On Trolls and Fake Bad Reviews

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

We've all read about the abuse of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I'm not talking about soliciting your friends to write glowing testimonials for your books, or buying five-star reviews in batches from paid review services. I'm talking about people who post bad reviews for revenge, punishment, or intimidation. And there's a lot of that kind of thing out there, from angry readers one-starring ebooks whose prices they deem too high, to academic authors employing fake names to slag their rivals, to (alleged) packs of bully reviewers on Goodreads (Goodreads actually changed its review policies in response to this perceived problem).

I recently had the chance to experience review abuse for myself.

On June 29, one- and two-star reviews started appearing on the Amazon page of my 2012 novel Passion Blue--nine in all, over a period of less than two weeks. (I've pasted in screenshots below.)

Beyond the unlikelihood of nine genuine one- and two-star reviews appearing in succession over such a short period of time (the most recent review before that was five months ago), my brand new reviews shared a number of characteristics that suggested fakery. None were from verified purchasers. Most were from accounts that never posted a review before or since. None included any details to suggest they'd read the book, but all were unanimous: it sucked horribly. I mean, it REALLY sucked. Two of the reviewers were so traumatized that they had to take to drink. One wished for death.

Before this, Passion Blue had two one-star reviews and two two-star reviews. One of the one-stars is kind of unfair, since the person admits they didn't read the book--but the reviews are all real, or appear to be. It never occurred to me to challenge them--or indeed, to respond to them at all.

Responding to genuine negative reviews is a mug's game. Bad reviews go with the territory; if you're going to put yourself out there for the reading public to judge, you've got to be prepared to deal with them--and that means letting them go and moving on. Authors who can't resist the urge to strike back are more likely than not to wind up looking like fools (there's a list of some of the more notorious incidences here.)

Fake bad reviews, though--that's another story.

Amazon's little "report abuse" button is useless, but if you contact customer service with a complaint (you can do that here), they are pretty responsive. I had an easier way to manage this than most, because I'm an Amazon Publishing author. The outcome wasn't totally satisfactory, since they left two of the reviews up--one that appeared after I made my complaint, and the first one, which is maybe the most over-the-top one ("[The book] would make the Devil himself cringe with horror") but also the only one that isn't obviously from a fake account (though most of this person's reviews certainly look fake).

So who's behind this review fakery?

Well, if you're a regular reader, you may know that I (along with other anti-writing scam advocates) have my very own troll. Trollbaby likes to target me directly, though lately they've been harassing my Twitter followers with spam tweets like this one:
I can't prove Trollbaby is my review faker, but fake reviews are certainly their style. (If I'm giving you too much credit, Trollbaby, please forgive me.)

Here's Trollbaby's "book," by the way. Aren't they clever punsters?

Product Details

EDITED TO ADD: Just hours after putting this post online, I heard from an author who was recently hit by a one-star attack very much like mine. She thinks that a scammer I did an expose on recently is behind the attacks, and what she says makes sense. I may have given Trollbaby too much credit after all.

1 comment to On Trolls and Fake Bad Reviews

  • Hi Victoria
    I enjoyed your blog. Hope you don’t mind but I’ve borrowed your troll image for my own blog scheduled on the 3rd November and included a link to yours. Your story is relevant. I have just had my first troll book review on Amazon and, because she has been sloppy, believe I have identified the troll’s real identity. If I’m right, I know where her business is on the internet and have started to follow her twitter account which will be a bit of a surprise. It will be interesting to see if the attack develops.

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