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.