Monday, 23 September 2013
Goodreads Censors Reviews and Personal Shelves During Banned Books Week
It’s time we got into the gritty subject of censorship. This is an open letter to all readers (authors, Goodreads staff, and members are obviously included). I say all readers, because do even mean those of you unfamiliar with Goodreads and its drama, for lack of a better term.
Readers, I don’t mean to teach you some of the facts of life, but I just want to briefly (this didn’t end up being as brief as initially planned) mention a) censorship, b) freedom of speech and its limitations, c) Banned Books Week and d) hypocrisy.
a) Censor — v. [with object] examine (a book, film, etc.) officially and suppress unacceptable parts of it. (Oxford Dictionary)
Filter — v. [with object] a fancy web-based term for partial censorship. (Me)
Quality Control — n. the activity of checking goods as they are produced to make sure that the final products are good. (Merriam Webster)
The essential point to take away from these terms is that while censoring is synonymous with filtering, quality control is neither of those, unless we view Goodreads as a product, rather than just a social media platform.
Okay, so let’s say Goodreads is this free “product.” What is the target market? It’s for reviewers and literary lovers to discuss books (and authors), so I’d wager all readers. However, “quality control” via the review guidelines suggests a specific group within those readers. SOME authors, the compliant (they may not know what’s happening at all), and offended fans of authors.
b) Freedom of speech is an international human right. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that “e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
However, in any country, the freedom of speech has its limitations and restrictions, especially in regards to "respect of the rights or reputation of others" or "[f]or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals." (UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999, p. 171, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3aa0.html.)
All of that being said, my personal opinion is that I should not judge a book by its author. I don’t like to get personal about authors within my reviews, but I will use some blatant shelving labels as I see fit. This is my opinion regarding MY OWN REVIEWS AND NO ONE ELSE’S. It is none of my business what another reviewers methods are, just as it is none of my business what their sexual orientation is. Maybe I think it’s blatant and I can identify it right off the bat, but that doesn’t mean I should criticize them for it. The only difference is that reviews are OPINION pieces, while sexuality is something you are born with (though I’m sure I could argue nature versus nurture here, but that’s completely off topic).
Another issue is that Goodreads staff really want us to stay on the topic of the book, rather than the author. I have written a number of reviews that sort of go off on a tangent. Will GR make its way around to removing these reviews? The greatest part about this is that GR’s Customer (Don’t) Care director has made it appear a lot worse than I initially thought (other than the deleting without notifying bit):
“We recognize that not everyone is going to agree with our approach. People have different - and often quite strongly held - viewpoints about what should and should not be allowed in a review. We’ve had suggestions that no GIFs should be allowed, reviews should be limited to 300 words only, reviews should only be allowed if you have read the book to the very last page, etc.”
You know what this says to me? Goodreads has actually considered these suggestions.
c) Banned Books Week was founded in in 1982 by Judith Krug and is most notably sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA). Many people recognize Judith as an advocate for uncensored literature, free speech, and confidentiality of personal library records. You, reader, may not know that while she also fought for our right to read whatever we may choose, she also fought against the Children’s Internet Protection Act, as web filters often blocked educational material on healthcare, sexual education and social matters (Krug, Judith F. (2000). “Internet and Filtering in Libraries: The American Experience”. IFLA journal (München : Verlag Dokumentation; British Library Serials) 26 (4): 284.).
Judith Krug was a fucking star.
Goodreads has incredibly poor timing to deliver their amended guidelines to patrons of the site in time for Banned Books Week. This is especially a travesty in the face of Judith Krug’s lifelong fight. And for that alone, Goodreads has lost so much credibility as actually being for BOOK PEOPLE. It’s almost as if it’s being run by staff that have no idea what matters to people passionate about reading. They are slowly becoming just another social media site I can live without.
d) Hypocrisy — n. the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense. (Oxford Dictionary)
Double standard— n. a rule or principle which is unfairly applied in different ways to different people or groups. (Oxford Dictionary)
Goodreads has deleted reviews that detail the author or the author’s behaviour, unless within a review for a memoir or biography (or, I suppose, book that features an author). They did not follow through on reviews with positive remarks about an author’s behaviour or complimentary shelves about authors. I also mentioned above that part of GR’s argument for deleting author-centric reviews is that it’s not on the topic of the actual book being reviewed, yet they will not delete off-topic reviews that mention very little about the book or writing at all. This is GR’s double standard.
Do you remember that minute group of authors, offended fans and the compliant I mentioned at the beginning? This is to appease them.
You may be wondering, reader, what the point of this extremely tl;dr rant was.
It should offend you to learn that you have the right to read what you want, but you do not have the right to express what you want; to write what you want.
What has Goodreads done for its patrons other than exist for us to manipulate?
1. Bring the reading community together to discuss all things literary or AUTHORS. This is something you can do on any other site or blog. And we do.
2. A source of ARCs! But let’s not be melodramatic about this. I get the majority of my ARCs directly from those amazing authors and publishers we very much love when they’re not trying to convince us our opinions are incorrect. Quite a few blogs now host a slew of giveaways.
3. E-book exchanges and sources. There are literally thousands of sites for this. I understand some authors cannot shift from Goodreads as easily, but neither should GR be the sole source for these things.
4. Organizing everything you’ve read or want to read. Hundreds of sites free and with a cost exist for this very purpose.
Unfortunately for GR, amazing book-related projects such as Oyster (Netflix for books) and BookLikes are picking up the slack in, what feels like, a intermediary format period for books (digital publications and alternatives).
Finally, dear reader, taking a stand against Goodreads and their poor choices is not about “sticking it to the man,” it’s about making sure your basic human rights are not slighted. It’s about fighting compliance and taking the moral stance, even when you cannot see yourself physically being affected. Your community is affected. If you can actively practice Banned Books Week, you can certainly take a closer look at websites like Goodreads. I’m not saying give up on Goodreads, I’m just asking "what have they really done for readers?”#goodreads #gr #stgrb #bullies #harassment #drama #tos #terms #guidelines #rules #reviews #books #ya #fiction #literature #literacy #readers #read #shelves #censor #hypocrisy #double standard #oyster #netflix #judith krug #ala #american library association #cipa #library #freedom of speech