop a public persona that might not match our private one. It takes time to become good friends.

LOL! I want andpuff to comment on your comment about meeting people for the first time and politeness. And me <wry g>. It depends on how over-focused I am at the time; I'm not notorious for my levels of social politeness. I think omitting information about yourself when you first meet anyone is not the same as lying. I would not, for instance, nod politely while some witless, offensive person to whom I had just been introduced gave me the low down on why birth control was Evil.

Well, unless they were 80.

The biggest problem is that the Internet is a written forum, so your words remain a lot longer than a conversation. Sometimes you change your mind, sometime you wonder what you were thinking, ten years down the line. It's--ironically--the permanence of the medium that sometimes makes me choose anonymity.

This is an interesting take on things. It's not one I would choose -- but I wouldn't; I've published work ten+ years ago that I don't think stands up to the best I could do now.

Why doesn't this bother me in the same way? Because publishing is an act that's public.

And speaking in a public forum is, likewise, an act that's public. I consider them the same thing, really. If I do change, I'm likely to acknowledge that I have, and if I'm all over the place, the change of opinion, etc., is likely to be noted. If age and wisdom are seen as hypocrisy, I'll probably laugh at someone <g>.

(Never for reviews: if you have an opinion on someone work, you should stand behind it.) But if I am "shooting the shit," or exploring a thought with a few other people, I prefer anonymity. My opinion is unformed, or uninformed, and I don't want that the influence other people's view of me.

This is sort of interesting as well; does it mean that you only want them to be influenced by definite views? Or that you don't want to be associated with the questions, or with having them?

I'm obviously here as me. I'm generally anywhere as me; I ask a lot of questions, and occasionally, cause offense; I don't have opinions on everything, and some of the opinions I do have will change -- that's being human. I assume that my words will be archived somewhere, by someone, and if they aren't, that's what I have my sister for; she'll remember all the embarrassing things I've ever said <g>.

(Deleted comment)
stakebait
Oct. 25th, 2004 08:15 am (UTC)
I don't think it's a right. I do think it's a thing people got used to and some valued and is now being taken away, and that tends to make people cranky.

I guess you could argue it's a right under "right of way" logic -- if you let people cut across your field, eventually they get a right to cut across your field and you can't decide to take it away any more. At least in US law. But I think applying that to the Internet would result in a lot of web sites suddenly getting rid of all their cool functionality, so let's not.

I have no problem reviewing under my real name. But all other things being equal, I'd prefer not to, because I'd prefer to keep a consistant Internet identity. Not to decrease my accountability, but to increase it -- so that people know that the same girl who's been shooting her mouth off in your fanfic thread is the one who is giving a bad review to the Lima Bean and Tang diet book, or whatever.

And since my main online identity these days is the one that has the fanfic legal issues you mention, I don't want to associate it and my real name in the same place. So if I hafta put my real name, I hafta NOT put the name that people are likely to actually know. Which makes the review marginally less useful/credible. But is not that big a deal, really, since I almost never review on Amazon anyway.
msagara
Oct. 26th, 2004 03:32 pm (UTC)
I have no problem reviewing under my real name. But all other things being equal, I'd prefer not to, because I'd prefer to keep a consistant Internet identity. Not to decrease my accountability, but to increase it -- so that people know that the same girl who's been shooting her mouth off in your fanfic thread is the one who is giving a bad review to the Lima Bean and Tang diet book, or whatever.

Fair enough. And there are users who were known entirely by their handles, but consistently by those handles, for years. I don't -- as I mentioned -- have a problem with the handles; I do have a problem with what I see as unjustified paranoia, although perhaps that's not the way I phrased it.

And since my main online identity these days is the one that has the fanfic legal issues you mention, I don't want to associate it and my real name in the same place. So if I hafta put my real name, I hafta NOT put the name that people are likely to actually know. Which makes the review marginally less useful/credible. But is not that big a deal, really, since I almost never review on Amazon anyway.

This all makes sense to me, as well. The "But this is how I'm known" answer is an answer that falls outside of my original rant, but it's a well-taken point.
prettyarbitrary
Oct. 25th, 2004 09:47 am (UTC)
Warning: tangential rant
I read reviews on Amazon. For one thing, I find them useful for, say, figuring out which book on Javascript is best for a novice. For another, I read enough scifi/fantasy to have pretty much tapped out the standard fare at Barnes and Noble. If I want something different, I have to shop based on recommendation, and the reviews on Amazon sometimes help me make up my mind. It works pretty well, actually. I just ignore the rants and badly-spelled reviews.

As for the thing about privacy: feh. In the US, it's an enormous issue right now, and it has gotten ridiculous. I have nothing against personal information being protected. Random strangers should not be able to look up your address. But if you're buying a new house, the realtor should be able to access your credit report. Librarians should be able to look up your information so they can mail you irritated letters about your 3-months overdue book. And for God's sake, a teacher should know the name and phone number of a child's parents in case of emergency.

I know that to other countries, the US government has been looking somewhat Nazi-like lately, but the privacy issue really has very little to do with that. The people compromised by laws such as the Patriot Act are not at all the same people who are complaining that salespeople can see their credit card numbers. And I think you're right: right to privacy is not the same as right to free speech. In fact, this obsession about privacy compromises free speech. If you can't verify your facts or cite your sources, how are you supposed to make sure you're right? Free speech is only protected if you've got a leg to stand on.

I guess you can tell what my opinion is (barring such good reasons as you cited). Sure, I've got my handle, but 1: I don't generally criticize people under this ID, and 2: if someone asks my name, I'll tell them. And I use my real name when I post on Amazon. Anyone who goes to the hard work of writing a book deserves to know who's criticizing (or praising) them.

I apologize for the rant. It's just that I've gotten disgusted with this fixation on personal privacy. It leaves behind considerations such as integrity, efficiency, and even the chance to socialize and make new friends.
movingfinger
Oct. 25th, 2004 12:02 pm (UTC)
An interesting thread, and thought-provoking right down to the comments. So thought-provoking, I'm afraid to add two cents, but here I am stumbling in with both feet first...

In a nutshell: Every right or privilege has its complementary responsibility. Many people relish the privilege or right (anonymous posting) without exercising the responsibility (to think before typing, and then to think again).

That said, y' know, this issue was battled out in print and pubs years and years ago when the Times Literary Supplement stopped publishing its reviews anonymously. Supporters of anonymity felt very strongly that, in the relatively world of writing, anonymous reviews allowed people to be more critical and demanding, as reviewers, of work by people they might well know professionally or socially and have good reason not to wish to offend. The argument arose again when the TLS made electronically available archived reviews, including those from the anonymous years. A surprisingly large number of people objected to de-masking anonymous reviewers. Yet, the printed, edited hatchet review was and remains uncommon. On Amazon, editing is done by user complaints, I guess. Yet even an attributed, edited review can generate a lot of flamage, as the relatively recent flap about Rachel Polonsky's review of Orlando Figes's Natasha's Dance. (If you're interested in review politics, try Googling those names, you should be able to find some of the post-facto discussions; here's one.) The argument also swirled, in a rather unattractive form, around McSweeney's Dave Eggers, The Believer, Heidi Julavits, and other personages of literary mind, very recently, and anonymous Amazon hatchet jobs were part of the brew. It all came out looking a bit childish.

I guess it's obvious that my stance is for signed, attributable reviews. But, am I naive? Have psycho authors been tracking down unfavorable reviewers and siccing lawyers or Rottweilers or whatever on them, in retribution? (If so, sigh---as ever, I'm missing out on the fun!) The Eggers incident left him looking small and mean. The The Anne Rice thing was just sad---embarrassing for all parties. But it was all fuelled by anonymity, wasn't it...
icarus_flying
Oct. 25th, 2004 12:36 pm (UTC)
This is somewhat tangential, because I do agree with your position on Amazon, in that I believe they had every right to do what they did, and I'm also glad that the system was put in place. But I do disagree with something else that you said -

To feel that you can only say what you truly think if you're pretending to be someone else… strikes me as wrong on so many levels. Not in the moral sense, but in the sense of being true to self, of being oneself.

I don't think the issue is as black and white as that. To take the most obvious example, everyone tells white lies. Another example - how much weight your words carry depends greatly on who you are; if an anonymous investor says that he's selling a certain stock, few people would care; if Warren Buffett were to say the same thing, the market value of said company would go down 10% in the next 24 hours. Or, as a more pertinent anology, if I were to post a negative review about a new sci-fi author, not many people would notice; if Neil Gaiman were to do the same thing, however, people would notice, and it might even have an impact on the book's sales. For this reason, I think that I'd prefer an anonymous negative review rather than one with a name attached (especially if the name is a recognizable one), if only because the anonymous review carries less weight.

So while I do think that there are people that abuse anonymity, using it to engage in ad hominem attacks and so forth, I also think it's a useful way, sometimes, for certain people, to get their views heard without disturbing the status quo of whatever system they're in, because that way the review/opinion is judged solely on its own merits and not by the name attached to it.
avt_tor
Oct. 25th, 2004 09:34 pm (UTC)
Anonymity is an essential component of freedom of speech. In the days when Thomas Payne and pals were flaming King George III, a lot of writers used pseudonyms to keep the king's men from banging down their doors.

But what was happening on Amazon is that writers, or their agents or publicists, were writing "reviews" on Amazon that were just puff pieces. In order to meet consumer demand, they had to find a way to allow readers to judge the credibility of a writer. I believe there were cases of people claiming to be certain writers or well-known journalists as well. Was a no-brainer that this was a situation Amazon had to deal with.

There are some political bloggers who are both anonymous and well-known, people whose opinions are read by a wide audience but whose real identities are unknown.

I used to write book reviews (and I may again). When I did, I did so under my own name. When I reviewed a friend, I said so straight up.

I like what Slashdot does; unregistered comments are signed "Anonymous Coward".

The problem with pseudonyms isn't the writers, it's the readers. People have a responsibility to evaluate the authenticity of what they are reading, and too many people just don't. Freedom of speech includes a right of anonymity, but it does not include a right to be listened to and taken seriously. But too many people have so little concept of credibility and authenticity that they fail to see this. And so the public forums have to hand-hold the audience.
msagara
Oct. 26th, 2004 03:36 pm (UTC)
Anonymity is an essential component of freedom of speech. In the days when Thomas Payne and pals were flaming King George III, a lot of writers used pseudonyms to keep the king's men from banging down their doors.

We are not living under the reign of King George III. I understand the analogy, but unless you believe that we're living under a general dictatorship of sorts, it doesn't apply. If, otoh, you do believe that, than the only definition of freedom of speech is "The one which doesn't get you caught and killed". Which is not what I mean when I say freedom of speech.

I agree, otoh, with the rest of your comments.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Nov. 2nd, 2004 12:04 am (UTC) - Expand
mmarques
Oct. 25th, 2004 10:16 pm (UTC)
On reading reviews at Amazon.com:
As other people have mentioned, I mostly turn to amazon.com reviews when finding reference materials. I do, however, occasionally turn to them for fiction reviews. In this case, usually because I have become ambivalent about an author's series and what to see what's being said about the latest book.

On anonymity:
Yes, most of the time anonymous reviews give an excuse for incivility. But sometimes (and not just in the case of amazon.com) people have a legitimate reason to speak out without being identified. Some people gave examples of being identified with witch craft.

In other situations, people are willing to speak about their problem, on the condition of anonymity.... I believe that is the basis for AA, anonymous help-lines, and other groups. OK, so that is not the point of reviews at amazon.com, but imagine that someone would like to review a book that helped them deal with such a problem. It could be a self-help book, or even a fiction book that deals with the problem. The review could be helpful to others, but might not be written except under the cover of anonymity.

Thus, I can see reasons to allow anonymous reviews, but I would prefer that they not count as much:
* When reviews for a book are listed, anonymous reviews follow reviews by named reviewers.
* If there are reviews by both anonymous and named reviewers, only the ratings of named reviewers count towards the average rating of the product.
msagara
Oct. 26th, 2004 03:40 pm (UTC)
In other situations, people are willing to speak about their problem, on the condition of anonymity.... I believe that is the basis for AA, anonymous help-lines, and other groups. OK, so that is not the point of reviews at amazon.com, but imagine that someone would like to review a book that helped them deal with such a problem. It could be a self-help book, or even a fiction book that deals with the problem. The review could be helpful to others, but might not be written except under the cover of anonymity.

I've only been to one AA meeting, when a friend took me with her to Alateen, which was a subgroup for teen children of AA members. The anonymity was obviously not guaranteed in group; it was guaranteed outside of the group. You undertook not to mention the names of the people within the (very very large) general AA meeting to any outsiders. They certainly used their real names within the group I visited.

But yes. It's not the point of the reviews at amazon, although again, your point -- that reviewers for certain types of books might not speak out otherwise -- is well taken.

It's partly a problem with the general concept of social norms, though. If we accepted a wider variant of lifestyles, we wouldn't have people who felt the consistent need to hide.
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
( 40 comments — Leave a comment )