When a rigged system silences voices

Visiting the lovely peeps on my blogroll today, I came across a particular post that spawned a tangential thought-stream.  What follows is indeed my own thought stream, concerning a topic about which I know little, because I haven’t had the energy to go full-on activist in recent months.  But I’ll share with you those thoughts that did come.

I originally decided that I wasn’t going to name names, but I ultimately decided that I would.

A little background: The post that seeded these thoughts was an ActuallyAutistic review (excellent read!) of the infamous book “To Siri With Love” (by Judith Newman), written by Elizabeth Roderick (whose blog is certainly worth a follow!).

And, in my own Aspergian/autistic systemizing fashion, I got to thinking about Elizabeth’s words and how aspects of The System are…well, systematically dampening my own Aspergian/autistic spirits by repeating the anti-AS drivel that seems to spout from so many mouths (although, encouragingly, the voices of people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum and our allies have begun to speak louder).

And I read the words in Elizabeth’s opening sentences:

“Amazon is now not allowing reviews by people who don’t have a ‘verified purchase’ through Amazon.”

And I thought, somewhat sarcastically, of course.

Please let me state the obvious: I’m pretty sure that Amazon isn’t out to silence the Asperger’s/autistic community on purpose.

Yet, by allowing this policy, that’s exactly what’s happening.

So here we go, with my original thought-stream about this topic…

Some books require a “verified purchase” through Amazon in order to be eligible to leave a review.

I understand that the author might not want flaming criticism from trolls or people operating on hearsay, but…isn’t it a little self-serving to require people to buy the book?  Doesn’t that smack of a potential ploy to boost sales?  What about those who have read it because they checked it out from the library or borrowed it from a friend?

They may have read the book in its entirety, too.

Do they not deserve a voice?

Should they be silenced just because they didn’t throw money at the author?

Do their opinions matter any less?

Should they not be eligible to write a book review as well?

It’s true that if a purchase of the book can’t be verified in some way, it would be tough to ensure that the review is genuine and that the reviewer has actually read the book.  With no way to track the book’s purchase, there’d be no way to limit the reviews to those who actually read the book.

Or would it be so hard?

I propose another system.  Let’s take some of that Big Biz Data-Crunching capability and use it for something that might actually benefit the general public.  We all know that there are likely to be software programs that can scrape the text of a book and archive it into large servers.  This is done with college/university theses, and it has been for a while already.  I’m sure that with Amazon’s size, revenue, and tech-savviness (they pioneered many technological systems already, such as single-click checkout), my instincts tell me that they could probably hook that up, maybe even write some original code, implement a first-of-its-kind system, and blaze a trail.

My vision (?): if you want to write a review of a book, you answer a series of questions about the book to show that you’ve read it and if you pass, you get to leave a review.  Or you enter in a valid ISBN number or upload a photo of the book or whatever.  To show that it’s in your possession, or that it has been at some point.  I think the questions are a fairer and more secure/accurate way of doing it, but I’ve presented several options.

We already have all the technological components in place.  We have the aforementioned text-scraping capability.  We have algorithm generators–or, alternatively, each author could submit with their own sets of questions as part of the process for listing their book on Amazon.  We have fillable forms.  We have Captchas and “I’m not a robot”s to verify that the review-writer is, indeed, human.  We have humongous storage capacity to house all of this.

This would allow for a review system much fairer than the current one.  The “verified purchase” requirement is faulty because it automatically skews in favor of the positive review.  You’re much more likely to spend money on a book (and support its author) if you’re already fairly confident that you’re going to like the book (or are at least open to its general premise).

Who’s going to buy a book they’re probably going to come out against or has a premise the person already has a feeling they’ll end up rejecting?

Who’s going to support an author whose viewpoint they reject?

(There are, of course, people who read material written by opponents in order to gain a better understanding of “The Other Side” of an issue or a topic.  I find it quite understandable that there would be situations in which those people might want to read that material without personally supporting the author of that material.)

Granted, the Write A Review section of Amazon is for book reviews; it’s not necessarily a customer service line or contact form for an author.

But what better way to get the author’s attention?

What better way to make your voice heard, especially in the case of a book causing harm to a group of people?

Amazon, drop the “verified purchase” requirement.  Allow for an ISBN number or 5-question quiz about the book itself instead.  Please, authors, don’t silence people just because they don’t want to buy your book, through Amazon.

As if the viewpoint of the book itself isn’t self-serving enough, this particular author has shown yet more self-serving behavior by limiting review eligibility to those who have bought her book through Amazon.  In doing so, she has effectively silenced many autistic people and our voices.

And she knows it.

The system is rigged.  Perhaps unintentionally (which might defeat the definition of the word “rigged”, which implies purpose/intention), but the effect is the same: people’s voices are being shushed.

Thank you to those who are speaking out!  (Such as Elizabeth Roderick, Yarn & Pencil, and Eve over at American Badass Activists, just to name a few!  I’ll probably edit this post to add others as I’m reminded; please feel free to post blog links on this topic in the comments–yes, including to your blog, too!)

***

(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)

 

 

 

 

 

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64 Comments

  1. I know from people on the “inside” the reason behind this is most people have been given free stuff and even paid to leave negative/positive reviews on items they have never read/have used/or bought. As well as the competition of certain items or brands going against each other. In doing so you are very right. It kills it for the rest of society and to the people, it really matters to.

    It is such a double-edged sword. 😦

    Liked by 5 people

    1. You’re absolutely right! Current society’s nature really gives one cause to shake one’s head. I wouldn’t doubt that much more of that goes on than people realize. Thank you so much for adding your insight! A double-edged sword indeed 👏🏼👏🏼👍🏼❤️❤️

      Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re very welcome, and you’re so right 😊. I don’t feel like I can say too much, either, because I haven’t read the book myself, either (not sure if I could bring myself to just yet). I think you did a wonderful job with the info you had! It’s probably all the info we need, as there are others who have gone into the detail for us 😉😁👍🏼💖

      Liked by 1 person

  2. well here you go laina, if you want companties to be able to do that with books, youre going to have to have to fight (excessive) copyright terms a little harder.

    until 1976, copyright law was a lot more reasonable. after 1976, the law really turned upside down. it WAS more about limiting large commercial ventures, so that authors could make deals with said large companies.

    now it is about limiting every 2nd-hand expression, to the point where you cant quote a song lyric in a commercially-published book, because its just too much trouble legally.

    the truth is, amazon cant do anything like that– it BARELY gets away with “look inside!” the first few pages. google BARELY gets away with book search. there are HUGE lawsuits and even supreme court cases around stuff like this–

    the truth is, you would need SOCIETY to care enough about copyright reform to make innovations like that possible. you still think making money and using (cc) is either/or, but it isnt: https://thesilentwaveblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/faq-fmc-frequently-made-comments-and-ftr-for-the-record/

    i adore you, you mean a lot to me, but that faq (quite UN-intentionally) misrepresents so much of what i stand for–

    AND! it is this aspect of copyright which makes your idea here practically impossible in legal and practical terms–

    AND! the very extreme nature of *modern* copyright (not all copyright, not traditional or basic copyright) makes SO MANY GOOD IDEAS LIKE THIS impossible–

    AND! the copyright actually silences FAR more people on a daily basis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilling_Effects#Inception

    AND! a large swath of those (much larger group of) people silenced are in fact: bookish, hyperlexic, fierce lovers of justice and intellectual freedom, with niche interests… wink, wink–

    AND! one of the VERY FEW things we can DO about all this is to campaign (idea-wise, less politician-wise) for:

    * copyright reform
    * copyright reform education (what are our rights? what are we missing? what can we do?)

    and one of the EASIEST ways to do that is–

    PUT MORE THINGS under licenses that explicitly allow sharing!

    …so i hope you know, it was NO SMALL THING when i suggested creative commons before.

    the dichotomy between cc and making money is not entirely fair.

    i still urge everyone who cares about “being silenced” to reconsider (and question) modern copyright–

    because most publishers will just take exclusive rights to a book for more than 75 years, while only printing that book for a few years.

    and then it is locked away for the entire life of the author, who will (occasionally) get it back.

    but if you want a giant bookstore to do these things with MANY TITLES–

    then we need reform *across the board* or these innovations will never happen.

    though im not just talking about this one idea of yours– nor am i talking about only the ideas that are like it.

    ALL EXPRESSION, all quotation, all COMMUNICATION online is threatened by these dubious and extreme monopolies.

    if we do not support things like creative commons when we are able, society will never be able to discuss these things freely.

    one more book that people cant share is not what we need.

    what we need is a book that people CAN share.

    then EVERYONE can review it– forget amazon, you could have people reviewing it ALL OVER the internet.

    but first, we need braver authors. a handful of them.

    and preferably, some of those authors will know more about a.s. than the people writing MOST of the books about autism over there.

    theres more than money at stake– and you know? you can STILL MAKE MONEY without these extreme copyrights. in some instances, you can make more without them, as the notoriety can mount a lot faster.

    just saying ❤

    Liked by 4 people

    1. and i hope you know– its not your decision that i take exception with– your decisions have to be your decisions.

      i would be 100x happier if youd done everything exactly the same, EXCEPT that youd understood where i was coming from about (cc) in the first place. i care more about conveying that information to people (and being understood when doing so) than i care about what they do with it individually. provoking you to be convinced that cc / money is either / or makes the whole thing doubly tragic. if it changes exactly *Zero* of your plans, its still not too late to understand the point i was trying to make last year. because its a big point– about how copyright is a system thats rigged to silence people. and it can be FIXED without being entirely thrown away.

      never here to impart dogma. here to impart perspective, everyone will do something a little different with it. its a big deal to tech people, i can assure you. some authors, too. im both.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Totally! I gotcha 😁. I’m thinking of writing a “personal news/miscellaneous stuff” post, hopefully in the near future, because what you’ve said about this has been brewing and percolating in my head, and I’m starting to feel an urge to write some updates 😁💞💜

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Much agreed, especially about the excessive copyright thing. I think that if an author wants to sell on Amazon, it should be required (if it’s not already) that the author allows them (Amazon) to include a sneak-a-peek of the first few pages, table of contents, etc, of the book (as so many authors allow already). As a future-author-hopeful myself, I would *gladly* allow for this. I look at it as the simple cost of doing business, if I ever want to sell lots of books, to provide a “free sample” of sorts. To me, it’s nothing different than paging through a book quickly in a bookstore; it’s poor taste to pull up a chair and read it cover to cover without buying, but it’s perfectly acceptable to do a quick scan-through, read the first few pages of at least the first few chapters (apologies to anyone behind me of whom I’m oblivious when I do this! Lol 😂😉❤️). We do need braver authors. We’ve already got several, but they don’t get much of the press. I think I’m planning to toss my ring into the playing field when I can 😁💓💓

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “it’s poor taste to pull up a chair and read it cover to cover without buying,”

        libraries let you do this– and it increases sales. for their mountain of faults, borders was super-cool about that too. it was like a library/bookstore in one (they wouldnt let you remove it from the store without buying, of course!)

        there are a lot of unintuitive facts about reading and commercialism. i actually WANT people to make money. how are they going to give it to ME otherwise? i benefit not at all from the poverty of anyone– i want everyone to make me rich ❤ they need money to do that!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I loved that about Borders! Barnes & Noble did something like that too, IIRC (?) 👍🏼. Excellent points! I’ve gotta eat something, but y’all keep the conversation going! 🎉🎊. It’s a great one 👏🏼👏🏼💙💚

          Liked by 2 people

    3. (And I agree – you can totally make money without the extreme copyrights; in fact, you can probably make *more*. The music business, with the MP3 battle of the late 90s and early 2000s, has pretty much proven that) 👍🏼👍🏼💖💖

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Regarding Amazon reviews, I am disappointed that one must have a verified purchase to comment on books. As you correctly stated, some read books sold on Amazon through libraries, friends, or purchased at different outlets. I love to receive reviews, as they are invaluable to me and my craft, as I wish to gain new perspectives in order to help me grow as a writer.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You are bang on about asking people questions to find out whether they have actually read the book (another very obvious way in which the Amazon policy fails is that there are such things as libraries – one may have borrowed the book). I agree that people posting reviews of books that they have not read is unacceptable, which is why I have posted links to other people’s reviews on my blog, but made no direct comment about the book. Excellent post, as usual 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I agree with Actually Autistic’s later blog that its actually the publisher to blame more for this, for going ahead and publishing such stuff at a vulnerable person’s expense. But thats capitalism at work for you, doesnt matter who it hurts so long as it makes money. It’s not Amazon’s systems that are rigged, its the whole damn system. Here in the UK a government minster just blamed lack of productivity on the disabled workers. After forcing them into work by penalising them with unduly harsh benefit cuts. We cant win, not in the current climate, there has to be a big shift in the perception of disabled people, whether it be autistic or whatever. Too many are prejudiced and another too many who will read such books as this and believe the onesided, insidious message within, like those who lap up the ‘information’ a certain organisation who will not be named spews. I’m so angry at what is happening right now in the world, everything seems to be going backwards at a rapid rate. I want to think there is enough people who want change for the better, but the majority I see…..*shakes head*

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Amen 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼. There’s a sort of what I’ll call “toxic capitalism” that’s like a business-without-morality/ethics issue. A truly successful business (or free market system) is one that has achieved what it has without stomping on people and screwing them over. In a *true* (and decent) capitalist system, the Laws of Fair Exchange are abided by, and everyone leaves the table with something in hand that they’re reasonably satisfied with 💙. Theoretically, at least! 😉. You hit the nail squarely on the head, though – too many are prejudiced. I believe that’s sort of a pre-existing societal condition; the publisher can only agree to publish a book that it believes is going to sell lots of copies. The unenlightened subset of parents of autistic children are feeling sorry for themselves, ruminating about their own predicament, and hungry to read accounts of others in the same position. Human nature, of course, but it’s still harmful. They’re willing to buy, and that’s all the publisher needs to know 🌺. Of course, the publisher is responding to the whims of the deeper societal illness that is its ignorance and woe-is-me attitude.

      With any luck, it’s possible that we may see sales of books like this begin to decline in our lifetime, as more people reject their viewpoints because they’ve met Actually Autistic people and begin to see what this autism thing is all about and what it “looks like” in people older than 16 😉. I’m not holding my breath, per se, but I am crossing my fingers and hoping against hope and doing my best to help swing that pendulum the other way (and I believe we all are!) 👍🏼😘💖🌟💖

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You’re making sense. Oh heavens no, We can’t have that here! 😛 So uhhh… Is this another one of those books about an autistic person written by someone who’s never even met anyone like that? LIke “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”? Woof, that’s mouthful.
    Yeah, that sounds about right.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Well said… Funny though that when I first found out that you had to have a verified purchase to review… My thoughts were that it was pretty cool… For reasons stated above… But I also admit and could heavily site your post the reasons it sucks and why you’ve changed my view on it…

    There are a ton of things I can’t review because I was born before Amazon existed and/or offered a product… As an “Author,” I like that someone has to purchase the book before they can say anything they want good or bad… Otherwise I might write a bunch of great reviews for my books… If the temptation was there… That sounds awful but reviews help guide people and of course I want people to buy my books… It is a strange subject and very Catch 22… How much should we trust reviews or each other?…

    The five question quiz seems fair or at least an option that you can say how you came across it?… That’s the best compromise I have heard… Because honestly if you’ve read my blog then you’ve read some or part of my books… So even in this current way… I’m losing reviews… Very thoughtful discussion… and something needs to be done…. For both sides of this issue…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true, my friend 👏🏼👏🏼. It’s a catch-22 for sure. I really admire the fact that you’re an author!! Congrats 😁👍🏼👍🏼. I definitely agree that someone should not be able to just review a book they’ve never even read, just because they think they don’t/won’t agree with the premise of it. A lot of what people learn these days (myself included) is information that’s been passed around the internet, mostly hearsay. Some include links to sites, screenshots, or cite other sources, but many don’t. If I’m making any definite/serious claims, then I try to provide links to sources when I can. As a future author-hopeful, I can definitely see both sides of the Amazon review issue, and I definitely agree that something needs to change 👍🏼💚💙💕

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sometimes i will spend hours reading your blog posts and then the comment section. Your blog readers have so many valuable thoughts and are so informative, interesting, wise. I love coming to your site.
    So, doesn’t kindle unlimited give you free books from kindle…yeah, so how is that a then verified purchase if you didn’ t purchase it and you got it for free. I wonder now…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh wow, thank you so much, my lovely! 😘❤️. What a beautiful treat and gift to receive this afternoon 💞💞. Your words brought me a beaming smile 😃. The readers – they rock, don’t they?? Y’all are seriously, genuinely the best part of the blog, and very likely what keeps me/it going 😁💖

      You raise a very interesting question! Someone with a kindle download *should* (ethically/reasonably) indeed be verified, since Amazon would be able to track the download activity. I wonder if they allow the kindle folks to write reviews? If so, then good 👍🏼. If not, that looks bad for them, reinforcing the Pay To Play (or Speak) concept… Anyway, great question! I wish I knew the answer 😘💗🌺

      Like

    2. It is a gray area and something that they do… It is similar to how Spotify works… When you a borrow a book on unlimited.. we get a tiny portion of the fund that Amazon puts up each month… the more borrows or reads the more we get… It is a tiny fraction of what we could get if you purchase the book, but it is something… I would say the best thing you can do if you use unlimited is leave a review.. it would be worth more to the Author than the small amount of money Amazon gives… Good or bad… it helps us become better writers… and that has more value than money… speaking for myself of course…

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Ugh. Yeah. This also forces people to forego supporting their LOCAL bookstores if they want to leave an Amazon review for one of those books, which I take issue with (although I understand why Amazon would prefer folks buy from them and would therefore have reasons to encourage people to buy from them whenever possible).

    I also try to buy used books whenever possible (especially books like this, where I wouldn’t want to contribute any more money to the author if I decided to buy it), which you can do through Amazon, but I’d rather support my local used bookstores too….

    Very frustrating. Thank you for weighing in on it! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah! 👏🏼👏🏼. Well said, my lovely! I’m definitely a local-support fan, too. Used bookstores are also the bomb; used books need love too, right? 😉😘💗. You’re spot on, with all you said! Thank you so much for your comment 💓🌺💓

      Like

  10. Hey Laina,
    I agree with you that Amazon’s policy skews the data. (Just like the way that rating scales being built on a scale of 1-5 stars, rather than 0-5 stars, subtly changes our perception – the midpoint is actually 3 stars, rather than the 2.5 stars that we might expect.)
    I posted a fairly negative review of a book about charitable giving (Doing Good Better) that is now buried in the noise despite getting a lot of positive feedback, because I reviewed a library copy: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RQQ95CJ2XMYPQ/ref=cm_cr_getr_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00OYXWL4W

    Even more concerning is that if we want to point out something negative about a product (like “This chocolate company has one of the worst track records on child slavery and deforestation.”) then we need to actually buy the bar from Amazon in order to state our opinion!

    Liked by 1 person

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