There have been many things written and discussed about sockpuppets and reviews in the past few months. Most of the time I'm left slightly confused because I'm honestly not sure where some of these things are going. I've seen bloggers quote the bible, I've seen people comment out of sheer frustration, I've seen a handful of bloggers literally go batshit crazy berserk, and I've seen most go completely blank on the topic altogether.
But most of all I've seen confusion. I just finished reading an article that is totally unrelated to this topic, but in the article the author presented an argument and tried to back it up by saying that "psychologists agree..." And I was left wondering who these so-called psychologists actually are and how many would disagree. Psychology is one of those professions where not everyone agrees, and I think if you're trying to back up an argument you should have the decency to inform your readers with reliable sources instead of broad statements that amount to nothing more than pure bullshit. I was left confused by this article, the same way I've been left confused by so many of the articles and blog posts written about sockpuppets and reviews.
And I don't think I'm the only one who is confused. So I decided to look for links that discuss the sockpuppet issue in different ways that are not exclusive to publishing and book reviews. It's important to state that Internet fraud is not just a publishing issue. It's something everyone either has faced or will be facing sometime in the future.
This link is interesting. It's from The Consumerist and it gets into fake reviews in general and how scientific methods are now being used to sniff out fakes. I highly recommend reading it in full to grasp the magnitude of the issue.
Researchers from the State University of New York, Stony Brook are using statistical methods to detect if a company has been posting bogus reviews online, says Technology Review. The method can't root out individual fraudulent reviews, but it can see where fake reviews are distorting the statistical distribution of say, a hotel's scores. Basically, the method can tell you when something's fishy.
This article talks about the judge in Oracle and Google's Java lawsuit and Google's alleged sockpuppets.
The statement came nearly a month after judge Alsup surprised observers by ordering Google and Oracle to name paid commentators. The judge never spelled out exactly why he’d issued the unusual order, but it looks like he was trying to flush out the financial connections of any of the commentators who had a material effect on the trial.
In another article related to this same topic the judge ordered this:
In an unusual order, issued Wednesday, Judge William Alsup said that he was concerned that the parties in the case “may have retained or paid print or Internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on this issues in the case.”
This article in Forbes is titled, "Do Consumer Reviews Have A Future? Why Amazon's Sock Puppet Scandal Is Bigger Than It Appears," and it gets into a lot of the things I've been reading about in publishing for the past few months. I HIGHLY recommend reading this one.
As with any debate between writers, contrary views have sprung up. On his blog, bestselling author JA Konrath used a seductive variant of moral relativism to pen his own version of “The Writer’s Code of Ethics.” Konrath makes the case that ethics is a slippery slope and that punishing Ellory, Leather & Locke was patently unfair because every author is complicit in his own way.
The same article goes on to discuss Konrath's argument in more detail:
Konrath suggests that since there is volition in the act of cutting down a piece of work, whether you do it honestly or maliciously, it is morally and legally the same act. In other words, “it’s allowed.” For Konrath, a system that includes one-star reviews inherently invites reviewers to commit an act of violence against the described product. He suggests that Ellory had a right to publish malicious reviews even if it was a “shitty thing to do”.
This is another flawed argument (the kind you see a lot in college-level debating) because Konrath is conflating two very different types of reviews: an honest negative review and a dishonest negative review. As we’ve seen previously, a fabricated one-star review is not actually allowed; it’s against Amazon’s terms of service. It may also be illegal.
In this piece, "Sock Puppet Spectacular: Are Online Reviews Completely Worthless, or Only Mostly Worthless?" the title suggests the way many consumers are starting to feel. This one links to another article at Techcrunch.
Some years ago, Amazon accidentally revealed a clutch of other authors praising their own work and ripping into others’. Since then, hundreds of other authors have simply bought fake five-star reviews by the dozen.
I found this article interesting because it's not about publishing or book reviews. It's a good example of what's happening in other industries.
During Conrad Black’s recent trial, prosecutors insisted that the former press baron had engaged in unseemly act known as sock puppetry: an Internet user who logs on to a message board or any other Web community under an assumed name for deceptive purposes. It was alleged that Lord Black himself signed onto a Yahoo Finance message board under the handle “nspector” and did battle, trashing speculators shorting shares of Hollinger International.
The one common thread I seem to find in all these posts and articles is that sooner or later the sockpuppet is revealed...or at the very least the intention was revealed.