Here’s a particularly nasty abuse of the Amazon review system that brilliant science fiction and thriller writer and all-round superior human being Nick Mamatas tipped me off to. Some nice person is advertising on the San Fran Bay Craigslist for Amazon account holders to post one-star reviews.
Just in case this gets taken down, here’s the original text.
Amazon Reviewer Wanted!
If you have an account on Amazon, then please contact me.
I am willing to pay $10 for you to post a negative, 1 star review of a product on Amazon.
1) Please send me a link to your Amazon user profile.
2) I will send you a hyperlink to the product and what to write.
3) You will post the review.
3) Once I can confirm the review has been posted, I will pay you $10 via paypal immediately.
That’s it! Easy money really.
Now, there’s nothing to indicate that the target in question is a book. But there are certainly plenty of reports of books being targeted on Amazon – some true, some spurious. Look, for instance, at the claims by Roger Stone that his book about the Clintons was flooded with one-star reviews by the Clinton presidential campaign’s war room. And there are many other cases where less controversial and partisan writers might be targeted simply because they’ve upset a Rabid Puppy or other curmudgeony online low-life.
Needless to say, there’s no indication in that ad that a greedy would-be sock puppet has any certainty of being paid for their work. But that wouldn’t matter: Flood Craigslist with ads like that, sign up a bunch of gullible reviewers, set them loose on your target of choice, refuse to pay them – mission accomplished. Target trashed at zero cost to you.
Amazon has in the past cracked down on such abuses. But their record for curatorial care of the Kindle Store doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence. Writers, be ready to complain to Amazon when necessary.
In general, I hate entrapment, since it often makes criminals of people who’re simply weak. But in this case, those who misbehave aren’t responding to charm and persuasion. They’re simply going after an easy $10 for doing something that’s obvious mean, dishonest and wrong.
That distinction would justify Amazon creating what in the computer world is called a “honey pot.” A honey pot looks attractive and thus draws in evil-doers, who’re then tracked down and punished. This book, a classic computer tale, describes how that’s done:
How many people would respond to these Craigslist ads if they routinely read in the news that Amazon was honeytrapping and suing their socks off for participating? And entrapping people who fall for that honey pot would also lead to tracking down other fake one-star reviews and those who pay for them. Amazon could also hire people—for more than that $10—to respond to these ads and entrap those posting them.
I’m now old enough that my memories reach back into the late 1950s. What’s the chief difference I see? Eisenhower v. Stevenson in 1956 and JFK v. Nixon in 1960 lacked the utter meanness of today’s presidential races. Asking me to choose between Hillary and Trump is like being asked which of two nasty cancers I’d rather get.
You see that same ‘win at any cost’ nastiness with these sleazy authors/publishers (if these one-star reviews are about books) and those willing to take money for fake one-star ads.
One additional note. This stresses the need for the rest of us to post honest reviews for the books we read, particularly when they can be positive. Several honest four and five star reviews will counter these lying one-star reviews.