Sunday, September 23, 2012

Konrath Posts Fake Amazon Reviews!

I was recently asked in an email, "Joe, I don't get why you aren't angry about fake Amazon reviews. All they do is cause harm."

Fake reviews, like sock puppets and trolling and flame wars, will always be part of the Internet and are no big deal. They are better than the alternative; Amazon policing reviews and deciding which are legitimate and/or have value.

But the email question intrigued me. Is it true that all fake reviews are harmful?

I believe being able to post anonymously, or to post reviews, is an extension of free speech. I may not like what some people say, but I feel the need to protect their right to say it. Even if they use sock puppets. Even if they have agendas.

But in the case of fake reviews, am I trying to protect something with absolutely no redeeming value? Would Amazon be better if there weren't any fake reviews at all?

I don't think so. I think some fake reviews have merit.

In fact, I just spent two hours on Amazon, being wildly entertained by fake reviews.

I was so entertained, I wrote some fake reviews myself. 

Go read them now, before some pinhead complains to Amazon and they get removed.

After reading my reviews, take some time to read other reviews of those same products. Look at the pics customers have uploaded as well. You'll probably enjoy it as much as I did. Come back here when you've finished.

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All done? Here are my thoughts.

Some of those reviews made me laugh out loud, and I wanted to add mine to their growing number. It is a uniquely Internet phenomenon for complete strangers to try to amuse one another, and one I fully support. I think it's also a fascinating, and worthwhile, by-product of the Amazon customer review system that people are using it for more than its intended purpose. As I mention previously, Amazon didn't create a system of  customer reviews to level the playing field for all products in a fair and unbiased way. They did it to sell stuff, because they are smart and understand how user aggregated content works.

But I don't think Amazon could have guessed how much reviews could amuse browsers. I think it's a very cool thing that they can be used in such a way. A weird, funny, human, cool thing.

Now I'm not comparing the intent of a satiric review with that of a shill 5 star review, or a 1 star review intended to hurt. One is meant to make a reader laugh. The other is intended to influence buying decisions. But if we start trying to eliminate all fake reviews, and if we start letting others decide what is worthwhile and what isn't, we're going to wind up worse off. Fake doesn't equal bad, especially when not a single person bitching about fake reviews can prove harm was caused.

The opinions of some shouldn't be forced upon everyone. We can, and should, be able to make up our own minds without others dictating what should and shouldn't be allowed. People aren't as stupid as the witch hunters want us to think. We don't automatically believe everything we read online. We can decide for ourselves what has merit. Amazon isn't the Kansas City Schoolboard, trying to teach Intelligent Design to our children. Stuff like that needs to be stopped. Fake reviews, not so much.

In some cases, like The Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee, the 2000+ funny reviews have obviously helped the sales. It's #154 in clothing. I just ordered one.

In other cases, like the Playmobil Security Checkpoint, the manufacturer obviously wasn't amused, because it seems like Amazon won't allow any more reviews for that item. I tried twice, and it kept denying me.

Here's the page, and my rejected review, for those interested.


So what's my point, here? Am I saying it's okay for authors to anonymously bash other authors, and buy reviews, because some fake reviews are funny?

Nope. Though I don't care if authors buy reviews or bash each other. I don't do it myself, but I don't see the harm.

Am I saying writers are taking Amazon reviews way too seriously, putting more importance on them that they deserve?

Maybe a little, but that's not my main point.

Am I saying we shouldn't judge others?

Not quite. We all judge others. That's impossible to stop. I think moral panic is a bad thing, and caution against it, but that isn't why I blogged today.

So why did I blog today?

Because I can. 

I don't want to live in a world where I wouldn't be allowed to say what I want, or where my words are censored or forbidden. And I don't like self-righteous pinheads who believe they are morally superior and want to make me abide by their ethics.

Before today, I've never written a fake review. Never even considered it.

Today, I've written ten of them. And it feels awesome.

Now let's see how long it takes for the pinheads to whine to Amazon to take them down because they're fake and unhelpful. If they do, here are the screenshots for posterity:



BTW, I expect some people won't get the joke. I expect some people to get angry at my attitude, and my fake reviews, and get on their moral high horses to soundly condemn me for my bad behavior.

Please do. That's the highest praise you can give me.