Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mob Psychology, Author Tantrums, and Compassion

Nathan Bransford offers some great insights into the recent events you may have been following: an author didn't like an online review and proceeded to respond in a rather ill-considered and childish way. That's not the problem; the disturbing event was what followed, a sort of feeding-frenzy on the part of hundreds of commentators. They not only pelted this author with scorn, but attacked her book with "faux" five-star reviews or scathing ones. There was a sense of "blood in the water" jumping-on-the-bandwagon delight in pointless cruelty.

Yep, cruelty. Because as unprofessional as the author's response had been, no one deserves what's happened to her. Sarcasm and lashing out and outright attacks have never led anyone to examine and improve their behavior. If anything, such a response solidifies and validates the author's combative stance.

Even more, engaging in such mob cruelty damages the participants. They give one another permission to behave in ways they normally would find abhorrent. How is it right and fun to torment someone who is perhaps not behaving as well as they would like? I read the author's comments and found them at worst silly and puerile, but hardly deserving of such treatment.

Just because the author posted some childish comments does not mean the book is worthless. As writers, we work hard to separate our egos from the words on the page. This feeding-frenzy, and the posting of negative or sarcastically positive reviews, exemplifies revenge-by-savaging-the-book. What does that prove?

Bransford said it best:

The other justification you'll hear is that the person in question deserved it. She brought it on herself by failing to edit her book or behaving unprofessionally or using profanity or etc. 

But what she deserved is compassion.

We've all made mistakes in our worst moments. We've all taken criticism too hard. We've all lashed out when we should have kept quiet. We've all said things we shouldn't have.

Now imagine that the mistake we made was met not with sympathy and fair consequences but with a mob trying to tear down everything we've ever tried to build.

This is a person who just wanted to have their book out there and has the same hopes and dreams as any other writer. Some rude Internet behavior negates all of that? People will ridicule her and scorch the Earth and trash what this author has built in the name of teaching a lesson?

Let's not kid ourselves that a lesson was taught, other than to remind us, yet again, that the Internet is a terrifying place to make a mistake.


  1. Yes, the response seems over the top. Thanks for offering an adult perspective.

  2. waves hi to Ann!

    "Going viral" is supposed to be a good thing and I suppose it is when it's your book that's being lauded. Apparently, mean-spiritedness, bullying and ganging up on some poor soul who just wanted people to like her book, are even more potent.

    I'm definitely up for a Conspiracy of Kindness.

  3. I agree that the backlash went on too long, but you understate the original provocation. To say that the aggrieved author responded "in a rather ill-considered and childish way" fails to characterize her repeated insults, which continued for some time after the reviewer answered her (unfounded) objections, and continued to escalate untl they abruptly ceased.