Courtesy of The Future of Publishing…

The ongoing scandal of phony book reviews on Amazon now has a name, Sock Puppets. Perfect! I thought it original, but Wikipedia already has a well-researched article, Sockpuppet (Internet), worth reading to get a better handle on this end-of-summer teapot tempest. The term “sockpuppet” was used as early as July 9, 1993, and has already been awarded a definition in the Oxford English Dictionary (“a person whose actions are controlled by another; a minion”). You’ll learn that sock-puppetry takes many forms and the the anonymity afforded by the Internet makes fertile soil for these renegade puppets.

A historical perspective on the tempest is valuable. As Sam Leith points out in a short piece in the London Evening Standard, ”the Internet is a modern-day Grub Street… just look at the state of things in the 18th and 19th centuries. People routinely reviewed their friends, or even themselves, at different times in different publications under different aliases. The Times Literary Supplement only abandoned anonymity in 1974.” He continues: “But there’s no infallible way to make sock puppetry impossible, or prevent authors paying for good reviews… this is going to have to be self-policed. If authors can expect to be humiliated, they will think twice. As for readers: well, caveat emptor. If an online review doesn’t say “Real Name” underneath, there’s probably a reason for that.”

The target of the moment is RJ Ellory, a best-selling author who certainly didn’t need to “use “fake identities to write about his own work on the Amazon book site, giving himself five star ratings. He gave his rivals bad reviews and low ratings using the same pseudonyms.” Perhaps Ellory was infected by the same strange virus that recently infected Jonah Lehrer, another enormously successful author apparently bent on self destruction.

Here’s the challenge: We all agree that sock puppetry is deceptive, dishonest and despicable. What could be worse?

What if on top of his fake reviews RJ Ellory, or a similar puppet master, was also to write numerous other books under numerous pseudonyms, all on the same subject matter. He would release those books in rapid succession, use fake or paid reviewers to give them all multiple five-star ratings and soon that subject category on Amazon would be crammed only with books authored in the puppet factory. No matter which book you purchased, the real author was that single puppeteer.

Read the rest of this article on The Future of Publishing here: Sock Puppet Book Reviews

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