The Scarlet LetterGiven the attention garnered by Amazon’s review system, it’s timely to highlight a worrying development in that system. As detailed by a report in The Seattle Times, organized campaigns and activist groups are exhibiting some especially nasty behavior in using Amazon reviews to go after books, authors, and products they disapprove of.

The particular target mentioned by The Seattle Times is Scarlett Lewis, mother of one of the Sandy Hook massacre victims and author of Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope and Forgiveness, a book about the experience. This book apparently was targeted by gun rights activists and conspiracy theorists anxious to push their belief that the Sandy Hook massacre was a fake, or a conspiracy, engineered by government to push for stricter gun control. The report cites RadMc02, a prolific YouTube poster of various far-right conspiracy theory videos, as one instigator. His video, “Truth Bomb Sandy Hook,” certainly lives up to the charge. (“This video is to bring awareness to the New World Order and Illuminati. Break away from Satan and follow Jesus!” he proclaims.)

Nurturing Healing Love, however, currently scores 5 stars on Amazon, so evidently such calls have not found too may willing ears. However, the one-star reviews do form quite a case study in psychopathology and reality denial, for anyone who cares to look. Connoisseurs of vile abuse might also want to look here.

Scarlett Lewis’s book is not the only one targeted. Sandy Hook Elementary teacher Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis’s Choosing Hope: Moving Forward from Life’s Darkest Hours has apparently endured a similar campaign. Such tactics don’t appear confined to one end of the political spectrum, though. Breitbart quotes Anne Rice’s experience with activist Randi Harper and her followers over the latter’s online flashmobbing of her books on Amazon. Solutions recommended include confining Amazon reviews to actual buyers of the product, as well as Rice’s own favorite of real-name reviews, but it’s not hard to envisage ways for activists to work around at least the former. In any case, there’s little sign of movement from Amazon on this yet.


  1. When books are obscure and get only a few reviews, these attacks may hurt sales. But in most situations, a book gets enough responsible reviews that these attacks are likely to backfire and result in more sales based on the principle: “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”

    Shoppers need only compare the venom of those reviews with the others to make a good decision. That’s why it is always a good idea to review books you like.

    Yes, there are always the losers whose minds are in perpetual Bigot Mode. They fall for conspiracies, hate and venom every time. But there’s not much that can be done about them. If they’re simply reading rants about books, they’re doing less harm than otherwise.


    Also, the link to the Seattle Times article seems wrong. You can find it here:


    Keep in mind that Amazon’s has several motives for not changing their system. One is that deciding which reviews to yank can be subjective and thus hard to do right. Another is that managing such a system would be costly. Doing nothing, making Amazon’s reviews a lawless land, is easier that plunging into enforcing some standard.

    On the other hand, beating up on people for reviewing books by friends or for free copies of books (something Amazon itself does) despite its harmless nature, is a bit like Jesus’ comment about people who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” Amazon should go one way or the other rather than make distinctions that make little sense.

    There is one thing that Amazon could do. It could give customers the option to exclude the text of all one-star reviews. Generally, if a book or product is lousy, it’ll get a lot of two- and three-star reviews, so dumping the one-star ones won’t do much harm and would give ranters less of a platform.

    –Mike Perry

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail