Those Who Shoot Messengers

There’s one thing I wish I’d never see again, and that’s the kind of knee-jerk reactions to negative commentary that seem to be common on the Internet. It’s not enough to disagree with people whose opinions you don’t like; more and more often the Thing seems to be to try to unmake the negative reviews, or at least incense people against the reviewers. I understand kneejerk defensive reactions; it’s hard to deal with someone putting down something you’ve made. But people need to know the downsides as well as the upsides—of everything—and most of the ways people try to hide the negative only make their situation worse.

My first exposure to this was back in my late college days, when I was a lurker on a couple of major romance review blogs. I saw a lot of kerfluffles in that time (was brought in by the Cassie Edwards black-footed ferret fiasco, in fact), but one of the ones that most struck me was a piece I have since misplaced about authors who, when their books got up on Amazon, would have their friends all write positive reviews and use the “report abuse” function on anyone who gave the thing less than three stars. This, in fact, is why if something’s reviewed entirely in 5s and 4s, I usually won’t touch it; I need to know that lower reviews exist.

Some people just try to convince whoever gave the negative commentary (and whoever happens to be reading it) that they’re completely wrong. Interestingly, most of the people who do this really aren’t too good at giving reasons, and they’re as often as not on sources that most people wouldn’t locate anyway—except that their inability to prove their case, and the common subsequent meltdowns, tend to get the attention of big names who draw other people in to point, laugh, and warn each other about the person in question. This little fiasco, for instance, I found courtesy of Neil Gaiman’s Twitter. A word to the wise: if you absolutely must address someone whose review you think is inaccurate, figure out your reasons before you go in, stay civil, and above all don’t let them rattle you. (That, and choose your battles. If they’re popular, they have supporters. If they’re not, they’re an underdog. Neither makes for a good opponent for anyone but the most reasonable.)

Did you think this was only individuals? Heck, no. Companies aren’t immune to this—and when they fire, they’re vicious. A few years back, my mother was telling me about a running issue on the online message community for teachers that she frequents. There’s a prep company—I don’t recall the name—that can’t stand negative reviews of their products. And I mean, cannot stand them. Any time somebody has the temerity to post one, within a week or two they get a Cease and Desist letter threatening a lawsuit, generally over the defamation of character and potential loss of revenue. Most people, intimidated by the idea that the lawyers are coming, fold immediately; defense is too much trouble. (My mother, when people ask about this, is in the habit of taking them aside and explaining in private message so nobody gets in trouble.) Then there’s what got me onto this topic tonight.

I’m not sure what to say about the matter of Rhys Morgan and the Burzynski Clinic (neither of whom I’d heard of before this kerfluffle), save that I first heard about it in Morgan’s summary of the aftermath. To be fair, Morgan’s original post deals in the kind of absolutes I’d warn people away from, but it cites its sources thoroughly and is a lot more convincing to me than the average “This politician is EBIL” statements I’ve been seeing over the last eight years or so (and I notice those aren’t constantly getting slapped down). Besides… let’s face it, in the chain of emails posted in the recap of the fiasco, even accounting for my own bias (I’m a science major, a doctor’s brat, and only getting one side of the story) it’s really hard not to take the side of the eloquent, conciliatory high-schooler respectfully asking for which text exactly gave offense over the stream of lawsuit threats and capslocks… and honestly, I can’t stand anyone whose idea of argument is posting people’s personally identifiable information or sending them GoogleMaps of their own house.

In sum? Just… don’t do that. It’s ugly behavior, and if people are too afraid to critique you, how are you ever going to get better?

1 comment

  1. Michael says:

    Thanks for the link to the Burzynski thingummy; I hadn’t heard of it before either, but I have to applaud him for his courage, and you and everyone else for helping to spread the word.

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