There used to be a publishing blog where a fictitious literary agent posted facts and information about querying agents, getting published, and pretty much all things publishing related. And it was useful information because at the time the only way to get published, build a readership, and sell your books was to have a literary agent…a gatekeeper. But the catch to this blog was that the fake blogger often grew out of control and went on vituperative rants where he/she trashed people, in writing, on that public blog, and there were times when even I sat back and wondered. In one case, I happened to catch a post he/she had written about a routine trip to the “bodega” where things didn’t go well and the fake blogger made some interesting racial comments. He/she must have had second thoughts because the post was taken down within a half hour. This was about eight or nine years ago and we didn’t even think to take screen shots back then. In any event, this fake blogger ultimately shuttered the blog and from what I’ve read online in the dark corners of the Internet wound up in litigation.
I got into blogging about nine years ago, completely by accident. I was surfing the web, noticed a blog called bestgayblogs, and answered an ad to review and interview personal gay bloggers. There were no rules or standards. I kept my reviews civil because there were no rules. Like the fake blogging literary agent I mentioned above, everyone did whatever they wanted to do and no one was held accountable to anything. During the time I spent interviewing and reviewing all these bloggers, I met some wonderful people with whom I’m still in touch, and I also saw a few really interesting characters who would create fake lives and fake situations, and blog about them daily as if they were really happening.
At first I believed them all. What did I know? These bloggers are telling me they are real and I figured they were. I would follow them and study the comment threads, where other readers like me would not only believe all the fictitious stories, they would become emotionally involved in the lives of these fake bloggers. In a way, it was like being invited into someone’s living room, sharing all their personal secrets, and building a bond and a trust that made a lot of people feel very special. And it wasn’t just gay bloggers doing this. This was happening all over the Internet, and good, trusting people were falling into emotional traps of deception and they never knew it was happening.
It was a sign of the times, and the Internet and personal blogging was so new many people were able to get away with a lot of things they wouldn’t be able to do today. I actually started a publishing blog with a pen name for about fifteen minutes, where the pen name took on one of those snarky online persona’s and that didn’t last long for me. My pen name ultimately got into a nasty little flame war with a literary agent I thought was full of crap, and we wound up arguing back and forth for a while. That’s when I shuttered the blog. I’d only had it up for about a month or so, and I decided that if I was going to get involved in online confrontations I would use my own name and not a fake name and identity. But more important, the literary agent WAS full of crap (handing out very bad advice to writers), she’s not even a literary agent anymore, and I didn’t think arguing with her…or continuing the flame war…was worth my time. It’s also very easy to get into situations like this when you’re not using your own name. I haven’t done anything like that since, and I do not plan to do anything like it in the future. When I started this blog about five years ago, I decided to use my own name and identity and everything I write here is something I’m willing to stand behind with my name.
But not every blogger agrees with me, and in spite of how many things have changed about the Internet and blogging, there are still bloggers out there who think they can get away with the same things bloggers got away with five or ten years ago. An author I know recently brought this topic up on social media, and she made a few excellent points. It bothers her to see people become emotionally attached to fake blogs, where bloggers actually create fake lives that nice people believe are real…but without disclosing the fact that these blogs are fake up front. It’s one thing to start a blog about fiction and gain followers who actually know they are reading about fictitious people, but it’s another to create a blog and lead people to believe it’s real when it’s not. I’ve learned how to spot them at a glance. There are a few who claim to be gay and claim to be written by gay men and I can usually tell by reading a few posts they aren’t. There are a few things you can fake, but not everything. And there will always be telltale signs. In some cases they are harmless, but in the same respect the people who are following them, and the people who do think they are real, are being mislead completely.
The thing that really surprises me is that some bloggers think they can still do this. It’s not that hard anymore to do searches and find out who is authoring a blog. In fact, there is one web site that actually takes a great amount of pride in exposing as many fake bloggers as possible. And there’s always someone watching now. Even though I’ve disclosed as much about myself here on this blog as possible, I still get questioned about my identity, too. And I honestly don’t mind that most of the time, because it’s understandable. We’ve lived through enough fakes by now to find it’s hard to trust anyone these days. My own personal issue with fake bloggers has to do with book review blogs. I believe that if you are going review anything professionally…not just books…you should be willing to own your words and stand behind your name, not something like the name of the brightest star in the sky, or even better, a tacky pseudonym like Joan Book. Don’t play games with me and make an idiot out of me as a reader. And I don’t want to hear the excuse that you can’t use your own name because of the genre you’re reviewing. If that is the case, and you could get into trouble for reviewing gay erotic romance, then don’t do it at all. Let someone else who is willing to own their words do it instead. There are plenty of excellent book reviewers out there who are willing to stand behind their own names.
And I actually think things are changing with respect to fake bloggers. I never would have posted what I did above about book review bloggers with fake names five years ago. I would have been too afraid to do that. The fakes with names like the brightest star in the sky had too much power. But now when I see a book reviewer on a web site who uses the name of the brightest star in the sky, I find it amusing. And even if that reviewer is the best there is, they lose credibility with me and I dismiss them and their opinions. Because that old time Internet way is coming to an end fast. As the mainstream public becomes more involved in the Internet, I think we’ll be seeing a new set of ethics and standards being set for bloggers…the same rules by which we are all expected to adhere in real life. In fact, I haven’t seen as many new fake blogs pop up in the last year, which is interesting in itself. Most of the fakes are the ones who have been hanging around for a while and who haven’t been able to move forward and join the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, there still isn’t a code of ethics for bloggers, and there isn’t a way to enforce a code even if there was one.
Authors Guild Fights Digital
I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand why so many have been fighting the concept of digital books/material without taking into consideration that there is an entire generation of young people out there who don’t know how to write in cursive anymore, who don’t read print newspapers or magazine, and who get almost all of their information online now. Many don’t even watch TV anymore. I’ve posted before how Tony and I have a rental cottage on our property and we usually rent it out to a new adults between the ages of twenty and thirty. In the past five years, not one has bothered to hook up cable TV. They don’t have landlines either. They hook up Internet service only, and use cell phones. When they read, they read digital books on their phones, computers, or tablets.
Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer in New York ruled against the Authors Guild. He called the HathiTrust an “invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts,” and said it was protected by fair use principles. Baer noted that digital copies are searchable in a way that print copies are not, and that they “facilitate access for print-disabled persons.”
The article I linked to above is interesting because it shows how much the Authors Guild wants to fight digitalization. They even mention the late Aaron Swartz, in a lame attempt, which a lot of people are not happy about, including me.
“Two months before the filing of this lawsuit an activist was indicted for hacking into a proprietary database of journal articles by sneaking into a network interface closet in the MIT library, hooking his laptop directly into the network and downloading over 4.8 million articles, with the intent to disseminate the archive throughout the Internet.”
I posted about Swartz, here, in January:
For those who might not have been following this, Aaron Swartz was a talented Internet pioneer and activist. He founded Infogami which later merged with Reddit. He was also part of Harvard University and specialized in socially oriented areas that included activism. On January 11, 2013, he took his own life. There’s been speculation about why he did this, and he allegedly suffered from bouts of depression at times. But the fact that the DOJ has been going after him for the past two years for something they claim was an Internet crime seems to be a huge focus.
There is now a web site called JSTOR that allows students and researchers to download articles for free. As an activist, at the time the alleged crime was committed, Swartz did not like JSTOR. According to wiki, this is why: “it charged large fees for access to these articles but did not compensate the authors and it ensured that huge numbers of people are denied access to the scholarship produced by America’s colleges and universities.” As a result, Swartz allegedly found a way to download millions of articles from JSTOR with his JSTOR account within a time frame of a few weeks. This resulted in shutting down JSTOR’s servers and it blocked MIT’s library from getting into JSTOR, which is where Swartz allegedly did all this.
The comment thread to the link above is even more interesting, and I have a feeling this war is going to continue for a long time. And while they are all in battle, the rest of us will be moving more toward digitalization in every aspect of our lives.