We’ve had a lot to say on the subject of one-star reviews over the last few years. Consumers have used them to protest practices they didn’t like, be they windowing the publication of an ebook, applying unfriendly DRM to video games, or even double-dipping on Lord of the Rings DVD releases.
Beyond that, organized rating or voting campaigns have become a favorite tool for online activists, be they Gamergaters who want to smear the works of feminists whom they loathe (or feminist movies like the Paul Feig Ghostbusters remake), Sad or Rabid Puppies who want to influence or trash the Hugo Awards respectively, Greenpeace downrating Amazon’s Fire phone, or even the wags who tried to force a British government agency to name its newest research vessel “Boaty McBoatface.”
The Hollywood Reporter has the story of the latest such incident to make the news. The Promise, a movie about the controversial Armenian genocide during World War I, has seen its Internet Movie Database listing receive 100,000 1-star votes as the result of a campaign by those who would deny there was a genocide at all. IMDB has said that there’s not a lot they can do, and even with the filmmakers organizing their own campaign to vote the movie back up, it’s still only ranked at 5 stars on IMDB (4.2 when the article was written). While I’ve called this sort of voting effort “slacktivism” because it takes so little thought or effort to do, it has the potential to be devastatingly effective for an obscure title on a widely used site like the IMDB.
This may not seem like it has a lot to do with ebooks directly, but it’s really a matter of great importance to any form of media. After all, our means of purchasing or subscribing to books, music, movies, and video games are increasingly migrating to digital forums, which are more susceptible to that sort of organized manipulation. Given how much has already been said about the added difficulty of discovering new works online, activists gaming the ratings for ideological reasons is not going to make it any easier. In the end, it’s going to be up to sites that allow review rankings to figure out their own way of dealing with this issue.
The Hugos implemented rule changes to try to diminish the effectiveness of ballot-box-stuffing campaigns like the two sets of Puppies’. Netflix, as the Hollywood Reporter piece notes, changed from star ratings to a collaborative filtering recommendation system tailored at picking things individual viewers will want to see without assigning an objective quality score.
And Amazon’s been implementing its own efforts to curb the effectiveness of activist reviews. Looking at that Lord of the Rings Blu-ray set, I see that even though 33% of the 10,077 customer ratings are still one-star, the set’s aggregate rating is 4.5 stars. (Though the Spore video game listing still shows a 1.5 star aggregate rating, so clearly Amazon’s efforts aren’t 100% effective.) Perhaps Amazon might consider extending those efforts to ratings in the Internet Movie Database, which it owns. (It’s possible it already has taken some steps, given that the current IMDB rating list for The Promise shows fewer total ratings than the 100,000 1-star plus 40,000 5-star from the opposing campaign should make up.)
I imagine review rating activism will continue to be a contentious issue for some time to come. But as we move to living more of our lives and making more of our purchases online, all these Internet sites, stores, and forums are going to have to deal with it one way or another.
The Sad Puppies don’t and didn’t ever want to take over the Hugos. You are misidentifying them and conflating them with the Rabid Puppies. Slate got it wrong and you’re following suit.
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A fair criticism. I’ve amended the section of the article in question to make note of the differences in goals between the two ballot-stuffing campaigns.
I still don’t think you’re being fair. The Sads never, to my knowledge, suggested ballot-stuffing. They only tried to bring some balance to the Force.
The way it worked out, of course, is that a one-party system became a two-party system, and then a reactionary wing took over the Loyal Opposition (Sads), which caused a radical wing to form within the original party, and now the two extremes dominate the debate, each lumping everyone on the other side into their accusations, which many moderate-but-uniformed people like you take at face value.
That’s akin to accepting the Tea Party as representative of all conservatives, or the Antifa as representatives of all liberals. Just because someone says something loudly doesn’t make it true. If you are willing to spend a few dozen hours at least researching the issue and what really happened rather than accepting biased summaries and hearsay, you’ll get a much more nuanced view that will inform your blogging.
I say this as someone unwittingly thrust into the middle of it and who spent time in person at the last Worldcon talking to people on all sides. I met wonderful people of a broad range of opinions who were willing to sit down and talk like reasonable people, and I met some nasty, ugly, spiteful people on both sides–but you might be surprised at which side exhibited the most in-person evil.
Disclaimer: I’m not “in” any group. I understand and sympathize with viewpoints on all sides, as long as they’re not extreme. There is more than one truth to the story, and it’s far more nuanced than the lazy thinkers want to believe.
They came out with bloc lists of works that they suggested their followers vote for. They might have framed them as simply “reading lists,” especially after the first year. But nonetheless, when you have a list, you organize a campaign around it, and your ideology is that works from that list have been unfairly neglected and it’s up to you to balance the scales, that’s going to lead to people voting for things they haven’t read on principle, rather than as a reasoned judgment of the quality of the specific works in question. That’s not the way that the voting is supposed to work.
And as Newton’s Law goes, that leads to the equal and opposite reaction of people voting to no-award works on those lists, also as a matter of principle because they don’t like people organizing campaigns to mess with the awards.
It’s not as if the Hugo voters’ aversion to organized voting campaigns was exactly unknown, given that the last time someone tried it—a campaign to get an award for Scientology-founder L. Ron Hubbard—it crashed and burned just as badly. What did they think was going to happen when someone tried the same thing again?
Thank you for walking back your “ballot stuffing” slur, changing it to the more accurate “reading list”-suggesting. . Nobody on either side as far as I know was ever accused of voting more than once, and every vote must be cast by a paid member.
That some people paid for memberships with the express intention of voting a list rather than what they read is nothing new. That people vote for what’s recommended because they never read what they were voting for is nothing new. That some people put out reading lists is also nothing new.
What was new was that the first reading list, which was nothing but a list of alternate suggestions to the “unofficial-official” lists, with no suggestion of bloc voting (despite your unfounded accusation above), was put out by the Sads alongside a specific platform of criticism of the comfortable echo chamber that the Hugos had become. Again, there was no suggestion of block voting. Heck, there were no “followers” per se, just a couple of activist authors with lots of fans and lots of sales who’d been explicitly told that their work was too pulp-y and didn’t have enough social or literary message in it.
Then the Rabids, led by the farther-right Vox Day, jumped aboard this slow-running and relatively nonthreatening Sad bandwagon, and went extreme, mostly fueled by his petty personal feud with John Scalzi and the SFWA. They definitely coordinated bloc voting–but the Sads, as far as I can tell, still never did. It ended up being guilt by association, mainly because of the name “Puppies.”
But the childish “they started it” is a tissue-thin defense when the fringes of both sides have gotten down in the muck and adopted scorched earth tactics. And both Puppies, who barely overlap and are not the same, but who share some of the same complaints about the Hugos (much as, say, both NPR and the Antifa dislike Trump), may have lost the battle but ended up winning the war, sweeping the new Dragons and likely eclipsing the Hugos.
Now that we’ve dealt with that, however, I’m back to highlighting your error in 1) making no distinction between the Sads and Rabids and 2) accusing the innocent group (as a group) of doing what the guilty group did. These two intersecting errors frankly undermine your credibility. I’ve read your column for years and I’ve never seen you make a gaffe this bad (that I remember). It’s tantamount to equating the Republic of Korea (South Korea) with the Democratic People’s “Republic of Korea” (North Korea) simply because they share a peninsula and have the same words in their names.
And what would you call encouraging people to buy memberships and vote who never would have done so without that organized campaign to get them to? Whether Sad or Rabid, that’s cramming the ballot box full of people who only showed up to vote a list the organizers asked them to. That goes against the spirit of the awards.
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I would call that something the Rabids did, not the Sads–at least, not as a group. To my knowledge, the founders of the Sads always spoke against that practice. If individuals that agreed with them did this, it in direct contravention to the Sads’ intent.
But the “mainstream” Hugo crowd, for lack of a better term (sometimes calling themselves “Kittens”), explicitly did engage in that–and it’s not something I support, no matter who does it. They complained about the tactic and then they used it themselves, organizing and ultimately prevailing at the ballot box. Doesn’t make them right: they fought fire with fire and so abandoned the moral high ground.
But again, you’re trying to blame an innocent group for something a guilty group did–the deplorable “all Muslims are terrorists” fallacy. And you keep doing it–this is the third time you’ve explicitly conflated the two groups. I’m beginning to wonder if you care about the truth, or just can’t stand to admit you’re wrong on this particular point. Because, you are. And that fact calls into question every single good blog post you’ve done over the years.
Oh, come on. In the post that kicked Sad Puppies off, Correia outright told people to buy memberships just so they could nominate him for a Hugo.
Okay, so you’re not going to be in Texas this year, but how about this? For $60 you can buy a supporting membership (and later on you can upgrade it to a full membership if you actually want to attend). This allows you to nominate whoever you want for the various Hugo awards. You tell them what you think the best books of the year were, the best TV shows, movies, even book review sites.
$60! Sure, Correia, I love sticking it to the man, and having Monster Hunter Legion get nominated for best novel would make literati snob’s heads explode, but I don’t know if exploding English professor’s heads is worth sixty whole dollars! That would buy several pounds of little chocolate doughnuts or half a box of 9mm!
But wait there’s more! See anybody who buys a supporting membership is allowed to vote on all the nominees in every category. In previous years, in order to have informed voters, they’ve sent out the “Hugo Voter’s Packet” which includes eBooks of every nominees’ stuff. This isn’t just best novel, but all the Campbell nominees’ books, all the short stories, novellas, novelettes, all of the supporting works, comic books, graphic novels, supporting works, and pretty much all of that. Heck, I got Schlock Mercenary stuff last time! Basically, you get more money worth of reading material than the cost of your supporting membership, plus exploding literati heads!
That ain’t “speaking against that practice.” That’s telling people to do it. Because it will explode literati heads.
The whole point of having a campaign, with a name (like “Sad Puppies”), is to get more people to vote. It’s rather disingenuous to try to pretend a campaign isn’t one.
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I see how you would interpret it that way with the benefit of hindsight–except there’s no mention of Sad Puppies, and there’s no slate or list. That post was Larry Correia talking to his fans the way other authors do, asking them to nominate him.
There is a mention of a future list of things “that I think are awesome,” a list of recommended reading works that evolved into a slate in some people’s minds, but this never approached what the Rabids did, which was to publish precisely a slate–lists of works by category to nominate in lockstep and then to vote for in lockstep, with an explicit instruction by the leader to his followers to vote that way.
This is the difference between voting a straight GOP or Dem ticket, and reading an issue organization’s evaluation and recommendation of candidates so you can make an informed choice.
In any case, I’ve provided a countervailing viewpoint and readers can decide for themselves, if they’re willing to do the research–which is always the best thing to do.