The New York Times writes about a fan-led campaign to smear the book and its author via Amazon reviews. Of the 182 reviews currently posted about Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson, 112 are 1-star reviews. The Times calls this “the biggest, most overt and most successful” attempt to bring down a book’s ratings by soliciting negative reviews.
And the Times may be correct. After Amazon received numerous complaints about the book being defective, it briefly made the book unavailable for sale. Additionally, some positive reviews of Untouchable were removed from the site.
This outpouring of negative feedback can also be seen at the Barnes & Noble site, where the 25 of book’s 34 reviews are 1-star.
“If you were to drive by a graveyard and see someone steal a corpse in order to make a profit, you would feel some responsibility to do something,” one of the super-fans behind the campaign tells the Times, though he says he believes the reasons that the positive reviews were taken down was because they were “attacks against fans and not reviews of his book. We reported the attacks of course.”
The campaign claims it did not tell fans what they should write in their reviews. And the write-ups do vary, ranging anywhere from a few words to more than 4,400 words in a single review. It’s worth noting that most of these negative reviews were written before, or within days of, the book’s Nov. 13 release date.
Amazon, which has recently stepped up efforts to stop shill and so-called “sock puppet” reviews that post fake praise for a product, says that these reviews have done nothing to violate the site’s terms.
But Randall Sullivan, the book’s author, takes issue with the notion that these reviewers should not be held accountable for their words.
“Should people be allowed to make flagrantly false comments about the content of a book or its author?” asks Sullivan. “This is suppression of free speech in the name of free speech.”
So on the one side, Amazon reviews are an easy, highly public way to let consumers know how you feel about a product, and there is nothing stopping those who support the book from writing their own reviews (and the list of 5-star reviews indeed appears to be growing). On the other side of the argument, Amazon reviews are intended to be used as guidance from people who have actually read the book or used the product, and though some reviewers appear to have read Untouchable, there are certainly those who haven’t, so potential buyers are not necessarily getting an accurate view of the book.