tl;dr: Author violates blogger’s privacy, stalks her, visits her at home, calls her at work, and wonders why the blogger doesn’t use her real name online. I can’t even make this up.
Updated 20/10/2014 to add links to Dear Author and SBTB’s round-up of the article and reactions.
Updated 27/10/2014 to add links to YA Reads and Alex Hurt’s blog, which include firsthand accounts of events that contradict Hale’s interpretation.
I rarely talk about author/blogger-reviewer stoushes here because, well, the minefield is endless and better bloggers than I will usually cover all the pertinent details more articulately.
But today, The Guardian published a piece that, as a I read it, literally made me feel like I might vomit.
If you’re even tangentially interested in books, or online reviewing of any kind, you need to read it. Basically, a debut author (linked but not named so egosurfing gets no hits from me) receives a tweet from a blogger, realises that the blogger hated her book, joins the STGRB support group, visits the blogger at home and later calls her at work, and feels vaguely satisfied to have proven that said blogger was not using her real name and personal details online.
As many on Twitter have pointed out, the ethics of publishing this piece is questionable. Yes, the first person account is intriguing in a train wreck sort of way, but this isn’t fiction. And it might not be over. Which means a reader was stalked — and in all likelihood is still feeling unsafe — because she talked about why she hated a book. Because I’m fairly sure this would never have escalated had that review been 5-stars and effusive in praise.
And yet something strange — and fairly hideous — happened on social media. You can read the comments to the article yourself, and I have a curated Storify thread here with some tweets, but it’s by no means extensive. Though most authors and readers were quick to express shock, horror and dismay at the stalker’s actions, some authors tweeted support, calling the stalker ‘bold’, and one even asked for a follow-up, possibly a ‘thriller’.
Some authors tweeted that it’s a ‘fascinating’ look at an obsessed mind. Or some such. Well, fine. We can dress it up as some kind of observation of human behaviour, but at the end of the day, retweeting that link without condemning the author’s actions kind of, sort of, really does imply support. I’m sorry. 140 characters; that’s usually the way it works. I can only read what people tweet, and if they tweet fascination, that’s what I’ll take away.
At any rate, a lot of people assumed (not necessarily just authors; there were readers in this camp, too) that, at the very least, the blogger had been in some way at fault for…well, something. That stalking was somehow provoked (and therefore mitigated?). That using fake personal details to create a persona online is unethical (never mind that pseudonyms are fairly standard among authors).
Why? My personal theory is that by virtue of being published by The Guardian, a mainstream news site with a fairly impressive set of journalists in its payroll, the article has gained more legitimacy than it deserves. Cleverly, the author sets up her account of events to make it sound like it would be a delicious expose on unethical, perhaps even illegal, blogger behaviour.
I have read her account leading up to when she actually drives to the blogger’s house, but I can’t find a specific mention of when the blogger deliberately engaged or provoked her for a reaction. It seems to me that the author was always the provocateur and repeatedly insinuated herself into reader spaces, either as a lurker or as a participant for the purpose of monitoring the blogger’s activities. Here is my summary, based on the article:
- Blogger tweets Author in response to the Author’s request for tweets about future books. (You can see the screencaps from this incident at Alex Hurst’s blog.)
- Author looks up Blogger’s details and follows her online trail to Goodreads.
- Author uses information from STGRB, a site that has previously violated bloggers’ privacy and revealed private information under the guise of ‘exposing bullies’, and is told about an incident in 2012 which has nothing to do with the author, and then is told to contact other authors who did engage with the blogger.
- Author is told by other authors not to engage Blogger because Blogger can break a career (a claim I find highly dubious).
- Blythe apparently sub tweets alongside the author, but honestly, at this point I’m not sure I can take the author’s account of events at face value. I read the GR thread resulting from Blythe’s comments and they mention the author’s name a total of zero times. They refer to ‘the author’ but as far as I could tell, all the discussion was on topic and related to the book and specifically to themes they found problematic.
- Author tweets while drinking and is inundated with responses from people other than the blogger.
- Later, while talking to a friend and again with alcohol, Author gets very obsessed about knowing the ‘real’ Blogger.
- This is followed by Author’s self-confessed descent into obsession and stalkerdom.
You can read a point by point summary of unsubstantiated allegations at Dear Author.
Now I don’t know about anyone else, but this is already creepy to me. Two people told me they couldn’t even finish reading the article because it made them feel so horrible. I can’t figure out where in this first part of the article the author makes any case for stalking being acceptable, or even a legitimate reason to doxx the blogger and intrude into her personal life.
After the initial furore dies down, the author actively engages the blogger by nominating her for a book club interview. (You can read Nichole’s version of what happened and compare for yourself how Hale chose to portray what she did.) At this point, I lose all sympathy for this author (if I had any) because it’s clear to me that this is fixation and it’s not healthy, and nothing she does after this convinces me otherwise. So unless someone can tell me they have more background on these interactions than the article mentions, I can’t even fathom how we can talk about the blogger being a bully or participating in her own harassment.
And I’m serious — if she did something egregious and someone can just tell me what and point me to the evidence, I’m open to it. I don’t know either of these people, or the book. My interest here is as a blogger who does not want a stranger turning up in my life because I thought their book sucked.
The author dismisses her deeply disturbing behaviour in a self-deprecating, oh I know I was being horrible, wink, wink, kind of way as she casts aspersions on the blogger’s integrity by alluding to some previous stoush with another reviewer (details of which are not in the article), and a confusing mishmash of maybe identity theft, maybe harmless pretense, maybe not really, maybe lying about her own name — the author, of course, conveniently forgetting that pseudonyms are standard practice in the literary community.
But this author is not a journalist, and what she wrote was not an exposé of some nefarious illicit activity. Facts are scant in the article, but there are plenty of allegations. It reads as an opinion piece, and it seems to have been fact-checked as one. An opinion piece is not without bias. Its purpose is not only to inform but to argue and persuade. And it seems to me that the author is arguing that bloggers have no right to privacy because they prefer not to divulge personal details online, and that by obfuscating their real details, they are liars and deserve to be doxxed.
Not only is this a ludicrous position, it’s also a dangerous one. And it’s ludicrous and dangerous for the same reasons that authors use fake names and, sometimes, fake personas when they publish books. It’s ludicrous and dangerous for the same reasons that actors use stage names in their professional career. There are creepy people out there, and this author is a shining example of why blogger identities need to be protected.
We’re at a point in our literary history where writing and reading communities are intersecting in quick, ever-changing, sometimes uncomfortable ways, mostly conducted in virtual spaces. Generally, I love exploring what this means for authors and readers and publishers.
But let’s not mince words here. When an author stalks a reader, turns up at their doorstep unannounced, and calls them at work, it’s not because the reader deserved it. It’s because the author decided that their need to control how a reader reacts to them and their work gives them the right to violate the reader’s privacy and threaten their sense of security.
Other bloggers have articulated better than I have the chilling effects of rewarding author behaviour that threatens readers, and the many reasons why looking for provocation to justify being stalked is hugely problematic. I urge you to read their words.
An Open Letter to Kathleen Hale & Guardian Books: Stalking Is Not Okay. by Ceilidh, Bibliodaze
The rising costs of membership in the booktalk community by Sunita, VacuousMinx
On the importance of pseudonymous activity by Jane, Dear Author
The choices of Kathleen Hale by Sarah, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books