fake-amazon-reviews_11691A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Amazon’s new review policy of rejecting reviews Amazon thought could be potentially biased. In the last couple of days, another news post from a few weeks ago has been making the rounds, explicitly saying that Amazon would reject reviews left by social media “friends” of the author, and that Amazon had ways of telling who was social media friends with whom. A number of authors in my Facebook friends feed have been getting upset about it.

The thing those upset authors don’t seem to have noticed is that this post is from another third party (“Reader’s entertainment magazine”) and seems to be a paraphrase. It does link back to Amazon’s review policy, which in turn links to Amazon’s review FAQ. But the only thing either of those documents has to say that’s even vaguely related to social media is that people who are “perceived to have a close personal relationship” with the author or artist of the item being reviewed will have their reviews rejected. It doesn’t elaborate on the criteria for such a relationship, and I’m not sure where “Readers entertainment magazine” got their information.

Of course, Amazon has been rejecting reviews from social media friends, at least in some cases, for a while now. The thing is, we don’t have any way of knowing whether it rejects all such reviews out of hand, or some, or if there are other criteria entirely. Amazon hasn’t actually said that’s what it’s doing.

But just the appearance that it might be is enough to get authors up in arms. If simply following an author on Twitter or Facebook, in order to keep up with current events, appearances, and other news, is enough to disqualify readers from writing reviews on Amazon, that could eliminate almost everyone who actually really likes the book. It just doesn’t seem like the kind of mistake Amazon would make. And this does tend to make me a little suspicious that news sources that are extrapolating “social media friendship” from “close personal relationship” (or at least not questioning the others who do—something I’ve also been guilty of in the past) may be jumping to conclusions.

I used Amazon’s contact form to send an email to their customer service department asking whether social media friendship was sufficient to cause reviews to get rejected. I got a response back from one “Leonard” on the Communities team who said explicitly, “Following an Author does not indicate a ‘close personal relationship’ and does not violate our review guidelines.”

So there you have it. Or maybe you don’t, because it seems like the terseness of that denial could raise more questions than it answers. (I sent a follow-up question asking for clarification, though it could be hours before I get another response. I’ll update the article if the answer changes anything.) As I noted above, some people have seen their reviews removed because they supposedly have that “close personal relationship” with the author, and the only such relationship they could point to was following them on social media. So what’s going on?

It might be that following is insufficient by itself, but engaging in conversation while following could lead to such a determination, especially if the tone of the conversation is sufficiently fannish. Imy Santiago, the blogger who ran into this issue back in July, did say in a comment here, “I reached out to the author after reading the first book in the series, and ‘fan-girled’ over the author’s work. I started following them on social media. That does not mean I know the author personally.” Maybe the mere following wasn’t enough, but the “fan-girling” was? Maybe Amazon’s software can’t distinguish “fan-girling” from actual friendship and errs on the side of caution?

Maybe the customer service representative was referring to following an author’s fan page, rather than being actual “friends” of the author’s personal Facebook account? (He did say “following,” not “friending.”) A lot of authors don’t seem to bother with fan pages, and just use normal personal Facebook accounts like regular people do—so fans who want to follow them have to “friend” those pages. Perhaps Amazon draws a distinction between whether you follow a fan or personal page for purposes of determining if you’re “friends,” even though many of the actual authors in question don’t?

Or maybe Amazon’s left hand just doesn’t know what the right is doing. In a company that big, it wouldn’t be too surprising, and it’s even been known to happen before—there was that time an Amazon representative refused on free speech grounds to pull a self-published pedophilia manual, just a few hours before said book disappeared once someone high enough up the food chain learned about it.

There’s no reason a customer service representative would even necessarily know all the criteria on which Amazon makes its decisions. Even if someone asks specifically about one of their own reviews being removed, the representative who looks up the case may not have access to any more information than the determination that there was a “close personal relationship” without any explanation of why. The absence of such an explanation would make it easy to jump to conclusions.

So in the end, even Amazon’s denial that just friending someone is enough to trigger review removal doesn’t actually clear the matter up that much. Unfortunately, it seems as though that’s as clear as it’s going to get. As it stands right now, you can’t be sure whether you’re going to have your review permitted or removed until you try writing and posting it. It would be nice if Amazon could try for greater transparency in this process, but it seems unlikely. In the end, clicking the “submit” button with your fingers crossed seems to be the order of the day.


  1. Amazon doesn’t mind paid-by-a-free-product reviews, as long as it’s the one sending out the product and probably getting paid to do so. So why does it get all antsy when others do the same or even less? Amazon’s excuse might be that Vine reviewers are noted as such with the review. I know. I used to be one.

    So why can’t Amazon offer other types of reviewers the opportunity to do the same self-revelation? For instance, when they are:

    1. A third-party paid reviewer (I get those sorts of offers all the time).

    2. A friend or relative of the person whose book is being reviewed.

    3. A fan of the author

    All they need do is state so. Amazon could include that with their review and all would be hunky dory. No need to spy on social media. No complicated criteria.


    Quote: “As it stands right now, you can’t be sure whether you’re going to have your review permitted or removed until you try writing and posting it.”

    Ah, that’s why, although I was a top-rated, Vine reviewer, I got out of the game. Amazon’s arbitrary and constantly changing rules were simply too much bother. Amazon was acting as if I were one of their paid employees (and hence subject to abuse) not a volunteer.

    Note too that someone passive enough to put up with Amazon’s hassles is probably not independent enough to write good reviews anyway.

  2. The problem here is that many authors are forced to friend their fans on their personal pages because facebook restricts the number of people who actually see those posts/pages unless payment is made. So either you pay fb, and still less than half your fans will see your posts, or risk accepting their friend requests on your personal page and have Amazon penalise you for it. It’s a lose-lose scenario either way for indie authors.

  3. At times I fall into the trap of wanting to criticize Amazon for this and that. On the other hand, I realize that Amazon has done more than any other entity for self-published authors (I refuse to call myself “indie” because that is a term used by people trying to be cool and the majority of whom — like 99 percent — will never be as successful at the self-published game as my mentor Robert J. Ringer and I have been).

    Fact is, Amazon is doing the things that they are doing because many authors — and there are a lot — are trying to scam Amazon’s system.

    Here is my approach: Whenever I find something that Amazon is doing which is not all that good for my bottom line, I find a positive and creative way to turn it into something good — even great! If other other authors were truly creative (of which the vast majority aren’t), they would do the same.

    In short, if some company such as Amazon is that bad, then have nothing to do with the company. Show the world how great you are in your own way instead. As Aristotle a few centuries ago advised, “In the arena of human life the honors and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities in action.”

  4. Thanks for your detail analysis on this issue. Your assumption seems to be correct and best possible explanation of Amazon rep’s answer. Amazon should tell us more on the rationale on rejecting review. They should tell us whether they will take the friend listing of a social network platform such as Facebook into consideration. They should also tell us how they can distinguish between a fan and an actual friend from the Facebook friend listing. In fact, anyone who is your fan may also try to be your friend on Facebook. You can’t simply start ignoring friend requests from fans…

  5. The question of why Amazon isn’t more forthright with how it goes about its proceedings often comes up, especially in cases like how they reject “inappropriate” content. Writers have figured out that they use keywords to determine if a book isn’t acceptable content, and more experienced authors have figured out which ones they can and can’t use and how to get around them. “Incest” is not okay. Many niche writers use “Man of the house,” instead of “Father,” for a father, step-daughter erotica, and so on.

    But I think the answer is obvious. While I have the highest respect for self-publishers and I think they should do what they can to help themselves, at times, they are ruthlessly self-serving and if you tell them exactly why something’s going to be rejected, many will find away around the “letter of the law” without respecting the intent. Amazon doesn’t want certain kinds of material on its site, and when they’re transparent about how they find that material, the writers are better at hiding it.

    It’s a game of push and pull.

    Right now Amazon reviews for books tend to be terrible and useless. The negative reviews are often petty, “The author’s fat and uses swear words!” and everything has a majority of five and four-stars unless they got caught plagiarizing or are a Kardashian. (And even then, I think it’s a fifty-fifty split.)

    It makes sense for them to try to enhance the kinds of reviews they’re getting by restricting reviewers who would have alternative reasons to give a good review, and it makes sense why they wouldn’t be upfront about how they’re doing it. Telling everyone exactly how they decide you “know” someone would just make it easier to get around it.

    On the other hand, I don’t agree with this being the best means to achieve more critical and effective reviewing. While I find a lot of review swappers on books, a fan’s opinion matters and most writers can only get one or two people they know to give them a review. Instead of preventing people from giving reviews, they need to find a way to encourage less fives and one stars and more threes, twos, and fours. I know most authors would hate that, (“If there’s nothing wrong with it, why would you just give it a four-star?”), but it would help me as a reader use reviews as intended rather them write them all off as having an agenda.

  6. This is the review I published today. It was rejected by amazon. There is nothing rude in there. Just merely stating the truth.
    I believe Amazon has reached its height and now starting to ‘control’ their customers activity. They’ve reached their height and are now in the downfall.

    I am moving my products and services out of amazon. Such a shame of a greedy non loyal company protecting their rubbish suppliers.

    Please read my comment and make your own judgment. I will be posting this to every possible forum I find until I am satisfied amazon cannot intervene and control:

    Total disappointment in the seller

    The delivery time was unacceptable.
    It has been 3 weeks already and still waiting…
    Do not purchase from this supplier if you need items to be delivered on time!

    I assume what the seller is doing is ordering from China once you ordered from them. If I wanted to order from China I would do this on ebay…. I don’t need UK based supplier

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