Fake Reviews and Amazon’s Apathy

Starship Repo book

Hello fans, friends, and followers. As you (hopefully) know by now, Tuesday marks the launch of my next book from Tor, STARSHIP REPO. Order yourself a copy, you won’t be disappointed.

Unfortunately, the impending book birthday party for my newest is being crashed by a familiar group of rabid, obsessed cyberstalkers. For the last nine months, I’ve been the target of a non-stop harassment campaign, organized by trolls on Reddit. You can read about the origins and the first few weeks of their attacks here.

For going on a year now, this small group of a few dozen terrorists has been single-mindedly haranguing me across the breadth of the internet, swarming my YouTube channel, blog, and Instagram with homophobic and body-shaming comments, launching mass false reporting attacks to suspend my Twitter account and lock my Facebook, impersonating me in the comments section of my publisher’s website trying to make me appear racist and anti-Semitic, doxxing my home address, making harassing phone calls to local businesses I frequent, and of course death threats and suicide demands.

This same group was featured in People Magazine for an identical harassment campaign waged against singer/songwriter Logan Lynn, using similar tactics and making many of the same false accusations. The original 27,000 subscriber subreddit eventually imploded when one of the mods tried to impose some semblance of order, and was immediately torn apart by his own members. It was then resurrected in a smaller, but no less vile sub populated with support for homophobia, racism, and white supremacy.

They are, in a word, unhinged. During all this time, this group has also tried very hard to tank my Amazon and Goodreads scores by review bombing my books with faked 1 Star ratings. Most of these fraudulent reviews are easy to spot, as they are seldom verified purchases, lack any sort of detailed descriptions of either characters or plot that would indicate they’d actually read the book, and are often written by accounts that are either brand new, or have very little activity. But casual browsers unaware of the situation can hardly be expected to do the necessary sleuthing to separate the real reviews from the fraudulent.

However not all fake reviewers are content to take a pithy shot at work they haven’t read and hit enter. Some of them are far more insidious. Like this one:

Again we see the twin accusations of anti-Semitism and racism, which is a common theme and tactic among these people: Accuse the enemy of that which you are guilty. But, is it true? I think anyone who’s been following me knows the answer to that already, but just in case, here’s pages 83 and 283 from GATE CRASHERS:

Now, if you can find any anti-Semitic dog whistles or references to women leaving their husbands for African Americans anywhere in there, you should probably lay off the drugs for a while. Not only is this review fake, it is deliberately abusive and libelous. But they’re not content with past abuses, oh no. For months now, this sub has been counting down the days until they can review carpet bomb STARSHIP REPO with more of the same fake ratings the second it’s released, hoping to tank sales. That’s not hyperbole, by the way. They literally have a countdown clock:

Classy. Remember, this is a book none of them have read, and none of them even have access to. We know who advanced reader copies have been sent to, and none of them are on the list. This is purely about continuing their terror campaign against a randomly picked target for fun.

I fully expect that before I wake up tomorrow, STARSHIP REPO will have several dozen fake, malicious reviews already posted on its Amazon page, along with the half dozen that have already appeared on Goodreads. All of the above evidence and explanation has already been repeatedly sent to Amazon customer service, both from myself, and from my publisher. And what has Amazon done in response?

Absolutely nothing. Indeed, they have actively refused to take any action at all, falling back on the excuse that their algorithms have already determined the reviews are genuine, and no human actively polices them anyway.

This is, to put it mildly, disappointing coming from one of the largest and most powerful companies in the entire world. When all is said and done, I don’t really blame the trolls for their antisocial, maladjusted behavior, any more than I would blame a baby for soiling its diaper, or a college student puking up six hours of 2-4-1 Long Island Ice Teas in an Applebee’s sink on their 21st birthday. In all three cases, they simply have no control over themselves, and can’t be expected to do better.

But Amazon and other companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit can be expected to do better. Indeed, we must demand they do. Targets of online harassment campaigns must be given the tools they need to combat these all-encompassing attacks, and their oppressors silenced.

Somehow, when it comes to our collective online lives, society has agreed to the perverse notion that people of accomplishment and status, be they actors, athletes, writers, or musicians, should just shut up and take it when harassed. “Don’t feed the trolls” people who have never been in the spotlight say, not realizing that trolls turn to stone in the presence of sunlight. Meanwhile, hordes of anonymous terrorists are somehow afforded infinite free speech rights, up to and including consequence-free libel, incitement to violence, and threats of bodily harm or death.

This social compact is not just counterintuitive, but utterly insane. It validates and encourages the dead worst behavior, from the world’s most awful people. It has poisoned social media and public discourse, and it must change. Some websites are actually taking steps to combat brigading, like Rotten Tomatoes, which changed their review policies after a misogynistic review bombing campaign against the Captain Marvel movie. Disney made the right move in rehiring James Gunn to direct Guardians of the Galaxy 3 in the wake of his firing after being attacked by an alt-right defamation campaign.

These are good first steps, but far more needs to be done to counter online hate mobs. As for me, I’ll be spreading the word by linking this article to every fake review one of these lost boys posts to my work. If Amazon won’t help creatives by protecting the integrity of their ratings system, we’ll just have to take matters into our own hands.

 

As always, if you like what I’m doing here, please subscribe to my email list in the blue bar at the top of the page. And if you really like what I’m doing, order a copy of STARSHIP REPO. And maybe leave an honest review.

Trump Goes Full Autocrat. Never Go Full Autocrat.


 

What a year this week has been, and it’s still only Friday.

On Monday, Trump’s former personal lawyer, mob fixer, and porn star payer-offer, Michael Cohen, reported to federal prison to begin a three year sentence for crimes he committed on behalf of, under the implicit instruction of, and for the benefit of the *President of the United States.

Then on Tuesday, the New York Times dropped a bombshell report that came as a shock only to people who haven’t been paying even a shred of attention. Yes, turns out Trump lost an average of one hundred and ten million dollars per year between the mid eighties and mid nineties for a total of over a billion dollars of negative income. For comparison, it would take the average drunken sailor on shore leave after a six month WestPac more than a thousand years to blow that much money on booze and women of negotiable affection. Indeed, according to IRS documentation, Trump was one of the single largest individual failures in the entire country over this ten year span of time.

Nor are the revelations about Trump’s laughably pathetic business acumen going to stop anytime soon. Since Trump is a well-known among American banks as a default risk because, again, he is an abysmally terrible businessman, the only western bank that has been willing to loan to him for the last fifteen plus years has been German-based and Russian-money-laundering-scandal-plagued Deutsche Bank. Whelp, ze Germans are busy spilling the beans on all of their shady loans over the last decade to the New York Attorney General’s office as they build a case against the Trump Organization. Speaking of New York, on Wednesday, the NY state assembly voted to advance a bill that would legalize the release of Trump’s personal and business state taxes to the US Congress, forms which would very closely mirror Trump’s federal taxes Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin broke the law to keep secret from the House Ways and Means Committee earlier in the week, an act that may land him with a Contempt of Congress charge. More on that in a bit.

But none of that is the biggest news to come out of the Executive Branch over the past week. That dubious and deeply worrying honor goes to one William Barr, the toadie Trump hand-picked to replace Attorney General and racist Kebbler Elf, Jeff Sessions after he made the cardinal sin of recusing himself from the Russia investigation following the recommendation of an ethics review.

First, a little background. This is not Attorney General Barr’s first turn in the office, but his second. His first stint as the nation’s top law enforcement officer came during the George H.W. Bush administration, where he immediately set to work doing the White House’s bidding by recommending pardons for nearly everyone involved in the Reagan era Iran Contra Affair, hoping to bury the scandal and help those responsible avoid accountability once and for all.

Does that sound even vaguely familiar? Because it should.

You see, Barr auditioned for the job of Trump’s new and improved AG when he penned a memo nobody asked for or wanted arguing that it’s actually legally impossible for a President to obstruct justice, and that Mueller’s entire investigation into Trump’s motivations for firing FBI Director James Comey, intimidating witnesses like Michael Cohen via Twitter, and dangling pardons to the traitor Paul Manafort, was therefore entirely invalid, even frivolous.

To say this view of an infinite Executive branch unburdened by the restrains of the law and justice is an extreme position is to torture every word present in the sentence. Barr’s memo is not just far to the right of every serious Constitutional scholar, judicial opinion, and American history, it’s out past the Keiper Belt and charging up for a jump to warp speed out of the solar system. Anyone who lived through or studied anything about the Watergate scandal that took down Richard Nixon knows that one of the articles of impeachment against him was indeed Obstruction of Justice in the aftermath of the DNC break in and subsequent cover-up.

Yet even after putting his insanity to the page, practically begging to be picked for the job of covering up for yet another criminal Republican administration, Barr cruised to confirmation, and then indeed tried to exonerate Trump of Obstruction in the court of public opinion. Which is why on Wednesday, after he refused to turn over the unredacted Mueller Report to Congress, a report he deliberately and maliciously lied about the contents of to the American people just weeks before, the House Judiciary Committee took the drastic but entirely necessary and justified step of referring the Attorney General of the United States to the full House on the charge of Contempt of Congress for only the second time in our history.

The first time came a few short years ago when the GOP led House held Obama era AG Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to turn over certain documents related to their probe into the Fast and Furious scandal. That investigation dead-ended with exactly no charges or indictments, no arrests, and no convictions of anyone in the Obama administration, largely because the scandal was a conspiracy theory ginned up by the far rightwing blogosphere from the start, and their probe into it was nothing but cynical political theater much like the ten Benghazi hearings.

Mueller’s Trump/Russia probe was anything but cynical theater. Instead, it not only proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Russia actively interfered in our election with the goal of installing Trump and defeating Clinton, but that it made numerous attempts to infiltrate the Trump campaign and bring Trump associates into the conspiracy, attempts that were positively received by Trump’s campaign manager, personal lawyer, son in law, eldest son, and several other key members working for the campaign in both official and unofficial capacities, such as Roger Stone.

Mueller’s investigation by contrast, which was started by Republican Rod Rosenstein, incidentally, lead to over one hundred criminal charges against thirty-four people and three companies, eight arrests, seven convictions and counting, and as many as fourteen new criminal investigations into related matters that have now been handed off to other prosecutors.

By the numbers, the Mueller probe was the most successful and consequential Special Counsel investigation in American history, uncovering a vast, international web of criminality that ensnared some of Trump’s closest advisors and confidants. Which is exactly why Barr was brought in to lie about and bury its findings. So flagrant were Barr’s misrepresentations of the report to the American populace, that Mueller himself, who has a history of being tight-lipped and rigidly respectful of the chain of command, wrote a letter to Barr personally expressing his displeasure at how his new boss dishonestly presented his team’s findings and sowed confusion among our citizens.

Barr has made a career out of lying and burying bodies, but he’s not the one at the center of the web giving the marching orders. Instead, it’s Donald Trump who has ordered Barr, Mnuchin, former White House Counsel Don McGahn, and other officials to violate Congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony, in effect obstructing justice to conceal his earlier obstruction of justice in a layer cake of criminality, like if Inception had been written by the world’s dumbest mobster.

Donald Trump was never President, not for one second. His “election” which remember he fucking lost by three million votes, was rendered illegitimate by not only Russian interference, but his campaign’s own complacency and encouragement of that interference. “If it’s what you say, I love it,” Donny Glue Eater said instead of reporting to the FBI. Thanks to nearly two years of work by Mueller’s team, these are now established, undeniable facts, even if they were unable to meet the strict legal standards of evidence that would have supported conspiracy charges (which I’m sure had nothing to do with members of Team Trump destroying evidence). In Trump’s continued efforts to conceal not only his illegitimacy as *President, but the ever-expanding dragnet into his decades of financial crimes, he is busy burning down two hundred and forty plus years of our institutions, checks-and-balances, and shredding the Constitution itself by stonewalling Congress in their duty as a coequal branch of government and responsibility to provide oversight.

The danger here is that Barr’s delusional vision of an unchecked executive of infinite power may itself become something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. As many pundits have already observed, the founders envisioned a wannabe tyrant like Trump. But they never imagined in their darkest nightmares a party so dedicated to their own racism and feudalistic class war that they’d actually help a despot dismantle everything they worked so hard to create. The lengths the entire Republican party has gone to bend over backwards for the Tangerine Toddler in his hostile takeover of democracy would be impressive if only any of them possessed a spine. He means to fully consolidate power into the office he stole with Putin’s help, because remaining there indefinitely is the only thing saving him from dying in prison, and he knows it.

We are past the point of a Constitutional Crisis, and have entered a Constitutional Meltdown. The Democratic party in Congress, and by extension every remaining American patriot, must fight tooth and nail, using every means available, to drive back this assault on our republic and our democratic system.

We do not have a President today, and if we’re not careful, we’ll never have another one again.

 

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