Sunday, November 2, 2014

Confessions: Staying Safe on the Wild Wild Web

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #12

When the whole Hale/Harris thing broke (some time ago), I decided not to immediately weigh in on the blog, mostly because tempers on both sides were insanely hot. There's nothing wrong with being upset, it's just that writing while upset is a bit like tweeting while impaired- you shouldn't do it, and it often ends up biting you back- hard. And then some of the details of the fiasco didn't come out until later: how an author came by the address of someone who'd not liked her book, how the publisher wasn't involved (at least, not from what I've seen), and how book bloggers would react (vehemently).

In this post, I'm not here to rehash what has been said or rant and rave about my opinions, but instead I'll address another topic: pseudonyms, online safety, and trust (with a slice of opinion- this is a confession, is it not?).

I was one of those people who used the internet to find a pen pal- but the conditions of my penpal were that it had to be online only. I didn't want just anyone to be my penpal and learn my address- at the time I was an eleven or twelve year old, and online safety was stressed in tv reality shows like "To Catch a Predator". I also didn't use my full name, so no one would be able to look me up. I found a pen pal from South Korea who corresponded with me for the longest- roughly 9 months. I'll never forget her, but to this day I have no idea if she's dead or alive, if she's still in South Korea, or if her first name was actually the one she gave me or something else.

If I had found that my pen pal, Kim, had a different name, would I have been mad at her? No. She had every right not to share anything about her life with me, and I had the same rights to privacy as her. Even if it turned out she was actually a 40-year-old male government spy from Madagascar, I wouldn't be very mad- we shared interesting cross-cultural conversation, and that was something I craved at the time.

Pseudonyms are widely used online, because names hold power in our ever-evolving tech-centric world. They are also widely used with authors- some of the most famous authors had pseudonyms to protect their identity, or even their gender. To find an author who thinks she's being catfished by a reviewer (who has every right to a pseudonym) is kind of weird- no 'one' reviewer has the power to kill your career/book, no matter how influential. One mislaid article (or bad talk show interview), on the other hand...

The name I use on this blog isn't a pseudonym, but it isn't my full name either. I'm sure if someone truly wanted to, they could find me, because I've shared much of my life with you here and on other social networks. I don't recommend it, though... I have a miniature direwolf who regularly ventures the yard in search of strangers to munch on, in addition to retired neighbors who stay at home and have fishbowl windows that look directly onto our property- they also consider themselves an unofficial neighborhood watch. So yeah, you're not welcome to visit my red-blooded, second-amendment-happy city, capiche?

How does one book blogger stay safe on this Wild, Wild, Web? Using pseudonyms withholding your full name are a good start, but probably not the final answer. Updating your passwords and antivirus software regularly also grants a degree of safety against hackers, but not against people who want to come and visit.

I think it's a good idea to think twice about who you give your address to- if you enter a physical copy giveaway and win (and it's a copy direct from the author, not through a blog tour company), make sure to look at the author's social media before accepting. Most authors are great and know the boundaries of the book blogger (or reviewer or plain reader)/author relationship, but now I think prudence is in order. It's probably a good idea to write down the people who have your address- if worst comes to worst, you'll know who had the easiest access or who may have slipped up and passed along your information.

The last thing I would like to rehash is the topic of trust- right now, a lot of book reviewers are second-guessing the trust they grant authors, and some authors are rethinking the trust they give book reviewers. Trust is a two-way street in the book blogging industry- authors have to trust reviewers enough to believe they won't judge the book because of outside factors, and reviewers have to trust authors enough that if they don't like the book and write a review on it, that the authors won't seek retribution.

I have had the good fortune of never having a "bad" author experience yet, but there are authors I would probably think twice about working with (mainly those who've made headlines). But will I trust the next author who reaches out to me in search of a review? Yes. There will be a brief perusal of the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, along with a glance at their social media- and to be honest, I always have done that with people who ask for a review. But will I run a background check and try to obtain their address? Never.

It isn't easy to trust someone online- someone who could be hiding behind a pseudonym or an avatar, nameless or faceless. It's always good to remember there is a human on a computer somewhere who must be behind it, a human with commitments, relationships, and the capability to make huge mistakes, just like the rest of us. But most of us wouldn't advertise and try to justify huge mistakes by putting finger to keyboard.

Just sayin'.

Some Helpful Links:
Information on Web Safety for Adults
Cyberbullying (Wikipedia)


  1. Hey Litha! I've been following the same cases and it really is scary! I've only ever had one experience with an author that wasn't happy with my review (it was a short story that was LITTERED with errors, she even spelled the name of the book wrong on the cover). I was nice on my review but she was just so mad that I had given it 2 stars (that was being generous...) so I offered to help her with editing.

    Since hearing about the Hale/Harris stalking cases I've been being a lot more cautious with my online book blogging presence, and am definitely never accepting physical books directly from an author again, ebooks only. I had only won one book through another blog once, but the author mailed it directly. I still get books from Goodreads giveaways since those are typically by publishers? But now I'm not so sure. I'm on the fence as to whether I even want to do review requests anymore since they're hit or miss, and I always feel really bad if I don't like the book. There have been a few gems though that I ended up loving, and I now have new authors that I actively follow and try to help advertise, so I don't really know. Either way it's a scary world out there, who knew blogging would be so dangerous?

    I couldn't believe that article though about Hale talking about being 'cat-fished' and bragging that she had unmasked this reviewer by stalking her. Proving exactly why that reviewer apparently needed a pseudonym to begin with... The overwhelming amount of support for her too is just scary. Like, sure, if the reviewer was terrible then gosh I don't blame her for being mad. But there is something not right about how she stalked the women, that's just terrifying and crossing way too many boundaries...

    The whole authors versus reviewer thing just makes me sad. While yes, there are some bloggers that can be really catty and rude, there are just as many authors that behave badly. Sadly they jump on the victim bandwagon for free press. :(

    Great post though, as always, and I couldn't agree more!

    1. I'm kind of surprised I haven't had a bad author experience- I've reviewed more than a few self-pubbed books on my own dime negatively, but so far no objections. I tend to reject a lot of read-for-reviews if I feel like there's a big chance I'll not like it, but sometimes it's hard to tell- so many books have 4-5 star only reviews when I pick them up.
      Most GR giveaways are direct from publishers, but I think a few may be straight from authors (if they're self-published). I've received quite a bit from giveaways, but only one book straight from the author- I'm not too worried, but it's something to think about. I knew about authors freaking out at bad reviews before I signed up for book blogging, but I had no idea the lengths some of them would go (stalking or physical violence- really?).
      When I read Hale's article, I felt a lot of her investigation was circumstantial- she never made a clear case that the reviewer was guilty of bashing her book needlessly, and I couldn't believe other authors would stand for that type of thing. The worst part was how she got the address by saying she wanted to give Blythe a gift. That's awful.
      I've definitely felt the strain online between authors and reviewers, when really, I think we're all on the same side- we're here for the love of books, not to exact vengeance on those who have different opinions. This could have all been easily avoided- if Hale hadn't published the article. Now she'll be the one using a pseudonym.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Jamie! I appreciate your insight. :)
      ~Litha Nelle


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