Quote of the day: “What happens when The Guardian lets an author gloat about stalking a blogger”

Plagiarism or not, second-hand reporting or not, I can’t do better than to simply repeat and link to the above headline. Here’s The Guardian, defender of free speech and woolly thinking, running in full the ruminations of author Kathleen Hale on how she tracked down the perpetrator of a one-star review of her book – to her real-world address, in person, face to face. Admittedly, The Guardian doesn’t take sides, simply giving the author’s account, without implied endorsement even in the subtitle. But commentators on the story soon did, both for and against.

A good many who weighed in on Kathleen Hale’s side did so on the grounds that bringing justice home to trolls is okay. Maybe so. But a one-star review in a public forum, no matter how biased or vitriolic, is trolling? Since when? Even if what then went on after that first review did stray into the realm of trolling, there’s no sign that Kathleen Hale’s supposed persecutor overstepped the bounds and tried to track Kathleen Hale down offline. Kathleen Hale did so apparently without hesitation. And along the way, she also apparently embraced the conspiracy theory of some Badly Behaving Authors blacklist, which supposedly exposes authors who retaliate against bad reviews to some kind of hate cult. And she doesn’t hesitate to equate her ostensible persecutor with “child molesters and serial killers.”

Kathleen Hale stokes the rhetoric around her actions with such allusions, as well as insisting on how “writing for a living means working in an industry where one’s success or failure hinges on the subjective reactions of an audience” and that there is a “career-destroying phase” of abusive reviewer behavior where they actually try to destroy the author’s career. Apparently this works by baiting the author into damaging responses – and even if that were so, it’s now an open question whether Kathleen Hale has done exactly that. Note, by the way, another personal account by Kathleen Hale here of her revenge attack, while a teenager, on a peer, involving pouring a bottle of hydrogen peroxide over her head. Brave author to admit to this, perhaps. But how does it look as validation for the kind of behavior described in The Guardian article?

Whether or not Kathleen Hale wrote in The Guardian as a personal account of how the internet made her descend into stalkerish behavior, I have no idea, but there’s certainly precious little sign of that in the piece itself. (And if anyone can point this out to me, I’d be grateful.) And many, many commentators, some very respected, have taken it simply as evidence that some authors suffer from such bad cases of over-entitlement and persecution mania that they feel justified in out-stalkering any online critic – and in the process, chilling the entire book reviewing and evaluating community. And furthermore, that many of the public are so hysterically exercised about the issue of cyber-bullying that they cannot tell the difference any more between bullying and fair comment – or even comment that is unfair, but still has to be tolerated in the name of free speech and privacy.

Well, here’s my suggestion. All you readers, why not look up Kathleen Hale’s books on Amazon or Goodreads and give them one-star reviews, with the simple but clear and explicit rubric: “Stalking by authors is not okay.” That might strike everyone as more of the same problem, or online frontier justice, or feeding her persecution complex. But it definitely forms a clear and transparent process for signaling to her, her publishers, and everyone else that … yes, you got the message … stalking by authors is not okay.

6 Comments on Quote of the day: “What happens when The Guardian lets an author gloat about stalking a blogger”

  1. Paul- I don’t agree with leaving reviews when you’re not actually reviewing the book. On Amazon (I don’t know about GR), you can start a discussion on any book and that is where I think I’d make the “stalking by authors is not okay” statement.

    Margo Howard started such a thread on her most recent book: http://www.amazon.com/premature-reviews-probably-one-person/forum/FxWML9PXF4WNM5/Tx2DED15O0GJWU7/1/ref=cm_cd_dp_tp_cq?_encoding=UTF8&asin=B00JZFPH4A

  2. I won’t leave a one-star review to prove a point. It is a matter of principle. Besides, I only rate books I actually read and I doubt I have ever given any book publicly less than three stars, anyway.

    However, I agree with you, stalking anyone is just not on. And you don’t go after reviewers no matter how much you hate what they said about your book. This thing where both authors and reviewers retaliate against each other is unhealthy. It’s also unprofessional. I’m concerned this kind of behaviour will cause a dramatic change in how books are reviewed and how reviews are perceived.

    As for Kathleen Hale, I’m a bit surprised at the great lengths she went through, to be honest. Maybe weirded out describes better what I’m feeling.

  3. Goodreads changed their review policies last year to say that reviews that discuss author behavior will be deleted. They did this AFTER they deleted lots of reviews.

  4. Paul, when you suggest that everyone ought to give a bad review to Kathleen Hale, I think you’ve crossed the line into cyber-bullying and trolling yourself. The “blogger” (I would call her a troll, myself) went far beyond the level of a single negative review before the author ever even considered tracking her down. I can’t say that what Hale did was right, but there no good way of dealing with some anonymous troll who is trying to destroy your reputation and livelihood on social media. And if her Guardian article is accurate, that’s exactly what “Blythe Harris” was doing.

  5. “If her Guardian article is accurate” is exactly the question. Hale is the epitome of the unreliable narrator. She presents no evidence to back-up her allegations, others have dug up many discrepancies. Blythe Harris was not doing anything to destroy her reputation; she did that herself.

  6. Within the 1990s, the Guardian began to land some scoops, notably the scandals that brought down two Tory MPs, Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton.

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