Monday, October 20, 2014

Blogging, Security, and All That Jazz

"I ate a lot of candy and engaged in some light stalking."

By now, I feel like everyone in the book blogging world has heard about this, and I wish even more people knew.  This isn't just a writer problem, or a blogger problem, or a book problem, but a fundamental human problem.  

I'm talking about Kathleen Hale's obsession with a Goodreads user and book blogger who gave the book a one-star rating.  Hale's account of this can be found here if you haven't already read it (don't worry, I used donotlink so you don't give The Guardian any more hits).  I came across the original article thanks to someone I follow on Twitter.  There I was, early Saturday morning shift, checking the social media channels and book blogs that I use to keep myself updated on teen books, and wham.  As I read the article, I just kept saying to myself, "This can't be real.  Why was this even published?"

I recognized the author as a relatively local author (one from my state--who lives less than an hour away from me) because I try to keep a list of authors I could possibly contact for future teen programs at the library.  It's easier to convince someone who lives an hour or an hour and a half away to trek to your library than someone who lives in, say, San Diego.  Dude, if you live in San Diego, stay there and do not come to Wisconsin.

I mention this because a lot of the issues brought up in Hale's article can be either refuted or confirmed just by looking at Wisconsin State Law.  Caveat: I am not a lawyer, but I am a librarian!  Hale says that Blythe, the blogger in question, was "catfishing" her.  "Catfishing" very specifically refers to assuming an online persona in order to pursue a romantic or emotional relationship with someone on false pretenses.  Hale conflates writing reviews and blogging under a pseudonym with catfishing.  For this to be catfishing, Blythe would have had to pursue some sort of relationship with Hale.  The article shows that the opposite started to occur: Hale became emotionally involved with Blythe and her life, even admitting that she still checks her Twitter to see if Blythe ever responded to a private message.  

One of the criticisms Blythe had of Hale's book was that had an insensitive portrayal of rape.  In her piece, Hale muses, "But there isn't rape in my book."  I do not own the book, nor have I read it, but numerous readers have confirmed that the sixteen year old protagonist of the book has a sexual encounter with a man who is almost fifty.  In Wisconsin, that is statutory rape.  The author doesn't even seem to realize that she wrote a statutory rape scene.  Worse, if she does, then she doesn't think that statutory rape is rape.  Listen: rape is rape is rape.  No ifs ands or buts.  

Hale also visited a website called Stop the Goodreads Bullies (STGRB) which has infamously divulged book reviewers' personal information (addresses, phone numbers, real names) and called on other to harass those "bullies."  Look at your name: stop bullies.  Look at what you're doing: bullying.  I don't disagree that some people on Goodreads take things way beyond what's necessary; but doxxing someone (divulging their personal information) is neither appropriate or mature.  

Many bloggers who write much more eloquently than I do have explained the issues with this whole situation succinctly and powerfully.  I just wanted to point out that per Wisconsin State Law on stalking: " 'Course of conduct' means a series of 2 or more acts carried out over time, however short or long, that show a continuity of purpose, including any of the following:

1.  Maintaining a visual or physical proximity to the victim.

2. Approaching or confronting the victim.

3. Appearing at the victims workplace or contacting the victims employer or coworkers.

4. Appearing at the victims home or contacting the victims neighbors.

5. Entering property owned, leased, or occupied by the victim.

6. Contacting the victim by telephone or causing the victims telephone or any other persons telephone to ring repeatedly or continuously, regardless of whether a conversation ensues.

6m. Photographing, videotaping, audio taping, or, through any 
other electronic means, monitoring or recording the activities of the victim. This subdivision applies regardless of where the act occurs.

7. Sending material by any means to the victim or, for the purpose of obtaining information about, disseminating information about, or communicating with the victim, to a member of the victims family or household or an employer, coworker, or friend of the victim.

8.  Placing an object on or delivering an object to property owned, leased, or occupied by the victim.

9.  Delivering an object to a member of the victims family or household or an employer, coworker, or friend of the victim or placing an object on, or delivering an object to, property owned, leased, or occupied by such a person with the intent that the object be delivered to the victim.

10. Causing a person to engage in any of the acts described in subds. 1. to 9."

Very interesting.

 I spent the past few days telling myself that this was a scary situation, but that I wasn't scared.  But when I sat down to write this blog post, I realized that I am scared, and that makes me very, very angry.  I shouldn't have to worry that someone is going to obsessively follow my Instagram photos (mostly dorky selfies or pictures of books), or my tweets, or my Facebook posts, or anything, just because I didn't like his or her book.  I don't use a pseudonym when I blog or write reviews, mostly because I'm not coordinated to consistently use another name.  Also, my pseudonyms are exceedingly silly or obscure.  Since I am a public employee, I know that my records can be requested by someone in the community.  This is the career I've chosen and I'm okay with that.  But that is my job.  Reviewing and blogging are hobbies.

Finally, I want to point out that I honestly don't understand the obsession with this particular blogger in the first place, or even with her review.  I write a lot of negative reviews, but they are negative reviews of the book, not of the person.  They are book reviews, not author reviews.  Heck, I've written negative reviews of books written by authors of whom I think highly.  Proper book reviews do not resort to ad hominem attacks, and as far as I could tell, Blythe's review was solely about the book.  Just because she cursed in her review does not negate the validity of it, either.

I still can't believe that The Guardian published this, as it is a stamp of tacit approval of the author's behavior.

Some bloggers feel threatened enough or wary enough that they are considering ceasing their blogging activity.  Please don't go.  Readers need bloggers.  Librarians need bloggers.  We need opinions, negative and positive.  A world without negative opinions is a world of self-censorship.

My apologies for the rambling nature of my post.  I still feel befuddled, bewildered, and just plain angry.

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