New Goodreads Policy Ruffles Feathers — But is it Censorship?

New Goodreads Policy Ruffles Feathers — But is it Censorship?

It's Banned Books Week and Goodreads has made the news, but for the wrong reasons. They have caused some consternation with a new policy aimed at reviews and ‘shelves’ which focus on an author’s behavior, rather than their work. This has resulted in cries of ‘censorship!’ by the users — perhaps fairly — as the policy prohibits them from expressing an opinion about an author, with offending reviews being removed from the site completely.

We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior.

Right. Now, I could argue some authors and their books are inextricably entwined, making this policy a little hard to enforce. (I mean, Bret Easton Ellis?) While I understand where Goodreads is coming from, trying to limit some kinds of reviews/comments/behavior on the site, it’s difficult to square with the idea of social networking.

Someone used the word censorship to describe this. This is not censorship – this is setting an appropriate tone for a community site. We encourage members to review and shelve books in a way that makes sense for them, but reviews and shelves that focus primarily on author behavior do not belong on Goodreads.

I think it might be. Where Goodreads’ minions screwed up was deleting content without letting people know beforehand; that’s guaranteed to upset someone. GR bullies aside, is this a good idea? I don’t think so. And is it just evidence that the site is now being influenced by its new owner, Amazon?

The policy has already generated over 70 pages of comments...

Dean Fetzer

News by Dean Fetzer

Dean Fetzer is originally from a small town in eastern Colorado, but has lived in London, England, for the past 21 years. After a career in graphic design, he started a pub review website in the late 90’s; He left that in 2011 to concentrate on his thriller writing, as well as offering publishing services for authors, poets and artists. When not writing - or in the pub - he can be found in the theatre, live music venues and travelling.

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LadyWordslinger's picture
LadyWordslinger from Lower Sasnak is reading If I tell you what I'm reading, I'll have to change it every time I finish one book and start another. September 25, 2013 - 6:33am

I don't see it as censorship, particularly when we're not paying for a Goodreads account. We have this idea that if we register for an account for anything on the internet, even if we don't pay for it, we have squatter's rights to tell the owners how to run it. (How far would/does that fly in a place you own?) Look at the uproar every time Facebook makes changes (and yes, I am often one of the complainers). While certain arguments can be made here and there that you can't separate an author's work from their personal behavior, I think we can agree that overall, that isn't the case. Wasting time with the author's behavior instead of looking at the work in and of itself is, to me, rather high schoolish. Get over it and tell me what you liked/disliked about "The Old Man and the Sea", not how much you hate a drunk and how cowardly it is to commit suicide, (or, conversely, how grand it is to be a drunk and romantic to commit suicide) and start a moral debate that has nothing to do with a book. 

Lee Crase's picture
Lee Crase from Kennesaw is reading Iron on my Mind September 25, 2013 - 6:45am

You can certainly discuss the merits of a book without calling into question the behavior of the author. Calling the deletion of these comments 'censorship' might not be entirely correct, but it could be rightly considered 'heavy handed moderation,' which Goodreads certainly has a right to exercise. Deleting bad reviews of books does seem to cross the line into censorship, but only if the bad review is a meaningful critique. Posting "this book blows" is not a meaningful critique, and doesn't serve the purpose intended by the word 'review.'

This article is a great topic of discussion, so thanks for posting it!

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago September 25, 2013 - 6:54am

I agree with LadyWordslinger in that this is not censorship. I think of it more as moderating content to maintain the focus of a specific forum. Granted, some authors do become entwined with their work to the degree they are virtually the same. However, the focus should remain on their work and it's contribution to the world. As I see it, Goodreads is trying to keep their site from devolving into a gossip column.

Gerd Duerner's picture
Gerd Duerner from Germany is reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm September 25, 2013 - 9:21am

Given the (rising) number of "reviews" I encountered on GoodReads that did nothing but complain about an author/and or a company policy (one deleted "review" went on in length why the user refused to read books published from Fan Fiction) I think it was the right move to make on their side.

People want to talk what they think about an author as a person(!) not as a writer, they can open a blog, that's what they are for.

When I read a review I want to get at least a hint of information about the book.


Edit to add:

Okay, just came upon this - Screenshot

Deleting reviews that have no other base than vent anger at an author, okay, but deleting private shelves is certainly taking things too far and entering into censorship. Sure, it's their right to do as they want, it is their place after all. But still, bullying members to prevent bullying? Oh, the irony!

Anthony David Jacques's picture
Anthony David J... from The Internet is reading two or three books at once. September 25, 2013 - 7:28am

I don't see the problem.

There are plenty of places online, even on Goodreads, to call out author behavior. There's a page/group called Badly Behaving Authors where you can all swap you war stories about ... authors... behaving badly. (You can google search for it, but when you click the link, it's a "secret" group.) I'm sure there will be more of these groups in coming weeks. 

Book reviews are book reviews, not personality profiles. I honestly can't understand why this surprises anyone. Unless you're rating a biography about a person who you think is truly an asshole, stick to the content of the book.

If you're of a stripe to boycott a writer, company or organization because of the writer, or the person or people in charge, that's fine. But that doesn't mean you jump onto Yelp and rate the Chick-Fil-A down the street with 1 star because the CEO is a homophobe. His personal views have nothing to do with their service. If that Chick-Fil-A's chicken is still tasty and fresh, then you're the dick for letting your personal feelings cloud your ability to be objective in a review. Vote with your dollar. If the CEO of some company, or if some writer is a dick, buy elsewhere. But being a dick because you think someone else is a dick just makes for more dicks in the world. 

Personally, I hate having to wade through book reviews to find the few that are relevant to the book and give useful information. I read reviews to help me make decisions about what books to read next, and if I should buy it for real, as an eBook, or borrow it from a friend. 

Steffan Piper's picture
Steffan Piper September 25, 2013 - 8:50am

It is good news. People trying to build some kind of snarky wave of public hate against authors based solely upon misplaced butt-hurt is an incredibly dangerous animal to let run free.

This is not censorship and it is not heavy-handed at all. This is actual moderation. It speaks volumes when people can no longer recognize responsible moderation and try to label it as something else. This should've been done long ago.

People commenting about this saying that deleting reviews is wrong, or that Goodreads has gone too far are speaking first, without knowing what has been going on with the behaviour of some reviewers. 

Amber Ellie Vokes's picture
Amber Ellie Vokes September 25, 2013 - 10:22am

Wrong. Just wrong. And, yes, it is censorship.

Christian Holt's picture
Christian Holt September 25, 2013 - 10:23am

Guys, whether you think this is a good idea or not, it is the epitome of censorship. Calling it moderation is just giving it another name. I get people's frustration with reviews that only demonize or exalt an author unnecessarily, but it's a thin line before they start getting rid of reviews that they deem contraversial that happen to comment on parallels between the author's life and the work itself. Personally, I don't understand why that is not something that should be studied. Yeah, it's Good Reads's site to run how they want it, but when a social media site reaches a certain size it can be difficult to just pack up and move elsewhere. I do think in the long run though, it could lose them some members. 

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On September 25, 2013 - 10:31am

Not being a member of Goodreads, I'm curious: Is there a disclaimer by them on the site that asks reviewers to keep their personal biases of the author to a minimum, and stick to the work itself? I'm wondering if something as simple as that might've helped prevent the site from becoming a forum for snarky, personal attack at writers. 

Cait Spivey's picture
Cait Spivey from Portland, OR is reading I Don't, a Contrarian History of Marriage by Susan Squire September 25, 2013 - 10:43am

The only valuable time to review an author's behavior along with their work, in my opinion, when that author's behavior is actively harmful or hurtful. Orson Scott Card for example--his books might be too well-written to warrent a bad review, but because of his homophobic personal agenda I would not want to support him by reading his books. On that note, I think shelves should still be allowed--I would have a "do-not-read" list with OSC on it. Of course, if they call it "do-not-read" it's less likely to be deleted than a "orson-scott-card-is-a-terrible-human-being" shelf. 

The pissing matches that commonly occur on Goodreads between authors and reviewers are petty and stupid and deserve to be deleted. 

Let us also not forget that part of this is encouraging authors not to engage with negative reviews--it's not all about the reviewers. My feeling is that authors who remain out of the loop on that bit of wisdom are authors who have also not made an effort to be part of the online writing community, which regularly reinforces the idea that negative reviews will happen and that they're nothing to freak out over, and should not be responded to. 



ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig September 25, 2013 - 6:32pm

It may encourage me to use Goodreads more. I have seen too many reviews that were "this author is a douchecanoe" that don't even talk about the book (I've even seen a few that were written by people who know the author personally and use it as a way to slander them without speaking of the book at all). I'm not going on Goodreads to figure out who to hang out with, I'm there to read book reviews. Further, Goodreads is also taking action against authors that attack reviewers. It's fair and it comes down to making sure it is a book review site and not a gossip site. 

And, as far as I am aware, the forums still allow for talking smack, just not shelving or reviewing books based on writer's behavior. So censorship it is not, it's just keeping the conversations where they belong while not hurting the experience of people who are there because they like to read books.


AM Gray's picture
AM Gray from Australia is reading The Book of Blood and Shadow, by Robin Wasserman September 26, 2013 - 3:04pm

Good reads used to be a forum for readers and now, I fear, it is fast becoming a branch of Amazon and therefore, is more about the sale of books. I don’t shop at certain supermarkets because I don’t like their business practices. I make the same decisions about cars to buy or which brands of pasta (eg. Barilla). I also don't watch movies that star an actor who has beaten up his wife, for instance.  I would think twice about buying an Easton Ellis book or an Orson Scott Card book… and that IS relevant. You can’t separate the person from their words - not anymore.
Do I want to hear if an author has copied their latest book from a fanfiction that they didn’t write? Yes. And GR is the best place to find that out because it shows up in my feed as a comment from a GR friend. I could search blogs on the Net forever and never see that.
What GR should be getting under control is the sock puppet reviews.

They wanted people to talk about books and now they won't let them.