Internet corruption

Barry Eisler Posts About Sockpuppet Site and Why I’m Not Removing My Name From the List

ETA: Instead of writing a new post on this topic…which I’m frankly growing extremely bored with all the way around…I’m linking to a blog post that talks about Joe Konrath’s latest blog post and his feelings about buying reviews and sockpuppetry. No comment from me. Everyone has a right to an opinion. But it’s an interesting, if not entertaining, read. You can get there from here.

I once wrote a scathing review for a local pharmacy based on my personal experiences with the pharmacist and the shabby way I was treated. I left my own name with my e-mail address and followed all the rules of the web site. Six months later I was contacted by the pharmacist who owns that particular pharmacy and he told me if I didn’t remove my negative review he would contact his attorney and sue me.

I left the review up. It was based on my personal experience and it was an honest review. I had nothing to hide. After I refreshed his memory and reminded him who I was and the experience I’d had there, I told him to feel free to contact his attorney and do whatever he wanted to do. I never heard from him again. As far as I know the review is still up and I still stand behind it.

The fact that I used my own name and I was willing to own my words, in print, gave me the courage to not back down to his bad behavior and his bullying. I’ve made a point of doing this with all my reviews that I leave everywhere, including book reviews. I learned a long time ago that whatever you put in print is forever…and whatever is posted to the Internet never goes away.

I recently posted about a web site that’s called “No Sock Puppets Here Please,” that was started by a group of authors who have become disenchanted with fake names and identities. I reluctantly signed my name to the comment thread of the post. I did it with reluctance because I wasn’t thrilled with the way the site was executed and it seemed a little too extreme for me. I don’t even know who the architects are. But I signed it anyway because I thought the basic premise was valid, because I thought it was addressing a huge Internet issue, and because this issue will become even more valid in the future.

Author Barry Eisler posted about this same web site last week. I even commented on that post and I agreed that I hesitated the same way he did when he first signed his name to the site. However, since then he’s removed his name from the list and he’s elaborated about why he removed his name in a more recent blog post.

My name is still on NSPHP and I’m leaving it there until I see something I disagree with so drastically I don’t want to be associated with it. So far, I haven’t seen that. What I have seen are people who are hurt, frustrated, and tired of fake identities. In some cases, jaded and left feeling drained. I also know this isn’t a problem that’s isolated to the publishing industry. This issue with corrupt identities and sockpuppets runs rampant on the Internet everywhere. I have friends with businesses who fight fake reviews from their competitors constantly. The people who installed my granite counters asked me to leave a good review because their competition was leaving bad fake reviews. A friend who owns a furniture/design business told me he’s so frustrated with sockpuppets in his industry he’s thinking of taking legal action. Even my mechanic, who I’ve been using for fifteen years and never had an issue with, recently suffered from bad reviews left by vicious competitors.

So when I signed my name to NSPHP I was thinking about the issue itself…in a broader sense than what happens with book reviews. I was thinking about the future, Internet corruption everywhere, and how millions of people have been subjected to this kind of online corruption in all walks of life. To think this issue is isolated to book reviews may be focused correctly in a smaller sense, but to simply isolate the issue to publishing and book reviews would be ignoring a more generalized issue of online corruption that I don’t think will be allowed to continue in the future. Could I be wrong? Of course. The heavens might open, celestial choirs might start to sing, and all Internet corruption will vanish forever.

I love Barry Eisler, and I still share a lot of the reservations he has about NSPHP. He wrote two eloquent blog posts on this issue that came from his heart and I respect his opinions…to the point where I actually feel awful about not agreeing with him. But I don’t feel awful enough to remove my name from the NSPHP list. And I don’t feel…not yet…signing my name was misguided:

And yet I doubt any of them will withdraw their names from NSPHP’s front page, or even smiply acknowledge that their premises and conclusions were in error; the actions that followed, misguided and disproportionate.

I’m not one of the original architects of NSPHP and my name is buried somewhere on the comment thread. But I’m still leaving my name up there. Big words don’t change my mind, and I don’t drink Kool Aide. As I stated, this issue isn’t isolated to book reviews, it’s all over the web. People on social media are suffering from sockpuppets and judges are siding with them. Politicians are dealing with sockpuppets who leave defamatory remarks that will stay on the Internet forever, and they are trying to pass laws to hold web sites responsible for sockpuppetry. And while NSPHP is focused on books and reviews, the issue at hand is happening everywhere and I don’t see it going away.

I almost agree with what Barry said here:

I know many people will be unpersuaded by what I’ve written here (for many reasons, including the kind of insidious resistance caused by mistakenly committing to something like NSPHP in the first place). Which is okay, obviously. We don’t all have to agree. But hopefully we can disagree with a little less vitriol…even if we think the other person is directing vitriol at us.

Unfortunately, although I agree with most of what Barry said, I still remain respectfully unpersuaded. And that’s because I believe in the laws all civilized societies need in order to function properly and keep people safe from harm. Most people who use the Internet are good, decent people who don’t take advantage of the honor system. I truly believe this. But there are those who will take advantage and they will abuse their power. And good people will suffer as a result. But I do agree with Barry that we can disagree with less vitriol, which should be a goal for everyone in these trying times.

Make no mistake, I can write blog posts about this, Barry Eisler can write blog posts about this, and so can everyone else. But there are a lot of hurt, frustrated people out there and it’s starting to show up in more than one place. And web sites like NSPHP are what I believe is the beginning of a new Internet age that’s on the verge of explosion, where we are going to have to stand behind our names the same way we’ve had to stand behind them in the past when we wrote letters to the editors of a newspaper or magazine. I was an English major in college with a concentration in journalism. Among many things, one thing I recall clearly was a professor telling me that in journalism it’s important to always stand behind your name and own your words. Try sockpuppeting with a reputable print publication and see how far you get.

Now, if by chance something happens and I feel the need to remove my name from NSPHP, I will gladly admit I was wrong and post it in public. But right now, my name remains where it is.