A few days ago my father told me that his review of my mother's book, The Trauma Tool Kit, had disappeared off of both Amazon and Barnes &Noble. He thought this might be because reviews are taken off after six months, but as a book blogger who has been posting on Amazon for several years, I knew this wasn't the case. At the time I thought this was mysterious, but didn't put a lot of thought in it. The next day I saw the article on the front page of The New York Times, " Giving Mom's Book Five Stars? Amazon May Cull You Review" by David Stratfield. According to this article, Amazon is taking down reviews they think were written by people who know the author personally. Because of my father's reviews, I can only assume Barnes & Noble has taken up this practice too.
Apparently Amazon thinks people who know the author are too biased to write an honest review. And this may be true in many cases, but what is wrong with supporting people you care about? And while you are not aloud togive Uncle Arnold a five star review for his self-published poetry anthology, you are more than welcome to post a review of a thriller you haven't even read the synopsis of. Amazon may have fancy algorithms and data crunching computers to find out if you know the author, but they have no way to know if you've read the book or not. Even if you downloaded it yourself via Whispernet does not Garuntee you've cracked open your Kindle any time in the past years.
This leads to the even more creepy question: how can they tell you know the author? Even out of most people well versed in the Internet such as myself (and any other blogger for that matter) only a few have any real and complete answer to this question. As far as I'm concerned math, science, and magic all meld into the same thing here. Whatever the answer though, these companies are going to a lot of trouble to find these supposedly illegitimate reviewers.
The article suggests that this sudden crack down was spurred by the recent stories of people being paid to write positive reviews for a living and making good money at it. These stories frustrated me as much as the next honest reviewer who hates how tainted our reputation has become in some circles, and this was motivation enough for the major corporations as Amazon and Barnes & Noble to bring out the big guns (though GoodReads still allows authors to give their own works five stars - a major pet peeve of mine, but I digress).
These current developments are troubling to me, on top of reviews of friends and family of the author being taken down, authors reviewing other authors' work are being taken off because a "competitor" reviewing another's product would obviously be biased as well.
Perhaps the idea is pure-hearted and these big companies are just trying to eliminate bias and level the playing field, but they are silencing thousands if not tens of thousands of voices in the process. Ultimately though, the very idea of a level playing field in the world of reviews - and the Internet for that matter - is completely impossible. In the end there is nothing they can do about it, and nothing I can do about it except keeping my reviews as honest as possible. I don't see anything wrong with supporting a loved one, I advertise my mother's self-help book on my blog even though I only review Young Adult books. My only hope in all of this is that these drastic measures the big companies are taking will make people think about what they're doing before they give a five star review to a book just because it has a pretty cover or the hero shares their name. But I hope, at the same time, that people who have taken the time to stop, think, and write a review to support a loved one that while perhaps is biased, is honest as well to that person's opinion, do not feel belittled when they are given the message that their opinion doesn't count. People like my father writing to support his wife should have as much a right to give their two cents as anyone else.
What do you think? I'd love to hear in the comments!