Sunday, April 20, 2008

Free Speech, Thin Skins

A few days ago, I mentioned the latest internet brouhaha, over an author who threatened a reader who wrote a review.

I linked to Tess Gerritsen's blog, because that was my primary source of information. I have not gone over to the original site, or read further details about this case, or the alleged lengthy string of comments that continue to be posted against some authors over this.

Why? Because garbage like this is prevalent on the internet, and life has enough worries of its own without letting myself get dragged into another losing battle. Yes, losing battle. At the end of the day, nobody wins from these conflicts. People only get hurt on both sides and are left with hurt feelings and frustrations they can't work out.

I don't say it lightly. I've been in my share of scraps online. I'll certainly stand my ground on a lot of things, but more often than ever before, I've been able to walk away from conflicts. The reason isn't because I don't care. I think part of it is that I've been so overwhelmed with my own personal situation that I just don't have the energy for it, and ultimately, this has been a very good thing, because it's enabled me to let go of a lot of stuff that really isn't that important to me, personally.

Now, despite the fact that I haven't been blog-hopping much lately, I did take the time to comment over at Tess's blog on this topic. It was never about disagreeing with Tess so much as standing with the reviewer who'd been threatened. I have a thin skin when it comes to certain bullying behaviour, and what the author in question did goes way beyond inappropriate, in my opinion. Now, it's not a community I spend time in, or an author I read, so I haven't felt the need to go further than to offer my thoughts at Tess's blog and here.

Today, I learned that Tess has been attacked over her original post, and has subsequently decided to stop blogging. I'm saddened by this news, because I think Tess is one of the most genuine author bloggers out there. Agree or disagree, her posts have always resonated with honesty and a transparency that's lacking, particularly as more authors move to spit-and-polish artificial blogs designed to sell.

I also don't think that not blogging is going to solve this problem.

The real root of it is that so many (myself included at times) jump to conclusions without all the facts and then lash out and cast judgment before giving a person a chance to explain themselves. It's almost like people are hungry for the next big scandal. Dig in there, get all the dirt, take sides, gossip via e-mail.

Don't concern yourself with truth.

Now, personally, I couldn't really get with a black humour moment over what the original offending author did, because I have a real issue with bullies and with anyone who threatens children. End of story. My first thought was that I couldn't believe this author had behaved in such a way, and then that they should be ashamed of themselves, and hopefully charged.

I lack a sense of humour, but on this one, I'll offer no apology for that shortcoming.

However, that doesn't mean that I don't respect Tess's right to make her post and look at different aspects of the situation. Honestly, maybe if I'd published as many books as Tess has and gone through all the amazon reviews and such that she's endured over the years, I might have found the notion of having amazon reviews removed of more immediate interest.

And the truth is, how much can we emotionally invest in all these battles? They're tiresome. Truly wearying.

I didn't bring this up on my blog because I wanted to pile on - I didn't mention the original author by name. I just vented some of my disgust with the type of behaviour we're starting to see, and I wanted to stand in support of the reader who wrote the review.

I mean, for crying out loud, every other day it seems we're reading about declining review space or authors bemoaning the lack of reviews. If a reader takes the time to post reviews on amazon after reading your book, be happy. Be thankful someone read your work and actually invested the time and energy to share their views.

We started with one situation where an author bullied and threatened a reader, and ultimately, another author was badgered to the point they felt they needed to withdraw from blogging. I haven't read the posts, so I can't say if that was the intention or not, but this isn't a solution. I understand there are a lot of strong feelings on this topic, but we do need to remember that a person has the right to free speech.

And as a Canadian, can I be just bold enough to point out that thousands of men and women have died to preserve that right for Americans, and right now thousands more are risking their lives every day? What a disservice we do to their sacrifice when we pressure people until they feel they can't be honest.

Tess wasn't being a bully. She just chose to look at different aspects of the situation and avoid attacking the original author. I can understand that.

After all, there have been enough conflicts online for us all to find times when we're just too weary of the bickering to want to get involved. The difference here is that the first author threatened a reader, and their family. Tess admitted maybe she could have phrased things differently.

The first author committed a crime. Fair enough to be upset about that, but where Tess is concerned, I say let the first person who hasn't worded something poorly or said something offhandedly that they've later regretted cast the first stone.

Remember what they say about people who live in glass houses.


Daniel Hatadi said...

The main difficulty of the internet is the lack of emotional cues, the anonymity, and the immediacy of the communication. That's going to stay exactly the same until we all jack in with virtual reality wetware. Even then, there will be a subtly different, new set of problems to deal with. And even then there wil be people willing to boycott individuals, communities and organisations over a few words that didn't sit right.

Me, I prefer to boycott cafes because they took forty minutes to discover they lost my order.

But seriously, I think the only way to deal with these problems is to encourage good behaviour and ignore the rest. Not feeding the trolls is a given, but not everyone that says shitty things is a troll. We all suffer from optimism bias so don't always see when we're talking crap or shooting someone down or contaminating a community. But if our actions don't provoke a response, we're less likely to repeat them.

I know it's simplistic, and so much of it is down to a case-by-case basis, where we simply have to use our own judgement.

But if a blog takes away energy from the rest of your life, it's just not worth it in the end. I don't blog so much any more and I find I have much more energy for other forms of procrastination like playing my Xbox 360 or making cocktails.

Am I making sense, or just talking out my arse? See, I'm not sure. I suffer from optimism bias.

Randy Johnson said...

I'm sorry to hear Tess Gerritsen's going to stop blogging. Hers was not one I read on a consistent basis. But I always enjoyed it when I did. I'm aware of the mentioned controversy, though I don't know all the details. It sounds horrific what the author did over a three star review. What would she have done over a one star I wonder?

Jack Getze said...

I think some authors haven't realized yet that their new novel isn't really a small child. It's not alive. It can't have it's feelings hurt. You don't have to protect it. Did you really expect EVERYONE to love it?

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Austin. Good point.

Daniel, I hear you, although I also know how much time you spend dealing with the negative. It would be ideal to ignore and just reward the positive, but even in the context of the forum that's impossible.

I wish there was a simple solution. In this particular case, I've still avoided the main site, but have read correspondence between the person and authors, on Tess's blog in the comments and on another author blog, and it's disturbing.

To be honest, it made me wonder if it's time to stop blogging. It's just scary. After reading it all I could understand why Tess made the choice she did.

Randy, I have no idea what this person would have done if it had been a one star review, but I shudder to think! The whole thing is disturbing.

Richard Cooper said...

I have met Tess a couple of times (at ThrillerFest) and she simply rocks.

It's too bad about what the internet has become, so filled with bombastic trolls.

Sandra Ruttan said...

It reminds me of grade school, and the politics of the playground. Really, very sad. I'm all for defending the reviewer who was threatened, but it has gone beyond that to the point where good people are being misrepresented and, as far as I can tell, slandered.

Very sad. And very sad to see it happen to such a nice person, like Tess Gerritsen. Even now there are some who thumb their nose, who I've had contact with over in interview and they've told me to e-mail and never respond or do the profile - Tess is one of those authors who always responds and is so gracious with her time. I really respect and admire that, and I take how people treat me as an interviewer to be a direct representation of how important their readers are to them, because they care enough to do the Q&As for their readers.

(And only first-rate snobs don't answer their e-mails when they're being offered a promotional opportunity. Doesn't mean they have to say yes, but at least have the courtesy to say no.)

Daniel Hatadi said...

It's true that there's no simple solution, but I guess I've had decent success with this particular attitude. But every case needs to be dealt with in whatever way suits best.

Some people don't even realise how much perspective they've lost when they try to argue points even after the blogger has requested the flaming to stop.

If I was Tess, I would have switched comment moderation on and not approve the dodgier comments, until the whole thing died down.

But then, I have absolutely no problem with deleting abuse and the like. Maybe I should become a bartender.

Eileen said...

The whole thing gutted me. I've been out of the blogging loop since my release- just catching up here and there, and this whole situation made me sad. It is far too easy for things to become blown out of proportion. It makes me think, long and hard, about what I chose to post.