Home » Amazon, Reviews » One-star review activism is still a contentious issue on Amazon and elsewhere

One-star review activism is still a contentious issue on Amazon and elsewhere

21 April 2017

From TeleRead:

We’ve had a lot to say on the subject of one-star reviews over the last few years. Consumers have used them to protest practices they didn’t like, be they windowing the publication of an ebook, applying unfriendly DRM to video games, or even double-dipping on Lord of the Rings DVD releases.

Beyond that, organized rating or voting campaigns have become a favorite tool for online activists, be they Gamergaters who want to smear the works of feminists whom they loathe (or feminist movies like the Paul Feig Ghostbusters remake), Sad or Rabid Puppies who want to influence or trash the Hugo Awards respectively, Greenpeace downrating Amazon’s Fire phone, or even the wags who tried to force a British government agency to name its newest research vessel “Boaty McBoatface.”

The Hollywood Reporter has the story of the latest such incident to make the news. The Promise, a movie about the controversial Armenian genocide during World War I, has seen its Internet Movie Database listing receive 100,000 1-star votes as the result of a campaign by those who would deny there was a genocide at all. IMDB has said that there’s not a lot they can do, and even with the filmmakers organizing their own campaign to vote the movie back up, it’s still only ranked at 5 stars on IMDB (4.2 when the article was written).

. . . .

Given how much has already been said about the added difficulty of discovering new works online, activists gaming the ratings for ideological reasons is not going to make it any easier. In the end, it’s going to be up to sites that allow review rankings to figure out their own way of dealing with this issue.


Link to the rest at TeleRead

A question occurred to PG while he was reading the OP.

Has any author who is the target of organized negative review campaigns ever inserted an explanation of what’s happening with his/her reviews in the book’s description? Something like, “A group calling itself Friends of Dogs has organized a protest against my books because they portray cats in a positive manner. Many of the one-star reviews of my books are part of that protest.”

On the one hand, it might help potential readers understand that some of the reviews are not really about the book’s content. On the other hand, it might spur protesters to even more extreme actions.

Amazon, Reviews

26 Comments to “One-star review activism is still a contentious issue on Amazon and elsewhere”

  1. It’s an interesting thought, P.G. My instinct is that the trolls would swarm and it’s a rare person who can shrug off that kind of attention.

  2. I’ve heard from a number of people that Amazon bases the visibility of titles off the number of reviews, not the number of stars, so a large number of negative reviews actually helps the book in question by boosting its visibility.

  3. Has any author who is the target of organized negative review campaigns ever inserted an explanation of what’s happening with his/her reviews in the book’s description?

    It won’t matter, because the whole point of the one-stars is to discourage potential readers from getting far enough to read the description. They look through a list of books, see ‘Positive Cats’ is rated at 1.7, and don’t even bother to click on it.

    And Amazon doesn’t seem to care at all, even when the actual ‘review’ explicitly states that they didn’t read the book.

    • It’s worth noting that, in part of the article PG didn’t quote, I note that the Lord of the Rings Blu-ray set, which I’d discussed one-star ratings of earlier, had been adjusted to show an aggregate rating of 4.5 stars even though fully 1/3 of its review ratings were 1-star. So clearly Amazon does care, at least in some instances.

    • While I’m sure Amazon is inconsistent in what they’ll remove or not, they will definitely remove some 1 stars if the review explicitly states that they didn’t read the book. I gave a (possibly slightly generous) 2 star review on my blog several years ago. The author took exception to it, the review went viral, and literally hundreds of people left 1 star reviews at Amazon. Many of those got removed. While there may have been other criteria for which ones survived and which didn’t it appeared that a large percentage of those that did were those where the “reviewer” explicitly said they hadn’t read the book.

      • I’ve reported a bunch of reviews on other peoples’ books where the reviewer said they didn’t read the book. I haven’t been keeping a close eye on them, but I don’t remember any of them ever disappearing.

  4. When I check out a book on Amazon that’s debunking certain herbal remedies and it’s flooded with one-stars by people screaming incoherently about Big Pharma, I take the number of angry quacks as a huge endorsement. If all those angry quacks are boosting the book’s sales, it’s not much of a detriment to the author.

    • There are a few other topics where I use the same rule, especially if all the one-stars are variations on a theme, like “How dare the author insult [religious {or political} leader]?!? This book is pure garbage and I’m never going to read it.”

  5. Whenever you see an almost entirely bipolar review curve for a book — scads of five and one-star reviews and nothing else in between, you know you can ignore them all. This happens all the time with books from political personalties like Ann Coulter: almost none of these reviews are verified, it’s just her loyalists and haters duking it out with each other.

    Amazon should only allow people who purchase a product to review it. This would shut down the campaign-type reviews.

    • Agreed. These days, I generally ignore five-star and one-star reviews for those reasons.

      While I’ve previously left reviews on Amazon for products I bought elsewhere, they really need to get rid of unverified purchase reviews if they want to reduce this problem. And, even then, it’s still open to abuse by people buying an ebook, leaving a review, and then getting a refund.

      Ultimately, you just can’t have a free and open review system in a world full of politicized nut-cases.

      • Please don’t ignore ALL 5* reviews. Sometimes they mean the author has found a member of her tribe – and that person’s review may help you decide if you’re a member or a possible visitor to that land.

        • But I have no way to tell whether it’s a real five-star review, or they’ve got all their mates to post glowing reviews to try to bump up their rating.

          The mid-range reviews are more likely to tell me whether there’s something in the book that I’m likely to be looking for or looking to avoid.

          • I do occasionally give a five star review – but you can tell that I did read the book, because I actually state WHY it got that rating from me. (Actually, any review I do has that – which is why I don’t do all that many. Takes a bit of work to do a real critical review.)

            Whether an author doing research on what is liked or disliked, or a reader looking for something compatible, this is what a savvy user of Amazon does. See whether the “review” actually says something or not.

            (The review spamming, though, is useful to idiots with a fixed ideology. They, after all, must follow the rest of the lemmings.)

  6. “Has any author who is the target of organized negative review campaigns ever inserted an explanation of what’s happening with his/her reviews in the book’s description?”

    It’s a thought. The problem is always going to be that an author responding in any way publicly to a review is usually going to get into more trouble for it. As a practice, it’s just a bad idea.

    • Howey does OK, So does Orsen Card. It’s far from a settled issue. Nonfiction authors do it all the time.

      • It’s pretty settled, unless you want to bring in Patterson and King to support your claim too. Non-fiction? Fine. A fiction writer getting roasted on goodreads by someone who didn’t like his/her book is going to have a more difficult time of it in responding. There is a LOT of evidence that this is the case, and a lot of that evidence has appeared right here in TPV. It’s just a bad idea.

        • As long as it works for some, it’s not settled. Some people do it well, and some don’t. Those who can do it well have a competitive advantage over those who can’t. Those who can’t don’t want anyone to do it.

  7. I haven’t had a 1-star campaign directed against me, but I’ve known someone who did, and the campaign did affect her sales, not just for that book but for the one that came after as well.

    As stated by others, I think Amazon should:

    – display only verified purchase reviews [after all they own Goodreads for all the others], and
    – change the way reviews are displayed to a graph on which the individual author’s reviews are plotted against a ‘normal’ distribution curve.

    Most readers won’t know how to read a graph, but they will notice the /difference/ between a normal curve and a skewed one. That may give them a better idea of whether the particular book is worth buying or not.

    Such a graphic spotlight may also discourage the campaigners. Maybe.

  8. I had one star review removed from one of my books by Amazon. Why? Because the review was biased and a personal attack. Otherwise, although I don’t like the one stars, let them be. Let the readers make up their own mind when there is a ratio of 5 or more to one of good reviews versus bad ones.
    And, in one case I got a one star review for a half backed novel I published. That was a wake up call. I retrieved the book, re-baked it, and became better than re-fried beans. Did well too in sales.

  9. I had a one-star review removed once. The reader declared that she liked the book but the download broke off midbook. Instead of asking Amazon to resend the book, she gave it a one star. How’s that for inappropriate? (I asked Amazon to please send her the book again. They actually removed the review on their own).

    As for the other comments, I have mixed feelings. Banning all but confirmed purchases might help but it excludes blogger-reviewers who write based on advance reader copies.

    • Given the number of writers who send ARCs to their friends and biggest fans to pump up their books with lots of five-star reviews at release, I’m not sure that’s a bad idea, either.

    • Blogger reviews ought to go in the editorial reviews section instead of customer reviews anyway. If there’s no system in place for smaller book bloggers to get in on that, it needs to be addressed.

  10. I’ve reviewed books I checked out at the library, used paperbacks, etc. Should those reviews be banned merely because the book wasn’t bought on Amazon?

    • Exactly.
      I also wonder how much of a problem this actually is, i’ve never considered not buying a book based on its Amazon rating, I tend to read the reviews and can tell when the review is based on the personal attack, and I don’t think I’m particularly special in that regard.
      I think this is just a mountain being made out of a mole hill and as soon as Amazon takes any corrective action, There will be people complaining about how Amazons review guidelines are to over reaching.
      We should stick with the current review system, it’s in perfect but at least this way you can decide whether to base your opinion on the rating given by someone who hasn’t actually read the book that they are supposed to be reviewing.

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