Anonymity and the First Amendment

Warning! I am furious, and this post is a rant.

In Australia, we are not guaranteed the right of free speech in our constitution. Nonetheless we all believe people do have a right to speak their minds. Unless what they say is slanderous. I’m no expert on US law but I believe the same caveat applies over there.

The reason I am furious is that an anonymous person on Amazon has called me a liar in the comments to her review of Christie Meierz new novel ‘Daughters of Suralia’.

Why does this person call me a liar? Because in my review of Christie’s book I wrote “I am first and foremost a sci-fi reader…” Apparently a check of my reviews [on Amazon] revealed that I review all sorts of genres, not exclusively sci-fi. Ergo, as my reviews are not about sci-fi, my reading cannot be in the sci-fi genre either!

Is this petty, as well as being wrong? Of course it is. The problem lies in the fact that I have :

– published with Amazon… under my real name.

– posted reviews on Amazon… under my real name.

– commented on Amazon… under my real name. 

So to be called a liar slanders me as both an individual and as a writer.

I asked for an apology and received a rant about the First Amendment. It was all about her rights, not mine. Just in case there is any confusion, the ‘her’ in this case is not Christie Meierz, it is an anonymous reviewer by the name of ‘Lisa’.

I would shrug this whole sorry mess off as a storm in a teacup except for :

a) The damage something like this could do to my reputation as a writer of science fiction, and

b} My anger that some people can use the shield of anonymity to abuse others online.

This question of anonymity is not new. It’s a sore that has been festering for some time, and the examples of abuse are mounting. My little tale of woe is trivial, but it does highlight that something has to change.

In my view, online citizens should  have the same rights as real world citizens – say what you want but be prepared to wear the consequences.

At the moment, anonymity guarantees that there can be no consequences for online abuse. I can check for ‘Lisa’, but all I get is a page about her other reviews. She can hide. I can’t.

And that’s why I took the one option open to me. I reported ‘Lisa’ to Amazon for abuse.

Whether Amazon does anything about my complaint or not, I had to make a stand. To be honest, if ‘Lisa’ were not anonymous I would already be on the phone to my solicitor to find out whether I can sue a US citizen. That is how strongly I feel about being called a liar.

I apologize for vomiting this anger all over my blog. I’m sure I’ll calm down and feel really silly, eventually. For now though I’m just plain seething with the injustice of it all.

Meeks

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About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

31 responses to “Anonymity and the First Amendment

  • jorobinson176

    Good for you! It’s about time Amazon stops these brainless trolls from spewing their venom there. It’s beyond me why these critters are given such a free rein, when it’s so obvious that their comments are both abusive and so obviously unfair.

    Like

    • acflory

      Thanks Jo, but I haven’t heard a word from Amazon yet. I suppose I could check to see if ‘her’ comments have been pulled but it took me 2 days to calm down last time. lol

      Like

      • jorobinson176

        Probably best to ignore her now then. She’s not worth upsetting yourself over. Even if they leave it up, decent people won’t like what she’s done, so if anything will lean more towards respecting you.

        Like

  • pinkagendist

    This is actually a very common American cultural problem. People misunderstand rights (in many cases voluntarily), so they can just do whatever they want.
    Take the concept of equality. Constitutional/Legal equality is supposed to mean we are all equal under the law, independent of where we come from. Some people take that to mean, for example, that all opinions are of equal value- which is not true. A scientist’s VERIFIABLE opinion on science should be held in higher esteem than that of a non-scientific religious person.
    A doctor’s VERIFIABLE views on cancer should be held in higher esteem than those of a Jehova’s Witness who believes with no evidence that they can pray cancer away.
    Unfortunately these confusions are promulgated and perpetuated by a political class that wants to push an agenda. That’s how you get adults being incapable of understanding basic English in regards to the 2nd amendment. Ask any 10 year old what ‘Well regulated” means and there’s no confusion. Ask a pro-gun group and they do linguistic acrobatics to explain how well-regulated means no regulations whatsoever…

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    • acflory

      I think that brand of ignorance happens everywhere Pinky and probably has more to do with a poor education than anything outright malice. I can’t find any excuses for the NRA though and I am a pollyanna through and through. 😦

      Like

  • lorddavidprosserDavid

    Friendship aside here, I’m appalled that yet another bottom feeder uses anonymity to slate either a book or another reviewer online. Don’t misunderstand me, some people don’t enjoy books they’ve read and are entitled to say so but bottom feeders are those who tend to leave only negative reviews and criticisms and enjoy the power they think it gives them. Likewise they look for points to criticise in other’s reviews, even something as petty as suggesting you lie about what you read based on your reviews. She has no idea whether you also review in other names or whether you don’t review much of what you read.All she can base her spurious argument on is what you’ve done in your real name.
    By not using her real name she feels invulnerable, I hope your complaint to Amazon proves her wrong and that they block future reviews from her IP address.
    Maybe it”s time Amazon asked for and printed real names with each review so that lack of anonymity reduces the feeling of power such bottom feeders get when they make personal remarks.
    Your rant is justified.
    xx Hugs xx

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    • acflory

      -hugs- Thank you David. I too hope Amazon brings some commonsense into its system. What we have at the moment is simply ripe for abuse. Each and ever one of us should be accountable for what we do… and what we say.

      Like

  • Candy Korman

    A completely unreal predicament. At the heart of it is a truly crazy person. Who else would even consider attacking another reviewer? It’s nuts! Calling someone a liar is a deeply cutting insult. In this context it’s particularly strange. What possible upside did she see? Was she simply stirring the pot? I’m afraid so.

    If this is of any comfort at all, I think most Amazon book buyers automatically sense the outrageous in some review posts and skip to the next one. I know I do.

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    • acflory

      I’m calmer now, and there’s a part of me that’s almost feeling sorry for her, but I hate liars and pride myself on never lying, so she really pushed all my buttons.

      I hope you’re right about Amazon buyers shrugging it off but mud does stick. I wish she’d just given me a one word apology, even a very grudging one, then this whole thing could have died down.

      Who’d a thunk I’d get myself into something like this? lol

      Like

  • Laurie Boris

    Oh, I am so sorry to hear this and REALLY pissed. You did right calling her out and reporting her. Hopefully Amazon will remove her for her abuse. The hurt is not as easily removed. And yes, there are a million “Lisas” and I’ve been poked by them, too. There will always be trolls. Ignoring them is hard as hell sometimes but our reaction only fuels them. A pox (and worse) upon them!

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  • Jim Sellers

    She cannot say something is fact and hide behind the First Amendment. That’s akin to standing in a theater and yelling “Fire, in my opinion!”. You on the other hand do have the right to defend yourself and should do, not for the offending offender but the rest of the public who may read her comments. I believe you will find that people will side with you, especially if you point out, as Ella did, that she does this to others.
    And then go back to being yourself again.

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    • acflory

      ‘That’s akin to standing in a theater and yelling “Fire, in my opinion!”’ Ah this made me laugh Jim!

      I do have a bit of a Don Quixote in me but I’m more used to ranting about bushfires, or child abuse, or climate change. I think it will take more than me to stop this windmill but I’m kind of committed. Now where’s that Pancho?

      Like

  • Christie Meierz

    I was completely appalled when she called you a liar and then hid behind the 1st Amendment (without even bothering to find out the easy-to-find information that you’re Australian), and I’m even more appalled that she used her review of MY book as a platform to do it.

    She dared to call you a liar — when she isn’t even using her full name. No doubt her name really is Lisa — but there are millions of Lisas. She’s effectively anonymous. And then she had the nerve to tell you to go away and leave her alone? On *my* book’s sales page?

    Dear God, the nerve. And I am so sorry.

    For the record, I’ve been telling my readers to ignore her, so her illusion that I rallied all my “sniffling” friends to come down on her is just that — an illusion. Because it’s hardly surprising that among the thousands of people who have bought my books, there would be some who would take issue with her review. If she doesn’t like it, well — there is that good ol’ 1st Amendment.

    My readers stuck up for me and suffered personal attacks for it. My heart couldn’t be more full when I call them, each and every one of them, my friends. So yeah, my friends defended me.

    She doesn’t like it, that’s her problem.

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    • acflory

      It’s okay Christie. You are not to blame in any way. Anonymity gives people the courage to behave in ways they would not do in real life. I just happened to be one she chose to call a liar.

      There is not an awful lot of logic in her attacks, but that’s okay. With luck Amazon may take notice and do something about it. I just hope I’m the straw that broke the camel’s back. It would be nice if Amazon changed the rules and made everyone give their real names, but I’m not holding my breath. 😉

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  • metan

    Obviously this ‘Lisa’ is missing the point of a review altogether (apart from clearly having problems of her own). A review is merely an opinion, not hers, yours. You can say whatever you want, if she tries to change your opinion it becomes her review!
    I don’t blame you for the rant and good on you for reporting her. I doubt your day is the only one she goes out of her way to ruin.

    First amendment? What an idiot. I am not sure what that has to do with your right to abuse people for no reason. Hmmmm….. Apparently she thinks it is ok to assume our own countries (misinterpreted) laws still apply when we deal with people in other countries. I think I might make my legal address a country that allows me to keep a standing army and agrees with me enforcing my will on all and sundry too…. 😉

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    • acflory

      lol – Thanks for sticking up for me but in a sense I did bring this on myself by commenting on /her/ review. There was no name calling or anything nasty like that but I think she took exception to my saying it was unfair on other readers to fill her review with spoilers. -shrug-

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      • metan

        I completely agree with you, I hate those reviews that really just summarize the entire book. It is hard for your eyes not to flick over some little part that you would prefer not to read while you look for a less revealing review.

        When I read one like that I find them really annoying. We get that you have read the book, I would hope that you are not going to comment unless you have! You don’t have to blurt out the entire thing because it doesn’t impress anyone, and I am sure the author doesn’t like it either.

        Reading her extensive and unpleasant comments she clearly has other personal issues that she really should sort out if they are going to influence the way she interacts with others so dramatically.

        You are right though, your comment probably just made her grumpier, best not to feed the trolls! 😉

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  • Ilil Arbel

    I reported “Lisa” as innappropitate and requested that her review should be removed.

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  • Penny L Howe

    I am so sorry this happened to you. This is a sick person who obviously takes pleasure in ruining things for others. I hope Amazin gets on top of this one. Ranting is very beneficial, especially when it’s warranted. Don’t blame you at all for the rant! xx

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  • Kathryn Chastain Treat

    You did what you felt was right. Because we all are vulnerable using our names it makes us all worry about such things happening.

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    • acflory

      Yes, that’s what’s so unfair. I’m so conscious of what I say because I know it may come back to bite me, plus I really don’t like calling people names. If I can’t convince someone with a rational argument then putting them down personally isn’t going to do it. Anyway, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if Amazon does anything.

      Like

  • EllaDee

    Curious, I popped over to Amazon to read the review(s)… Lisa sounds like a case, and you weren’t the only person she attacked. You did the right thing by reporting her to Amazon… I’d be surprised if it’s an isolated case. Should Amazon or you want to pursue it, I believe Lisa isn’t anonymous and will have an identifiable IP address.

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    • acflory

      I’m sure Amazon must know who she is because you have to login to leave a review or comment. Whether they take this seriously or not is the question. I don’t want her banned, I just want her to realise that there are consequences to her behaviour, and that she can’t mangle the truth with impunity.

      Like

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