A number of authors are being attacked by scammers who first post multiple fake 1-star reviews and ratings on Goodreads and then demand ransom to take them down.
If you are not a book geek, you might not be familiar with Goodreads. They are 'the largest site for readers and book recommendations' as they claim on Twitter. They are, essentially, a social network built around books. People track their reading, write reviews, discuss books, etc.
A lot of folks have criticized Goodreads because the website is obsolete and unituitive and hasn't been improved in years. It was also bought by Amazon several years ago, which is viewed by many as a conflict of interest. All of it is true, but despite that, it still has millions of users who create all the value the website provides. It has a vibrant community of book geeks, a wealth of reviews that have been gathered for over 10 years (!) and book lists for every taste and whim. I've found some amazing books there just asking people for recommendations, connected with other authors and had a lot of fun discussing books. Until...
I stumbled upon a thread that was initially about something else, but quickly turned into several authors complaining about falling victim to the same scam. Dozens of 1-star ratings and reviews appeared under their books at the same time. They were all one-liners from private accounts without photos and said things like 'Full Misogyny' (always capitalized and this exact wording :D), racism, sexism, religious bigotry, etc. A few days later, someone contacted the authors saying they noticed they had a lot of bad reviews and offered to fix that for a fee and provide good ratings.
All the screenshots below include alt-text.
No need to be a detective to see a criminal pattern here.
It got even more interesting when within the next day everyone on the thread was attacked by the same scammers, including me. It was the first time for some of us, while others just got hit again.
Some of these screenshots are taken from a new thread dealing with this specific scam.
The initial batch of fake reviews and ratings that I got came from the accounts some of which had over 40 one-star ratings to them, which means they were attacking at least 40 books at a time. In fact, there were more because not all of the accounts attacking the authors I was in contact with were the same.
So, all of us contacted Goodreads support, and the next day fake reviews and accounts were gone. But you'll never guess! More appeared on 11 January. New accounts, same reviews.
This time, it took Goodreads 2 days to get rid of the spam. For some reason, they left reviews from one of the fake accounts under some of the books, including mine.
It was a bit different this time. Most of the fake accounts' reviews were still one-star, but some of them also had five-star reviews, which made me think: has somebody already paid them to 'fix' the bad reviews they posted in the first place? Because remember, they also promised to provide good ones. Here is one of the accounts:
I guess you can see what's going on here. It's a never-ending battle, and it can go on forever. Does it make sense for the authors to constantly monitor their books and report scammers just to get hit again the next day? How many authors are attacked like this? How many of them actually pay ransom?
Also, as a reader, I used to think that if a book had an average rating of about 2 stars or lower and had over 10 reviews, it meant it was garbage and not worth even looking at. Now I know it can also mean that the author is under attack by criminals. So, if I want to know the truth, I need to look through all the ratings and reviews and see whether a bunch of them were all posted on the same day from private accounts, saying similar things. Want an example? Here are some of the reviews that I got.
If anyone has ever been attacked by these scammers, they'll recognize at least some of the phrases because the same ones are being reused over and over. Needless to say, none of this has anything to do with the actual contents of the book.
I'd think this really undermines Goodreads credibility, and they would take it seriously. Yes, it affects authors, and that's not who the website is primarily for (though allowing even a small portion of your users to get shaken down by criminals is, let's be fair, pretty shitty), but it also means that readers cannot trust the ratings, therefore losing a lot of the value they get from Goodreads. So, what has been their response? They are probably taking action to prevent this from happening, right? Because, you know, legitimate users don't create an account and immediately start posting multiple one-star reviews, so there should be a way to automatically flag this behavior and prevent those form being posted. What are they doing? Drumroll.
When I wrote to support both times, I let them know that a lot of authors were hit in the same way multiple times and ransom was involved. I know that whoever works in support does not control Goodreads policy, so I asked them to pass it on to their management to make sure preventative action would be taken. They deleted the reviews without bothering to respond. I asked other authors, and their experience has been the same. One of the authors who was attacked most times said that he received an answer a few times saying that the spam has been deleted, but none of his questions were answered.
I also tagged Goodreads on Twitter. The first time, this was their response.
Later, when I was hit by the second wave of fake reviews, I tagged them again but was ignored. Another author wrote to them on Facebook and got no response at all. Again, I realize that whoever runs Goodreads social media is not in charge of their policy, but I would expect them to at least acknowledge the problem and assure they'd look into it and pass it on to the people who could deal with it. Honestly, it would seem reasonable if they sought contact with the authors under attack to learn more about the scam and figure out ways to prevent that from ever happening.
As a Goodreads user, I only have a few ways to contact them: either through support or social media. I know that "goodreads" is a construct, not a single entity I can talk to and call out on its bullshit, but it's represented by the people I can communicate with. So far, all of them ignored me as well as others and failed to acknowledge the issue.
This astonishing indifference, might mean two things that I can think of.
Also, maybe all of the above is true. If that's the case, I'm sorry for Goodreads employees and sending my sympathy to any of you who is reading this. Maybe you are doing your best to keep this platform afloat.
In any case, taking into account that Amazon owns Goodreads, there is no excuse for any of that. How can you allow criminals to thrive on the platform, undermining its credibility and extorting money from the users? How can you mistreat employees or not provide them with enough resources to do their job? It's not like you don't have money. And if you are so indifferent to this project, why did you buy it? This is shameful at best.
I guess I'll just leave it at that in hopes it will get some traction and maybe become another push leading to the long needed change on Goodreads. So, if you think that something should be done, share this post, it's the only way to make people responsible for it pay any attention.
UPDATE: I received a response from Goodreads on 22 January, saying they were working with their 'engineering teams to investigate possible solutions to prevent this from happening in the future.'