You know you’re an online bully when …

I was thinking about the online bullying of authors, after reading the article about Anne Rice and the bullying she experienced (she is not alone – lots of us have suffered from this sickening trend), and it struck me how strange it is that a person who might be perfectly nice in public can become a menacing troll online, under the cover of anonymity. There's a petition directed at Amazon here, by the way, if you want to sign it. I did.

Impulse control

Online bullying is an impulsive behavior. When I've seen it happen and the comments start piling up, it's almost inevitable that the original poster removes the original post and sometimes they end up deleting entire websites and online profiles as the fallout comes crashing down and it spirals out of control. People start or enter conversations without stopping to think. They let their fingers fly and allow passion to take charge. They get all riled up and start saying the craziest things. We don't do this in polite company. When we're upset with someone, we pause for a moment to reflect: should I say that or not? This is why I believe not permitting anonymous posting on Amazon reviews and Amazon forums would stop this behavior. When people know that what they say will be assigned to their names, they pause to reflect and act like they would if they were standing in front of you.

Could it be that they just don't realize?

Anyway, as my mind was wandering like it often does, I started thinking … what exactly is an online bully or a troll? What are the behaviors one might assign this moniker to? As I came up with a list of things I've seen and experienced as an author, I realized that it's very possible some people might act as bullies while not realizing that's what they're doing.  And then I was thinking that maybe those people would stop, or at least pause and consider their actions before taking them, if they had a list of bullying behaviors to which they could compare their own.  With that in mind, I've created this Jeff-Foxworthy-inspired post.

You know you're an online bully when …

    1. You're not a forum moderator, but you go to the forums and “police” them anyway, scolding, lecturing, or taking action against other posters when they do things that don't follow your rules of proper behavior.
    2. You see a message from someone online discussing an author's poor behavior, and then seek out that author online and say negative things to or about her, like a judge meting out a form of punishment. And/or you incite others to join the fray.  The overriding thought here is: “We need to teach that author a lesson.”
    3. You write a negative book review for a book you haven't read.
    4. You write a book review that includes negative personal judgments about the author.
    5. You do anything online with this thought providing the impetus: “Oh, yeah? Well, I'll show her…” or “I'm going to teach this person a lesson…”
    6. You down-vote positive reviews for any reason other than it was not helpful to your buying decision. e.g. You use down-voting to manipulate an author's ranking as a form of punishment or retribution.
    7. You threaten physical violence to an author.
    8. You threaten to harm the reputation, career, sales, or income of a writer.
    9. You accuse an author of buying reviews or gaming the system when you have no actual proof and only suppositions based on detective work that consists of reading reviews and finding them suspicious.

I've probably missed a few, but these are the ones that I've seen and/or experienced. If I think of any others, I'll add them later; or you can comment below if you think of some I forgot.



6 comments on “You know you’re an online bully when …

  1. Elle,

    I just want to say thank you for tackling the bully problem all of us as authors are experiencing on Amazon. As we authors know, words cut deeper than any sword or knife and I think people have forgotten that. Just like our written words make them feel emotions, so do their insults back towards us. It hurts. I signed the petition and I will be sharing this post on twitter and Facebook. I for one am done doing the right thing and swallowing the insults that aren’t conducive or helpful, just plain cold and full of unwarranted hatred.

    Thanks again,
    J.C. Alexander

    • Thanks, JC. Just be very careful about discussing the topic on Goodreads. That place is not the place to discuss this issue. I hope Amazon finds a solution. Something definitely needs to be done. ANYONE who uses anonymity to bully needs to be dealt with.

      • Much agreed Elle. Like Jamie the other poster said, and is very true:

        I truly believe a lot of people don’t mean to be bullies. I think people let their emotions get them carried away and they don’t stop think and then it all spirals out of control. Yes there are trolls and bullies but most of them I believe are outside influences who just thrive on negativity.

        It’s just something authors have to deal with by putting themselves out there! 🙂

  2. Thank you Elle Casey that’s a great list. You know even if I suspect someone whether they’re an author or not of bad behavior I try very hard not to call them out on it publicly. Let’s just say for an example that I’ve heard stories of an author doing bad things, but instead of calling them out in a negative and public way I will just make up my own mind over time whether to support that author or not. Or I will contact them privately and sometimes I even talk to other people privately to get their views and most of the time once I have I’m no longer quite as upset. Sometimes you just need to see things from a different perspective. And it doesn’t even have to be an author. I always ask myself before posting something: “Would you say this to their face? Are you spreading negativity instead of love?” And if it’s not something I wouldn’t be comfortable saying in person and if it is negative then I don’t post.

    I truly believe a lot of people don’t mean to be bullies. I think people let their emotions get them carried away and they don’t stop think and then it all spirals out of control. Yes there are trolls and bullies but most of them I believe are outside influences who just thrive on negativity. So a lot of times when it happens to an author I don’t necessarily think it’s a reviewer and all of their pals but someone who started the whole mess without thinking and then all the trolls get involved. Not to say that there aren’t groups of people who do this because there are and they’re on both sides of the isle.

    Now on the other hand I think it’s also very easy to go from being the victim to becoming the bully. I’ve seen many who have legitimate concerns and issues turn around and become bullies themselves. Those who pick up the mantra of stop fire with fire and I just don’t think two wrongs don’t make a right. I also believe that we bloggers and reviewers should be part of the solution. We all want the same thing and I wish we could all find some way to come together in a constructive manner without attracting all the trolls and bullies and find ways to make a safe environment for all of us. Also, a constructive yet low rating review is not the same as a personal attack and there are many out there screaming bully when all it is, is a difference of opinion. Now attacking an author personally is never right. Taking a book personally is wrong too. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean an author is out to make you miserable. It just means it wasn’t for you, move on to something you enjoy. Also be constructive. Saying this book sucks helps nobody. Tell what you did and didn’t like and why and you’d be surprised that nearly every author out there will take your review seriously and work harder on their writing. There are a lot of authors who have fixed mistakes that were missed in their books from constructive feedback like this but telling them it sucks and they suck helps nobody, especially not you the reader.

    Great list and any time I feel that I’m emotionally invested in something I’m posting I’m going to stop and read it and be extra careful not to do something like this. Authors love to write and readers love to read so I truly don’t understand where all the negativity comes from but I wish it would stop for everyone’s sake

    One last thing I’d like to point out. There are a lot of questionable things that might be bad but not strictly illegal either. I don’t want to go into them but while some of these things might be frowned upon they’re not exactly illegal by any laws that I know of. Now on the other hand Slander is and slandering someone can be very very costly. Judges will award pretty large settlements if you slander someone so be careful, if you suspect or feel strongly someone is doing something that’s not the same as having proof and even then there’s a proper way to handle things. If it’s against a sites TOS then contact them, don’t make it a public spectacle and don’t accuse people of things that you “feel” to be true. You just might find yourself in a world of trouble. You are not the judge, jury and executioner. It is nobody’s job to teach someone else a lesson. How about setting a good example and just politely informing someone that you feel they’ve done something that is bad. If they ignore you then you’ve done your best, again report things to each specific site but don’t make it public.

    • Jamie, as always you are a voice of reason in my life. Thanks for weighing in and sharing your thoughts. You are such a sweet person!! xoxo

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