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.

Leave a comment



Fred Levitan

4 weeks ago

Will post a complete, and (most likely given your record to date) favorable review of your book once it lands on my Kindle – I preordered when you announced its publication. Hope that in some small way helps counterbalnce the attack of the 40-year old incels.

Patrick S. Tomlinson

4 weeks ago

Thanks, Fred. Every little bit helps.

Scott Smith

4 weeks ago

All those 1 review accounts…Personally, if someone gives 1 star reviews, I check their accounts to see what they actually do like. If, as in the case with most of the reviewers here, they don’t have anything else or they don’t like your book, but they love their made in China MAGA hat, I know not to give their “review” any attention. I know it sucks for your overall ratings and Amazon should do something about it, but be assured that those of us who would actually buy and read your books take a little time to see who’s doing the reviewing.

Johnny

4 weeks ago

Hey Patrick,

gonna put it on my Kindle first thing tomorrow. Isn’t there anything you can do about these bastards, like legally?

Patrick S. Tomlinson

4 weeks ago

Those gears are already turning.

Chris Parker

4 weeks ago

Crap, that sucks man. I was wondering why you disappeared off Twitter. 🙁

Have all of your previous books, and pre-ordered this one.

Hang in there, please keep writing, and we’ll keep buying and leaving real reviews. Eventually something shinier will come along and the trolls will find another bridge to hide under.

Sam Robinson

4 weeks ago

Enjoying the new book, won’t make it through this week, though. I’ll write a review next week (the latest) to help counter balancing the fakes.
I went on reddit to give these vile people a piece of my mind. Turns out they won’t allow you to post unless you’ve been there for 2 days. Cowards.

Patrick S. Tomlinson

4 weeks ago

Funny, that.

Dave McGraw

4 weeks ago

Pre-ordered and my copy is en route as I type this. As with the others, I too plan to leave an honest and detailed review on Goodreads, Amazon, and anywhere else it may help. Like you, we must fight against this type of abuse. Left in darkness, it only festers while our backs are turned to it, blind to the insatiable dagger. We will burn this cancer away beneath the searing glare of what is truth.

“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.
Tolkien and Tomlinson must be shelved next to one another for reasons beyond alphabetization… 😉

Jimbo

4 weeks ago

Enjoying the new one so far.
Why are these assholes doing that to you?

Patrick S. Tomlinson

4 weeks ago

You already answered the question. Because they’re assholes.

Hacienda Pete

4 weeks ago

I was going to look at that garbage, but it seems like you busted those motherfuckers. Their cesspool is gone.

Shane

4 weeks ago

I’ve had at least three or four comments on the review I posted on my blog telling me how I would take it down if I did any research and saw what kind of person you were, etc. Giving the same bullshit lies and whatnot.

I’ll cross post my review (I Loved the book btw!) to amazon, Goodreads, etc tomorrow at some point.

Patrick S. Tomlinson

3 weeks ago

I saw that you did just that. Thank you and I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as you did.

Shane Jardine

3 weeks ago

I’m seriously freaking amazed that Amazon/Goodreads has done nothing about the review bombing. I mean it literally takes 10 seconds to tell the reviews aren’t real.

It is absolutely ridiculous that they won’t do anything about them..BUT, if I talk to much with an author on Twitter, I’ve had my reviews removed for bias. For “Knowing” the author.

Patrick S. Tomlinson

3 weeks ago

If your goal was to set out to destroy the legitimacy and integrity of your own ratings systems, you could scarcely do a better job than Amazon/Goodreads are doing right now.

Shane

3 weeks ago

I’m honestly still amazed by this and I don’t know how you’ve handled it as well as you seem to have. I just got another comment on my blog going on about how racist you are, etc.

The commenter used an email address linked to a blog/website where the very first post when I went there was with David Duke.

I wish there was more I/we could do than post honest reviews or refute such comments.

Patrick S. Tomlinson

2 weeks ago

There’s plenty more to be done. You can report abusive and fake reviews on Amazon/Goodreads. You can share the story of what’s happening within the reviewer community and start demanding these websites find a way to clean up their acts and protect the integrity of their ratings systems. And you can let your own audiences know what’s going on so they’re not fooled.

Todd Shannon

3 weeks ago

I’m purchasing the book next Friday when my check comes in and I’ll be sure to give it a five. These Nazis think they can really get away with this?

I’d pursue litigation, not kidding. Gather every shred of evidence you can against the scum. I’d like to see these babies cry in court!

Patrick S. Tomlinson

3 weeks ago

Thank you for your enthusiasm, Todd. But I ask only for honest reviews. Please read it first, then give a review. I hope it merits 5 Stars in your opinion, but I want to hear your genuine opinion.

Sarah Meintzer

4 days ago

I fully intend on buying, reading, and if it is anything like your other books giving it a glowing review. It is sad that there are people out there being mean just to be mean. You bring enjoyment and laughter to many.