Goliath vs Goliath.

One of those periodic David vs Goliath Internet arguments has gone viral.

You know the type. An “ordinary” person is targeted by a “powerful” person, company or enterprise. They are bullied, ripped off or treated badly.

The “ordinary” person writes about their side of the story on a blog. It goes viral. A crowd – the crowd – of supporters weighs in to back up the little guy.

In most cases, the narrative is painted black and white. An evil corporation steals an illustrator’s design. An editor pinches an blogger’s editorial content. A big newspaper nicks a struggling photographer’s work.

In many cases it is black and white. In others, not.

Still, it’s nice to get these things down to a soundbite, so that we know who is good and who is bad in these scenarios. So that we know whose side we’re supposed to be on.

Like this one:

Published author bullies online reviewer for giving her a bad review.

Ouch. Sounds nasty doesn’t it? The story, in a nutshell, is that Emily Giffin an author with half a dozen popular novels to her name, became annoyed when a reader named Corey Ann changed her Amazon review of Giffin’s new novel from four stars to one star.

She expressed this annoyance on her Facebook fan page. Like evil, flying monkeys, Giffin’s fans then set upon an impromptu campaign of harassment, sending Ann poisonous emails and even issuing death threats. Horrible behaviour indeed.

Truly horrible behaviour.

Like all such stories, there is much more detail. And, as is often the case, the detail here has been provided for us in a blog post made by the less powerful party in the argument. Corey Ann has written a comprehensive step-by-step account of the whole affair, from her perspective.

Below that, we find over two hundred comments – and all of them are in support of Corey Ann. It is this blog post that has gone viral. The “victim’s” account, so to speak.

So now, Emily Giffin is getting the comeuppance she deserves, right? Exposure as a petulant bully across the Blogosphere. The kind of person who would unleash the hordes of Hades upon an innocent; a vulnerable person who (Ann reveals in a follow-up post) has been bullied for much of her life. Ann’s narrative is that, as a victim of childhood bullying, she does not allow it to happen to her anymore. She takes steps to quash it.

Except… Except this. To buy into Corey Ann’s full account of the events that occurred, you have to buy into her analysis of those events.

The blog post admirably and forensically presents a chronology of comments and counter comments, each framed by Corey Ann’s understanding of those comments.

And that’s the key.

The blog post  is exhaustive and comprehensive. But if you read it very carefully, no one comes out of this looking good. Corey Ann both minimises the vituperative nature of attacks on Giffin’s writing. She exaggerates the level of hostility in Giffin’s responses and those of her associates (Giffin’s Husband and assistant were involved in the argument too.) She creates a narrative in which she features as the victim.

Lets do some forensics of our own.

The trigger for the entire argument was a response that Emily Giffin’s husband unwisely posted to a one star review of Giffin’s latest novel on Amazon. Really.

The review is completely negative and, in my opinion, quite personal.

“This book was so disappointing. I have read all of Emily Giffin’s books, and have found that her last few books are getting worse and worse. Where We Belong had the ability to be a great story. However, telling the story from two points of view, Marianne and Kirby, led there to be little depth to either character. Also I found both characters to be very unlikable. The story was trite and unbelievable. I also found that Giffin put a very negative spin on adoption. Giffin’s last books have been a disappointment and this one was no different.”

Corey Ann says: “Well… that doesn’t seem bad at all, certainly not attacking the author, tearing the book apart or even remotely spiteful.”

I’m not sure if we’re reading the same review here. The review I read questions Giffin’s competence as an author, it berates the novel’s structure and it goes on to negatively characterise the author’s recent output. In other words, it attacks the author and tears the book apart. It’s a little bit spiteful too.

Giffin’s husband read the review and responded:

“Really? An “avid reader” that has written one review in their entire existence on Amazon? Beware people. Psycho alert.”

It’s not a dignified response – but it is a human response. For weeks, Giffin had been receiving hate mail from an anonymous individual. Giffin’s husband had assumed this was part of the same attack. He saw red. How many months must Emily Giffin have given over to writing her novel? How many late nights and world building conversations must that couple have had over those months? Torn apart in a paragraph.

Giffin says she doesn’t read her reviews – but acknowledged she was aware that her husband had responded. She posted about the exchange on Facebook:

“I refuse to look but you’re welcome to,” she told her followers.

That was “enough” for Corey Ann, this rallying of the masses:

“I couldn’t stand the thought of the fact that my review could even get one person to buy her book so I decided to change the review.”

But Corey Ann’s annoyance with Giffin goes back further. It had been boiling away for a while. Ann admits:

“Around the time of the launch of the book, Emily had started posting and tweeting people urging them to buy her book to make her number one.  The first post kind of annoyed me because it made the fans seem like they were not good enough if she couldn’t reach #1, then her follow up post when finding out she was in fact #2 was equally as awful.  She had another post or two lamenting about it on her Facebook and on her Twitter and it frankly annoyed me to the point of commenting to friends that it was pretty diva like behavior and that there seemed to be an epidemic of crying over being second place (the Olympics were taking place at the same time).  It really turned me off and I was already starting to be sorry I had reviewed her book for Amazon and possibly helped even one person decide to purchase this novel.”

Let’s have a look at those “annoying” Facebook posts.

“BIG DAY today—find out where WHERE WE BELONG is on the NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LIST Thanks to all those who bought the book this past week, came out to my signings and helped spread the peach love. Even if I continue my streak at #2 (AKA the Buffalo Bills of authors), I so appreciate your generous, enthusiastic support. But maybe, just maybe (fingers in dire need of a manicure crossed) we will actually be #1. If so, I will owe it all to you!!”

Um…

“I have to admit to you guys–I’m really, really disappointed and sad not to have broken the Buffalo Bills spell… especially because I believed, based on the numbers/sales figures all week, that this book would be #1… That said, i also want to say that i would rather have your support and love and kind words than a dozen No.1s…”

Time-out.

I’m really not seeing the “diva-like behavior” Ms. Ann accuses Giffin of. Nothing here seems “awful”.

What I see is a bit of jovial self promotion – the kind that many authors indulge in these days, when they can talk to readers directly, via Twitter and Facebook. I don’t see her saying that her fans aren’t “good enough”. I don’t see her moaning that second place is bad. In fact, quite the opposite.

But Corey Ann read something quite different. Something personal to her.

In short, Corey Ann’s decision to regrade and rewrite her review seemed to be , in itself, a wholly petulant act. She didn’t change her mind about the book. Instead, she changed her mind about whether the author deserves a four star review – based on her perception of the author. She decided that she didn’t like her. That she needed putting in her place.

I wonder how many people are simply skipping past the meat of what happened — accepting Corey Ann’s translation of events and are then going direct to the nasty endgame consequences. Straight to the, terrible and unsavoury, bit where a section of Giffin’s fans turned on Corey Ann, tracked down her email address and began firing off grammatically dubious threats.

Because, it really did blow up – with fans posting nasty, personal comments on Amazon, aimed at both parties.

In circumstances like this, it becomes difficult to build an argument that the victim, perhaps, behaved a little badly themselves.

But two wrongs don’t make a right – even though Corey Ann wants you to think they do.

She now wants you to see a David and Goliath relationship, in which she has been deliberately harassed by a more powerful figure. A figure who is able to command her fannish minions to harass and destroy her. She evokes the language of bullying in several ways to underline this. By promising to donate a dollar for every “downvote” she received for her altered review to an online bullying charity. And a further dollar for every downvote received on the nasty, negative review that started this all. And some more for the negative comments. Take that, Internet bullies.

Bottom line: It’s clear that a couple of people around Emily Giffin responded to criticism with their hearts rather than their heads. They were in the wrong. It’s clear that some of Giffin’s followers decided to take it further and harass Corey Ann. They were in the wrong. It’s clear that some fans who went on Amazon and left horrible, trollish comments. They were in the wrong.

But that does not automatically legitimise Corey Ann’s initial actions. Corey Ann’s actions were not those of an honest reviewer. They were the petulant responses of an emerging, Internet phenotype. The Entitled Fan.

The Entitled Fan has risen to prominence in the Internet age – an age where everyone has a more or less equal platform to disseminate their opinion. They mistake this equality of access with equality of opinion.

These fans feel an ownership of the creative works they consume that is equal to or greater than the authors of those works. They see creative works as products and themselves as customers.

And, of course, the customer is always right.

There are several indicators of this in Corey Ann’s blog post – including her rather personal interpretation of the reviews and comments that triggered the fracas.

She tells us more than once that she is a member of Amazon Vine. This is an invitation-only service that rewards prolific Amazon reviewers with free stuff to review. She is saying “I am a more than an ordinary reviewer. I am special. A super-reviewer.”

And this makes her powerful. In the Internet-age, the real power is the ability to control information. Corey Ann has equal power to Giffin, in this respect.

When Giffin stepped out of line (or rather, when Giffin’s husband stepped out of line by daring to berate a fellow fan), she unleashed her secret weapon. Her ability to regrade and rewrite her review.

There’s Emily Giffin’s real crime. She attacked Corey Ann’s kindred spirit. Another “reviewer”. And this is what she got for having the temerity to do  that:

“I was given this book to review for Amazon Vine and I have to say after all the disasters that have followed I am glad that I did not pay for this book.

When I originally read the book I thought it was better than the works that she’s followed up Something Borrowed/Something Blue with but the majority of this reason was because she wasn’t glorifying cheating in this novel. It is a quick read and a nice tale but nothing I would go out of my way to recommend to friends but not something I hated. It was a good beach-esque fluffy read but the ending somewhat annoyed me.

Then Emily ruined the book – and her novels – forever for me by acting out online.

First she started off complaining excessively when her book didn’t make #1 in the New York Times list and instead was number 2. She complained about this multiple times in multiple places. This was distressing me to see as I know many authors would be thrilled even BE on the NYT list much less in such an esteemed position. I couldn’t believe how big of a deal she made of it.

Second her husband started attacking HONEST reviewers calling them psycho for not liking Emily’s novel. Just wow. Is this even allowed under Amazon’s rules of service? Then Emily proudly posted about it on her Facebook and Twitter and asked her fans to go and support her husband and post their own rebuttals (which turned into attacks) against the reviewer.

This has completely turned me against Emily Giffin and I will no longer read her novels. I may be one person but this is shameful.”

There are no real villains in this piece. There are just two people. Two Davids, or maybe two Goliaths. There is a fan with a sense of entitlement, an author who shouldn’t read her reviews and two crowds of Internet muppets with half the story each, taking sides.

I have watched this episode unfold, with the retweeting of Corey Ann’s blog link, uncritically. In the majority of cases, it is implied that we should be taking Corey Ann’s side. Because, we are the crowd. We are the ordinary and they are the powerful, and we should all stick together.

I choose not to support either individual – or join either crowd.

As Mark Twain is purported to have said:  “Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”

Culture, Current Events, Internet

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