Spurious reviews and sock puppetry


They say all is fair in love and war. and the same rules seem increasingly to apply to publishing your own work. It appears some people think posting spurious negative reviews, under a spurious identity on Amazon and similar with authors in the same genre will boost their own popularity. Now it seems that what was only suspected is real, and more widespread even than previously suspected.

Anyone who publishes online, or puts their written work in the public domain is subject to criticism. Some justified, some plain mischievous, and also we find, downright malicious and dishonest. Reviews where the critical voice cannot possibly have read enough of the work in question to critique it properly, yet posts a one star or less review. Then posts a five star review on their own work under another user ID.

Personally, I rarely take notice of critics. Their world view is not often one that I share, and something that might wow them can leave me utterly cold and unimpressed. Some say the Brontes were literary classics. Like many others who trawled through their prose at high school, I would disagree. Most of Dickens leaves me quite unimpressed, but hand me Donne, Shakespeare, Kipling, or Chaucer and it’s a case of “I’m just slinking off for a quiet read – back next week.” I also prefer science fiction and fantasy authors like Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle Hamilton, Bear, Harrison, Barnes, Butcher, and Pratchett. They have an ease of reading that lets me immerse myself in their fictional worlds, almost too deeply to come up for air. Although even in that hallowed list there are some pieces of work I’m not too fond of.

Overall I’ve always tended to look at critics as a negative force, and now much less than trustworthy because anyone can be a critic, even competing authors. Online honesty in criticism, it would seem, is now at a premium. Cheap at that price too, as cheap as at $5 a time for ‘raves’. Apparently there is a modest buck to be made by freelance writers playing this deceitful game.

Such dishonesty often hides under the poisoned umbrella of ‘online relationship management’. Yet the problems demise, while not yet in sight, might be looking at a form of online Armageddon in the not too distant future. Software tools are becoming available to track and detect such spurious sock puppetry, and the battle against false reviewers, trolls and similar online pests will soon turn.

For my own part I find myself mostly flying under the radar of the fake reviewers. My sales are nothing to write home about; but then I do not write for critics. I write for myself.

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Martyn K Jones

A writer who first trained as an Electrical Engineer, then fulfilled various roles within the computing industry. First published in 'SuperBike' magazine, 1978 under the pseudonym Harry Matthews. Since then has written and had published a wide variety of work; from PR copy in trade magazines to supernatural short stories and the occasional satirical article. Emigrated to Canada in 2007. Became a Canadian Citizen December 2014. Now branching out as a serious science fiction novelist.

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