On the importance of pseudonymous activity
We here at Dear Author have always supported anonymity and pseudonymity. We have allowed people to use pennames and alias in the comments even when it meant they would be hurling insults at us, even when they engaged in sock puppetry (by changing their alias but posting from the same IP address). We do this because we believe in providing a safe place to express your opinion. We don’t always carry out this philosophy perfectly. We’ve made mistakes (and will continue to do so because we’re human and imperfect).
Most of the reviewers at DA use a pseudonym as do many authors in the romance community. Some people use their full legal name and some do not. There are many reasons for using a pseudonym and most of them are valid and as Justice John Paul Stevens noted, it’s a protected right.
On Saturday, author Kathleen Hale was given a platform on the Guardian, one of the most venerable book outlets in the English speaking world. Using that platform, she chronicles a months long stalking campaign to a Goodreads reviewer who Hale charactered as her number one critic.
I’m not sure why Hale assigns the moniker of #1 critic to this particular Goodreads reviewer because Hale’s book is the subject 170 one star ratings on Goodreads.
Hale became strangely fixated on the GR reviewer and proceeds to spend months (yes months) infiltrating the GR reviewer’s online life until she is one day able to obtain the reviewer’s address. From there, Hale took her stalking offline.
“Why would a reviewer EVER use a fake name?” implored the author currently stalking the hell out of one. “I can’t think of one reason.”
— Bree Bridges (@mostlybree) October 18, 2014
This is the course of events. On January 31, 2014, Goodreads reviewer begins chronicling her reading of Hale’s book through the use of status updates. This is a behavior that Goodreads promotes and places the status updates box on the front page. It is literally the second thing on the sidebar and one of the first things on the mobile app.
Here’s what Hale alleges the blogger did:
- She had tweeted me saying she had some ideas for my next book. It should be noted that this was (if it happened) in response to Hale’s request ON TWITTER for IDEAS FROM READERS! In an attempt to connect with readers, I’d been asking Twitter for ideas – “The weirdest thing you can think of!” – promising to try to incorporate them in the sequel.
- The “review” (it was never a review but a collection of status updates which, as identified above is a GR approved and promoted activity) “warn[ed] other readers that my characters were rape apologists and slut-shamers. She accused my book of mocking everything from domestic abuse to PTSD. This is accurate. The status updates (as well as other reviews) were disturbed that the characters in the book fake being in a abusive domestic relationship in order to gain information about someone else).
- The “review” noted that there was rape and Hale contends there is no rape in the book. In the original status update (and these cannot be edited. I know bc I’ve had awful typos in status updates and hate that I can’t edit them), the reviewer noted that there was statutory rape. Hale doesn’t acknowledge this but instead uses it as part basis for her later actions.
- Hale then is directed to Stop the GR Bullies where she finds a page on the GR Reviewer. According to fake person Athena Parker who co founded Stop the GR Bullies, the GR Reviewer attacked a fourteen year old. Stop the GR Bullies is a well known hate site that uses out of context screenshots to construct stories out of whole cloth. They have targeted people like Courtney Milan as well as many other individuals I respect.
- The GR Reviewer has a ripple effect. In the following weeks, [the GR reviewer’s] vitriol continued to create a ripple effect: every time someone admitted to having liked my book on Goodreads, they included a caveat that referenced her review. The ones who truly loathed it tweeted reviews at me. At this point, the GR reviewer status updates have become “vitriol” and Hale starts blaming everything on the GR reviewer. I did a quick click through and did not see any references to the GR reviewer’s updates. But let’s be fair, even if this did happen how was it the GR reviewer’s fault. Referencing another blogger’s take and acknowledging problematic themes is not uncommon and certainly not “bullying” behavior.
- The GR Reviewer began tweeting ridicule. There isn’t any evidence of this and “that same day” refers to no date at all. In other words, Hale makes up a date. Her previous paragraph was “In the following weeks…” so who knows what date Hale is referring to. It’s convenient not to have a date. That way we can’t verify Hale’s claims. “That same day, [the GR Reviewer] began tweeting in tandem with me, ridiculing everything I said.”
- Watching the GR Reviewer tweet about her manuscript, Hale subtweets and is subsequently bombarded with unhappy responses.One afternoon, good-naturedly drunk on bourbon and after watching [GR reviewer] tweet about her in-progress manuscript, I sub-tweeted that, while weird, derivative reviews could be irritating, it was a relief to remember that all bloggers were also aspiring authors. My notifications feed exploded. Bloggers who’d been nice to me were hurt. Those who hated me now had an excuse to write long posts about what a bitch I was, making it clear that:1) Reviews are for readers, not authors. 2) When authors engage with reviewers, it’s abusive behaviour. 3) Mean-spirited or even inaccurate reviews are fair game so long as they focus on the book. “Sorry,” I pleaded on Twitter. “Didn’t mean all bloggers, just the ones who talk shit then tweet about their in-progress manuscripts. I actually saw this one happen on Twitter and Hale’s memory is occluded here, either intentional or not. She actually subtweeted about a three star review.
- The review she subtweeted is here. “The characters using these words were unlikable and supposed to be that way, but I still think the author could have made them plenty unlikable without using language that pisses off a large portion of the population.”
And the screenshot which Hale deleted is here:
To summarize, the extent of the GR Reviewer’s actions includes:
- Making status updates about a book.
- Possibly getting into a fight with a previous author or reviewer.
- Possibly subtweeting Hale.
- Tweeting about her own work in progress.
You might assume by the response of Hale to the blogger’s actions and the nearly 5000 words devoted to this response that the blogger was engaged in really terrible behavior. Certainly commenters and twitter denizens believed the blogger was “deranged” and “no angel” and “vicious” I read the Guardian piece carefully, probably five times, to ascertain exactly what it was that the blogger/reviewer had done and arrived at the above four actions. Let’s take a look at Hale’s actions.
- She obtains the blogger’s address under false pretenses from a book club. Over the next few months, my book came out, I got distracted by life and managed to stay off Goodreads. Then a book club wanted an interview, and suggested I pick a blogger to do it.“[GR Reviewer],” I wrote back. I knew tons of nice bloggers, but I still longed to engage with [GR Reviewer] directly. The book club explained that it was common for authors to do “giveaways” in conjunction with the interview, and asked if I could sign some books. I agreed, and they forwarded me [GR Reviewer]’s address.
- She pays for a background check to determine the blogger’s name and employer. According to the telephone directory and recent census reports, nobody named [GR Reviewer’s name] lived there. The address belonged to someone I’ll call [ ] who, according to an internet background check ($19), was 46 – not 27, as [GR Reviewer] was – and worked as [job] of a company that authorises [stuff].
- She rents a car and drives to the GR Reviewer’s house using the address she obtains under false pretenses. “Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Sarah said, sending me a car rental link. “Go talk to her.”…I opened a new tab to book a car.
- Because her feelings got hurt. “How did you know that she hurt my feelings?”
- She goes to the blogger’s house. Examines the property and the contents of the owner’s vehicle, looks at the dogs, compares the information with all the information the blogger has innocently shared online such as vacations and her pets. Before I could change my mind, I walked briskly down the street toward the Mazda parked in [GR Reviewer’s] driveway. A hooded sweatshirt with glittery pink lips across the chest lay on the passenger seat; in the back was a large folder full of what looked like insurance claims. I heard tyres on gravel and spun round to see a police van. For a second I thought I was going to be arrested, but it was passing by – just a drive through a quiet neighbourhood where the only thing suspicious was me. I strolled to the front door. A dog barked and I thought of [her] Instagram Pomeranian. Was it the same one? The doorbell had been torn off, and up close the garden was overgrown. I started to feel hot and claustrophobic. The stupid happiness book grew sweaty in my hands. I couldn’t decide whether to knock. The curtains were drawn, but I could see a figure silhouetted in one window, looking at me. The barking stopped. I dropped the book on the step and walked away
- Calls the blogger’s work under false pretenses. Instead of returning to [her] house, which still felt like the biggest breach of decency I’d ever pulled, I decided to call her at work. Sarah and I rehearsed the conversation. “What do I even say?” I kept asking. “Just pretend to be a factchecker,” she said. “So now I’m catfishing her.” I called the number, expecting to get sent to an operator. But a human answered and when I asked for [her], she put me through. I spat out the line about needing to factcheck a piece. She seemed uncertain but agreed to answer some questions. “Is this how to spell your name?” I asked, and spelled it.
- Confirms that this is the address of the blogger with a publisher. An hour after I got off the phone to [her], [she] deleted her Twitter and set her Instagram to private. A contact at a publishing house confirmed that they’d been sending books to [GR Reviewer’s] address all year, and as recently as two weeks ago.
- Publishes the sick account on Guardian and receives accolades.
My hope is that Guardian will wake up and realize that the publication of this stalking account should be deleted. That it and whomever applauds this piece understands it is enabling completely out of bounds (and likely criminal) behavior. Sarah from Smart Bitches writes:
I don’t understand why the Guardian chose to publish that essay. I don’t understand the thought process of the editor who gave it the green light and effectively condoned the stalking and harassment of a reviewer. The fact that the Guardian published it is as disturbing and abhorrent as Hale’s actions – to say nothing of the degree to which she and the editors at the Guardian both seem to lack understanding of how inappropriate those actions were. The fear and horror and wariness that Hale’s and the Guardian’s decisions have created in many people is absolutely real and justified.
There is no question that some authors think Goodreads should be shut down and wish that there were only “professional” reviewers left to review books and that readers should be allowed to only say good things about all products. And there’s no question that this type of action by Hale will lead to some reviewers/bloggers deciding that the hobby of blogging is simply too rife with complications to continue. Possibly that is the outcome that some want.
I’m horrified that anyone thinks that what Hale did was okay. If this was for publicity, it’s even more sickening. I know that by publishing this, I’m raising the signal for Hale but it was in the Guardian so the signal is pretty damn big right now. There are very few instances wherein Hale’s behavior is justified and nothing in the twisted, one sided account by Hale articulates even one of those few instances.
The following is a storify account compiled by BookThingo of various reactions.