Wednesday, March 30, 2011


There was a Comment Section Debacle yesterday on a book reviewer's blog. If you haven't heard about it already, let's just say it involved some pretty defensive reactions from an author whose book got mixed (not bad) reviews. And other commenters thrashed her for it. She was acting cray-cray. But the incredibly hostile reaction was ill advised too.

Neither our disgruntled author nor the self-righteous backlashers were in the right. Both trounced online best practices--you know, the ones where you don't get too personal with questions or overshare or post your bachelorette party pictures. Or freak out on people. Sarah Fine has a great post on the psychology of it all.

Yesterday's display points to a serious tendency among online media users to be short-sighted and self-centered. We're all guilty of it. We're getting used to feeling entitled to say whatever's on our mind: broadcasting with the sense that someone out there must care, and that our opinion matters, even if it's adding nothing to a discussion where the same sentiment has been expressed ad nauseum (They don't, It doesn't). Protected by the quick pace and relative anonymity of the web (getting no response to a tweet or status update is much different than, say, telling a joke at a party and getting crickets), we live more stream-of-consciousness than ever. Stream-of-our-own-consciousness, that is.

Getting outside our own heads is important for a lot of reasons. First off, as I have previously advocated, making content relevant to your audience means thinking of their needs, not just yours. That's about building a following, a brand, etc.

But besides being a good PR/marketing move, taking a step outside of ourselves, as real-world interaction forces us to do, makes us considerate of others and temperate in our reactions. That's about being human.

Don't forget that those avatars represent people, people.


  1. That whole situation was surreal. As you say, both the author, and some comment posters seemed to forget themselves. I'm not sure how you come back from something like that. Can you come back from that?

    And to think, if the author hadn't said anything at all, hardly anyone would have noticed.

  2. Reacting defensively to criticism and picking on a easy target from a perceived moral high ground are pretty much default initial reactions for a lot of people.

    Acting the way you propose on the other hand can sometimes be rather hard, even in the real world.

    If anything, the internet gives you more time to consider the impact and consequences of your (re)actions than almost any other vehicle for human interaction.

  3. I think it was tragic. It used to be we could mourn rejections and bad reviews in the privacy of our own wine/chocolate binges and hide until we were ready to face the world again. With ubiquitous social media, we are always "in public." It's so easy to lash out before we've processed our hurt.

    The most interesting thing for me was the fact the contretemps between reviewer and author was over whether the reviewer had read a properly formated ebook or an earlier, improperly coded version.

    I see you do ebook coding, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to remind writers of the consequences of not using a pro.

  4. @Anne: why yes, yes it would. haha

  5. I first read about this in a forum inhabited by journalists. Yikes.

    I'm a softie. My first instinct was to offer to edit this poor woman's book so that it passes muster. If I had the time, I would do it -- gratis.

  6. I had to admit, reading the comments on the review was a little staggering, especially since the review was fairly flattering to the content of the book, just not to the mechanics of it. The author's response was, at first, both appalling and amusing.
    Then everyone else started getting into it, and it looked less like a review than a bar brawl. No question in my mind the author reacted badly- but then so did a lot of others.I don't know, maybe it's just because I'm Southern, but my mother taught me that when you see the crazy people standing at the corner yelling at cars with a sign in their hand, you politely ignore them so as not to make things worse. That probably would have been the best option for a lot of the people involved in that debacle.

  7. In reading the post and the exchange of comments, I actually wondered if the whole thing was an act, a set-up, to test the power of the viral internet.

    There are those who think/believe even negative publicity is better than none. Regardless, I wouldn't engage but then again, I wouldn't have commented about a negative review, either.

  8. There is a simple rule to online communities - Don't feed the trolls. Her biggest mistake was to continue posting and being drawn into the emotions of the moment. We sometimes say things we regret, but when something is posted for the world to see it is really hard to take it back.

  9. Now that I've had a chance to look at this topic in more depth ...

    I found the reactions of the author’s detractors far more disturbing than her own response to her review. I always consider what a person is going through when they act out. Perhaps this book was based on her life or a real-life character she loved (or lost). Maybe she just got news that someone she knows has cancer. I read more pain, defensiveness and desperation in her words than venom.

    It’s one thing to point out that someone is a poor writer, and quite another to turn that criticism into a personal attack. It also takes a creepy kind of diligence to go out of one’s way to post negative Amazon reviews (maybe not even reading the book) and skewer her mercilessly on other forums. It’s premeditated. I don’t understand people. The best response to anger is compassion. It’s a Mennonite thang. ☺

  10. Amazing what a little hindsight does for a situation, right? Unfortunately, it's often too late. And on the interwebz, too late is *waaay* too late. Stuff just GOES.