I’ve posted before about the wild world of Amazon reviews and here is another example: a group of Michael Jackson fans succeeded in burying a new book about the late pop star.
In the biggest, most overt and most successful of these campaigns, a group of Michael Jackson fans used Facebook and Twitter to solicit negative reviews of a new biography of the singer. They bombarded Amazon with dozens of one-star takedowns, succeeded in getting several favorable notices erased and even took credit for Amazon’s briefly removing the book from sale.
“Books used to die by being ignored, but now they can be killed — and perhaps unjustly killed,” said Trevor Pinch, a Cornell sociologist who has studied Amazon reviews. “In theory, a very good book could be killed by a group of people for malicious reasons.”…
The retailer, like other sites that depend on customer reviews, has been faced with the problem of so-called sock puppets, those people secretly commissioned by an author to produce favorable notices. In recent months, Amazon has made efforts to remove reviews by those it deemed too close to the author, especially relatives.
The issue of attack reviews, though, has received little attention. The historian Orlando Figes was revealed in 2010 to be using Amazon to anonymously vilify his rivals and secretly praise himself. The crime writer R. J. Ellory was exposed for doing the same thing last fall.
This is an interesting world where arguments are being made that people have the right (free speech) to provide harsh and even untrue Amazon reviews.
I don’t envy Amazon for having to deal with this issue where reviews would have to be more closely monitored. Even with close monitoring, people could provide excessively positive or negative reviews as long as they couldn’t be identified as being relatives or bragging out their actions on Facebook (as one member of the Michael Jackson fan group did). It puts Amazon in an unenviable position of having to play the heavy and try to crack down on people.
It would be interesting to see arguments of when these tactics might be supported or praised. Imagine a neo-Nazi writes a book; is it ethical or effective to shut down their book on Amazon? What about an obnoxious political figure on the other side that you can’t stand?