Fake review farmers or witchhunters: Which are worse?
September 23, 2013 | 4:00 pm
That favorite urban legend of the modern book world, the paid-for fake review, has surfaced again in a manner that looks likely to discredit the discreditors. One website alleges a certain female author farmed reviews wholesale, then scatters a whole slew of other author names supposedly engaged in the same business. All without substantiating evidence, or even a name for the source.
Indeed, if you include that author and a certain well-known self-publishing star, 35 authors are accused of paying for fake reviews through Fiverr.com (“the world’s largest marketplace for services”) and other similar platforms, all in one single post. Oh, and all without one substantiating shred of proof, other than some fairly impressive-sounding numbers for the two prime targets. And no, I’m not going to repeat their names here. You can read who they are after the link anyway.
All this comes courtesy of Amazon Alert, “a blog created to identify unethical review practices. We’re fed up with the flood of fake reviews everywhere from Amazon to Angie’s List and we’re not going to take it any more. Who are we? We’re a group of readers, including an former Amazon employee, a former marketing executive, and a public school teacher.”
Amazon Alert also links to a site called The Fiverr Report, written and presented in almost exactly the same style, with the same kind of off-the-shelf WordPress design, by “a former marketing executive for a large East Coast firm.” Amazon Alert boldly states: “We invite every reader of this blog to do their own independent research before drawing any conclusions from anything we’ve written.” Well, my research within the first few minutes shows that The Fiverr Report and Amazon Alert both seem to have started up around the same time, and play a game of pass the parcel between each other, using their opposite number as apparent endorsement of their findings. Neither site seems ready to give up information on its domicile, the actual names of its staff, any telephone number or office address, etc, etc.
Not surprisingly, quite a number of writers and industry-watchers have smelled a rat. Self-published author Hugh Howey devotes a long post to the issue: “Hundreds of other authors have been accused … Anyone can cast aspersions on your character, and you’re not allowed to defend yourself.”
Now, as the tone of this piece suggests, the paid-review witch hunt has grown so unbelievable that the credibility of any allegation of fake reviews at all is now also at risk. But all this is supported by a constituency out there that actually wants to believe that reviews are faked, as part of its general opposition to the modern Amazon-led book and ebook ecosystem. Jonathan Franzen just demonstrated that he’s one in his by-now notorious “What’s wrong with the modern world” essay: “Maybe the internet experiment in consumer reviewing will result in such flagrant corruption (already one-third of all online product reviews are said to be bogus) that people will clamour for the return of professional reviewers,” he declares. Clearly here’s someone with an anti-Amazon agenda ready to at every straw that drifts by in order to discredit the Bezos Behemoth. If a Time Magazine “Great American Novelist” can do it, is it any wonder that an anonymous grudge-bearer can stoop lower?
“People with blackness in their hearts will assume guilt until guilt is proven,” concludes Howey. “What they choose to believe, however, says plenty about them while leaving the facts unchanged.”