Goodreads has too much power to moderate this poorly

Over the past week, I've been watching the Goodreads drama unfold in what feels like slow motion. Debut author Cait Corrain admitted to fabricating at least six Goodreads user accounts and leaving negative reviews (including one-star reviews) on the books of other debut authors, many of whom were authors of color. Monday hair Publisher dropped her book Crown of starlightAnd Corrain posted a mea culpa on X (formerly Twitter).

The coordinated efforts of fans and authors helped expose Corrain's review bombing. Last week, Iron Widow author Xiran Jay Zhao tweeted a thread pointing to a series of one-star reviews on the Goodreads accounts of debut science fiction and fantasy authors, without naming names. They also shared a 31-page document of unknown origin (which Polygon reviewed) with screenshots from added accounts Crown of starlight on some of the most anticipated lists, and left one-star reviews on upcoming books by Kamilah Cole, Frances White, Bethany Baptiste, Molly X. Chang, RM Virtues, KM Enright and others.

This brings Goodreads' moderation issues back to the forefront. When reached for comment, a Goodreads spokesperson sent Polygon a statement: “Goodreads takes very seriously the responsibility for maintaining the authenticity and integrity of reviews and protecting our community of readers and authors. We have clear reviews And community guidelines, and we remove reviews and/or accounts that violate these guidelines.” The company added, regarding Corrain's one-star reviews: “The affected reviews have been removed.” Good read community guidelines state that members may not “misrepresent their identity or create accounts to harass other members” and that “artificially inflating or lowering a book's ratings or reputation is against our rules.” But it is not explained how these guidelines are enforced.

Goodreads also pointed Polygon to one October 30 post on “Authenticity of Ratings and Reviews,” stating that the company has “strengthened account verification to block potential spammers,” expanded its customer service team, and added more ways for members to report “problematic content.” The company addressed the review bombing and “launched the ability to temporarily limit the submission of ratings and reviews for a book during times of unusual activity that violates our guidelines.”

Apparently these measures were introduced afterwards several particularly high-profile cases of review bombing this year on the platform. But these new tools didn't stop Corrain from reviewing bomb authors in November and December. The guidelines, including October's, ask users to “report” content that “breaks our rules,” seemingly shifting responsibility to the user base. It's time for Amazon-owned Goodreads to consider implementing more extensive internal moderation – or at least more advanced internal tools – if it's not in the interest of its users, then in the interest of the authors who contribute grace has been delivered. from the platform.

Goodreads is extremely influential. There are more than 150 million members on the platformof which 7 million participated in the Reading Challenge this year. The platform also has few barriers against these types of review bombing campaigns, as any user in good standing can post a review on the platform, even before the book is published. Pre-publication reviews are part of the marketing cycle, and that's true expressly permitted on Goodreads. Publishers encourage authors to get reviews on the Goodreads pages for their upcoming books, including during the lead-up to release. Readers can access pre-sale copies of books through official channels such as NetGalley, or by receiving a pre-sale copy from the publisher, but there is no way to know whether a reviewer on Goodreads actually obtained a pre-sale copy or not. (Although Goodreads' review guidelines require readers to disclose whether they received a free copy, not all users follow these rules. Basically, you can post your review anyway.)

This is clearly not a new problem for Goodreads, but many other platforms require some form of verification before reviewing. Etsy allows users to rate a product after they purchase it. Steam only allows users to write reviews of products in their Steam library, and includes “hours played” in the review. The closest comparison to Goodreads I can think of is Yelp, which allows people to leave reviews of restaurants and other establishments, and also has to deal with waves of negative reviews – often with complaints about matters that are completely beyond the company's control. As for fan review platforms for entertainment, there is Letterboxd, a platform that allows users to follow and review movies. But it doesn't change the cultural stranglehold of Rotten Tomatoes, a platform that aggregates review scores from professionally published critics (though it also aggregates audience scores, which are listed separately). Rotten Tomatoes has its own problemsbut the system does mean that reviews usually don't come from people who haven't even consumed the media in question.

As a regular Goodreads user looking for a book to read, how do you know if a reviewer has actually read the book? I think the answer, at least at this point, is: you can't. And as fans have become more sophisticated and coordinated on the Internet, it has become even harder to take the platform's reviews and ratings seriously. In July, Eat pray love author Elizabeth Gilbert drew her upcoming book The Snow Forest – set in Russia – after about 500 users, who had not read the book, left one-star reviews. Gilbert is much more established and has more resources than the debut authors Corrain focused on. Still, she decided to withdraw her book.

These debut authors didn't have the same clout or cachet, and it's painful to imagine how Corrain's negative reviews could have affected those authors' book sales—and subsequently their chances of writing more books—if Corrain's actions had gone unnoticed stayed. Publishing already has enough obstacles, especially for authors of colorwithout this huge one so close to the finish.