Goodreads’ Troll Problem

Goodreads, the book review site, is about thirteen years old and has had systemic troll problem for most of those years. Matters had reached crisis proportions way back in 2012 (see ). Some of the issues arose not from trolling as such but from the inevitable conflict between authors and readers when assessing the content of books (e.g. see )

You would think that over that period of time Goodreads would have developed some robust systems and processes for dealing with trolls and abuse. After all, you would imagine that a review site descending into a slime pit would inevitably lead to both authors and readers looking elsewhere. That does not seem to be the case.

Notably, author Patrick S Tomlinson is currently being targetted by a sustained cyberstalking attack on Goodreads. Multiple fake accounts are leaving insulting reviews of a book of his that has not yet been published (not even as an ARC). The fake accounts have been quite blatantly using fake names and identities, including a fake account pretending to be Otis Chandler one of the founders of Goodreads.

Another author targetted for harassment and identity theft is former SFWA President Cat Rambo:

With little moderation and few tools available for reporting fake accounts or harassment, a coordinated troll attack can be very difficult to stifle even when the reviews are absurdly and blatantly false.

ETA for additional context:

27 responses to “Goodreads’ Troll Problem”

  1. Oh, that’s really despicable. I tried Goodreads for a while, but it isn’t for me. It couldn’t handle importing my LibraryThing catalog so I figured I’d just use it for current reads. Well, I read a lot of short fiction emagazines which unbeknownst to me Goodreads librarians don’t consider worthy of their database. When I discovered some of my reviews were deleted or moved to anthologies I didn’t own, I returned to using LibraryThing for everything and haven’t looked back.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll just mention that while Goodreads Librarians enforce the policy on short stories, we don’t make the policy. Goodreads Librarians are volunteers, the policy is from Goodreads itself.

      I’ll also mention that I personally don’t do those edits. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • 🙂 I appreciate that some librarians were willing to let it go. Others were actively tracking down anything that might not meet the exact letter of Goodread’s policy. It was frustrating because I had ebook versions of every one that got deleted. When I emailed support, I was told those should be fine even though they weren’t on Amazon. So I put a few back, but they were deleted again within hours. I decided it was a losing battle.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What’s happening to Cat happened to a writer named Lindy West a few years ago – here’s the story on ThisAmericanLife

    “One midsummer afternoon in 2013, I got a message on Twitter from my dead dad. I don’t remember what it said exactly and I didn’t keep a copy for my scrapbook, but it was mean. And my dad was never mean, so it couldn’t really be from him. Also, he was dead.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The “moderators” over there are a joke, to be honest. A friend had a situation in which she started receiving 1-star reviews on a book that was not yet released. She had kept tight control on the ARCs, and the people leaving the reviews were not among the recipients. When she reported the matter, she was told that “You don’t know that they haven’t read it, so we’re not taking them down.”

    I lost my librarian “privileges” when I added a cover image to a listing that didn’t have one rather than creating a new edition (which is just such bullshit that i don’t know where to start with that). The new rule had not been widely publicized and, frankly, I don’t see the point of it anyway.

    I only stay there to track my own reading and make sure no one else can take my author platform on the site. Seriously.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Amazon bought Goodreads for its lucrative marketing data and to keep the site from being a problem for its own reviews/marketing algorithms. So they don’t have much incentive to moderate it at all. So all the things that were somewhat problems on Goodreads have gotten much worse, I am given to understand. I have given up using Goodreads as a useful database search resource because its listings and lists also seem to have become more and more a mess. But authors do have to keep an eye on it regarding their own works.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. So I like and use Goodreads, but I’ve noticed in a couple of previous kerfluffles (such as the magazines issue) that they’re deeply useless at confronting tricky issues – there’s a definite desire to just shovel things under the carpet.
    If they don’t show a strong response to BS like this then they’ll torpedo themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is an extremely difficult problem to solve as long as the Internet has broad support for anonymous accounts. It really is taking people too long to realize that most of what’s wrong with the Internet derives directly or indirectly from anonymity. Freedom of speech cannot include freedom from accountability.


    • I think Facebook is showing that anonymity isn’t the issue (or if it is, there are bigger issues)
      Michael Z Williamson runs multiple accounts. He cops a temporary Facebook ban and just shifts account until that one gets a ban by which time the previous ban is over and he hops back to the original.
      Brad Torgersen runs multiple accounts also for similar reasons. Closed groups get to be even worse because only friendly faces see the abuse.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Eliminating anonymity is going to require legislation and enforcement. That means secure government ids, laws with real teeth to punish abuse with clauses that assign liability to anyone who anonymized someone else, treaties with other countries, and mechanisms to exclude countries that don’t play ball.

        However I can see how you might not approve of this idea. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Anonymity — privacy — is essential for many people to be able to participate on the Web at all. A woman who is being beaten can get help and resource information with an anonymous account the person beating her can’t identify. LGBTQA+ people can connect without telling the world that they are queer, and getting harassed and threatened for it. People writing fan fiction, erotica and marginalized art won’t be able to share it on the Web if you remove anonymity. People in authoritarian countries that restrict the Internet and use it to identify and persecute dissident depend on anonymity to make contact and get information in and out. There are a lot of very good reasons why people need and use anonymous accounts.

        And there is the monetization and thus weaponization of banning anonymity. People who want a blue check verification on Twitter have to jump through a lot of hoops and give up a lot of private information to get it, information which Twitter uses and sells and which often gets hacked, same with other platforms like Instagram. And we know having a blue check on Twitter means you are less likely to be suspended, etc., so it already creates a class system on Twitter. If anonymity is banned, a lot of people have to go through such processes, and since it will be a necessity to participate, run your business, etc., that creates a captive revenue stream if platforms start charging for the process to offset the costs of doing it for so many people. And it creates the potential for a tier system — the more you pay, the more certified and secure you are on the platform — and the more you get to control things on that platform and the more you get to control what other people get to use the platform.

        What the big platforms need to do is better knock off and block bots, first off, and better moderate and eliminate harassment and destructive content. Both of those things they are perfectly capable of doing easily and they wouldn’t cost that much. They just don’t want to because bots and harassment are profitable for them in a number of different ways and often advance the political and monetary goals of the people who run the tech companies. One of those ways it is profitable for them is that governments give them money and special deals to let their platforms be manipulated, as we’ve already seen with Facebook and the Russians.

        This is not a customer/user problem; this is a provider problem. Banning anonymous accounts actually makes it easier for harassers and active bigots to target people, not less, because the provider chooses policies that favor them over vulnerable people who you are proposing have to dox themselves in order to participate. As a woman on the Net who is sometimes expressing political opinions, it’s a security issue for me having people know who and where exactly I am that I have to constantly evaluate and protect. There are now entire kits and programs people have put together to help women being harassed hide their data and put up privacy walls.

        But hey, if they know the harassers’ identity, they’ll prosecute them, right? Except that they won’t and they can’t much. They won’t prosecute harassers for the same reasons they don’t much prosecute stalkers and sexual assault in the real world. And even if that changed, they can’t enforce many laws on what is a global population that is far too chaotic for any law enforcement to monitor and regulate. The only ones really in a position to do anything are the people who run Reddit and Snapchat and Goodreads and Linked In, etc. But it’s more profitable and easier and more fitting the political views of more tech people if they don’t and let us get harassed and threatened. So at least anonymity can provide some protection and a chance at participation for a few people.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Agree that anonymity is more important to protect potential victims of trolls (and worse). And wouldn’t do much for accountability of trolls (and worse).

          The mention of Twitter’s blue check reminds me of a contest Patrick Rothfuss had some years back. He set up a handful of Twitter accounts. He was tweeting on one and other people were pretending to be him on the others. People were suppose to guess which was the real one. The account which was later revealed to be Mary Robinette Kowal kept getting the blue checkmark. Pat had to keep contacting Twitter and saying it wasn’t really him.

          I also remember John Scalzi having a tough time getting verified. I think he joked about having Mary Robinette tweet as him in order to get it.

          Liked by 4 people

  7. I don’t want to take this conversation too far off track, but I just wanted to clarify that I do agree with single stories from an online magazine being merged with the magazine. It is the same with a “dead tree” book collection – you can’t just enter & review the one story – even if that is all you read.

    Laura’s case is a little different though. Laura, when you re-entered the short stories, did you enter the ISBN number & the cover? Those details should have shown the books had been individually published & protected them from being merged.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carol,

      They did not have isbns. But I uploaded the covers, listed the table of contents, and added all other applicable details (editors, cover artist, etc.).

      I can understand merging individual stories. In the other situation I mentioned, I had added my review to a story someone else had originally added. Eventually it was merged into an anthology it got reprinted in rather than the magazine it came from. Even though the story was using the magazine’s cover and that magazine had not been deleted (it had an ASIN).

      All in all, LibraryThing suites me better. It’s just set up in a different way. I don’t have to worry about reviews or comments disappearing or moving to a different work.


  8. Without ISBN is trickier, as with covers sometimes people use homemade covers or a picture they have grabbed off the internet. Im sorry this happened to you Laura.


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