Looking deeper into the Goodreads troll problem

From Camestros Felapton:

The repeated spamming of Patrick S Tomlinson’s unpublished book with fake reviews continues on Goodreads [see earlier post]. Looking at the long list of reviews (currently 124 ratings) it is clear that some have been removed, presumably after being flagged by multiple people. However, with the trolls targetting the book easily generating new accounts the net number of fake reviews continues to grow.

Current authors whose names have been stolen for fake reviews include:

  • Chuck Wendig
  • Gareth Powell
  • Beth Cato
  • Cat Rambo (and her deceased father)
  • Patrick Tomlinson himself
  • Will Tate
  • Monica Valentinelli
  • Marshall Ryan Maresca
  • Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Tobias S Buckell
  • Sarah Pinkser
  • Elizabeth May

This kind of coordinated pre-emptive spamming of negative reviews isn’t new. The film-rating site Rotten Tomatoes had to take steps last year to curtail a right-wing attack on the as-the-time unreleased Captain Marvel.

. . . .

Preventing reviews of unreleased properties seems like a minimum first step in limiting the capacity of coordinated campaigns to hijack a review site. While it won’t prevent other coordinated attacks on released books, unreleased (but listed) works are more vulnerable as they have no natural reviews being written.

The identity theft aspect of these specific attacks is also a great concern. The overt and blatant aspect of the impersonations makes it unlikely that people would be easily tricked into thinking the accounts are genuine. However, the extent of them and how easily the trolls have generated multiple accounts using real identities, demonstrates that Goodreads is open to more subtle mischief and identity theft.

The source of the attacks is from members of a disbanded subreddit that have been engaged in a sustained harassment campaign against Tomlinson since 2018. Tomlinson himself has a longer explanation that documents the harassment in other venues: https://www.patrickstomlinson.com/2018/09/29/how-trolls-hack-twitter-to-silence-us/

The existence of a documented online harassment campaign really should be enough for a major website to take added measures. For example, Wikipedia limits the capacity of people to edit pages (particularly biographies of living persons) when there is repeated vandalism or disputed content. A temporary block on reviews on a Goodreads entry would be a wise measure to have available in the event of an alleged spam attack. Notably, a book receiving large numbers of reviews from accounts that are both new and which have made only one review should be an obvious red-flag.

. . . .

Actions that undermine reader’s ability to trust reviews and which undermine the capacity of authors to identify themselves manifestly undermine the basic aspects of Goodreads model as a service. This makes the difficulty the site is having dealing with this specific issue surprising. The ease with which a troll campaign can brazenly manipulate the site, strongly implies that a less overt campaign can manipulate ratings or spread disinformation unnoticed.

Link to the rest at Camestros Felapton

5 thoughts on “Looking deeper into the Goodreads troll problem”

  1. This certainly should not be happening – but the old adage “you reap what you sow” applies. I have no sympathy for those who spread hatred and falsehoods when they find themselves on the other end.

    • Yeah, the names on this list make me ask two questions:

      1 – Is this a hoax? I save time and assume all hate crimes are hoaxes by default these days.

      2 – If it’s not a hoax, could it be revenge? A Beatrix Kiddo — one of their own — going on a roaring rampage of revenge?

      Or, it could be an avenger who was never part of the group to begin with. Whatever, at any rate, I do feel bad for those readers who use Goodreads in good faith. I don’t know of an easy way to make such campaigns more difficult, short of tying every account to the billing address of a credit card. Perhaps Goodreads’ users will have better ideas to clean up their site.

      • It is perhaps worth mentioning that Camestros Felapton is one of the most unreliable sources on the Internet. PG, if you want details I can email you a pretty passel; but in the meantime, I would suggest you delete this post and not quote C.F. anymore, lest he come here and turn your combox into a war zone. He has a habit of doing that when his name is mentioned.

  2. I took the time to read the OP, reviews on the Goodreads, and Patrick S. Tomlinson’s blog. A few observations: when I looked, the troll reviews appeared to have been scrubbed out and most reviews more-or-less liked the book. It may have been late, but GR seems to have done its job. As an aside, I read some excerpts from the book. Not my cup of tea. I would not have reviewed it for that reason, but if I had, I would not have given it more than 2 stars for poor writing. I hate to say it, but the trolls may have done Mr. Tomlinson a favor. I thought Camestros Felapton’s site was amusing. He declares himself to be “one of the most unreliable sources on the Internet” complete with the uppercase I.

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