CNSPhoto-Simpsons Everything I’ve ever written or posted at AAR has been under my own name. My real one. Since I’ve been doing this for well over a decade and have an unusual name, I figure I am about the easiest person to find on the internet. You google me, you get me. I made the choice early on, and I’ve always been comfortable with it. But we have several staff members who use a pseudonym. Reasons vary; for some it’s a professional issue, for others a privacy one. Honestly, when a reviewer wants to use an assumed name I don’t feel the need to ask them why. I don’t really care what you call yourself as long as you are professional.

The same goes for posters on our blogs and message boards. You can be Rebecca Realname or BookLuvr43. Really, it doesn’t matter. Some people are more comfortable with anonymity, and we’ve always been okay with that here. Back in the early wild west-y days of the internet, we used to see a lot of authors post anonymously in heated discussions – sometimes because they were afraid how other authors would react, or how we would react. Nearly always, we were fine with it.

Of course now and then someone abuses the system. Posters pretend to be several different people at once, all “agreeing” with each other. Or, on one memorable occasion, an author’s sister posted all over the internet pretending to be a random reader who had just “discovered” a fabulous new author. (One of our former reviewers followed up on our staff email group pretending to write a post as the author’s dog – I’ve seldom laughed so hard). Our policy in cases like this is to delete fraudulent posts. Really, it seldom happens now. Most of us know how to act like grown-ups.

But what happens when we forget how to act like grown-ups? The recent Goodreads bully controversy is like a flashback to our wild west days, bringing back arguments I thought we’d all settled years ago (actually, it kind of reminds me of recent political battles rehashing birth control). Are we actually arguing, again, over what to do when we don’t agree with someone? Over whether someone can say something you disagree with and still have the right to privacy? I understand getting upset with a goodreads reviewer, or a poster, or a blogger. I understand taking issue with something someone has said. But stalking them and revealing their personal information? Not acceptable, ever. I don’t care whether someone has crossed an arbitrary line that you’ve set up (for example, failing to criticize the book “properly,” and instead skipping straight ahead to “This book is a giant, steaming pile of shit.”).

The problems are obvious. Who determines the “rules”? Which vigilante gets to trade in her pitchfork for a sheriff’s badge? And having received personal information (like, for God’s sake, the restaurant someone frequents), are we all supposed to pick up pitchforks too and pop by for a good old fashioned lynching? The richest irony of course is that the people who run this site are utter hypocrites, anonymously stalking…in order to prevent anonymous stalking. I’m no detective, but I don’t think Peter Pan or Johnny Be Good is a real name.

Oh, and who do I think should determine the rules? That’s easy: The websites themselves. AAR doesn’t believe in sugar-coating anything, but neither will we publish a review that simply calls a book a giant, steaming pile of shit. If we find a poster’s comments too far out of line – or fraudulent in some way – we can delete them. Goodreads, Dear Author, and every other website has the same privilege and responsibility. They get to decide how far is too far. If you find a site, blogger, reviewer, tweeter, or poster offensive – why are you following them? It’s a big internet out there, and in some ways we are all anonymous to each other.

Do I think some comments or reviews cross a line? Sure. Do I think there are people who stir up trouble and negativity? Yes. Do I also think they are entitled to their privacy anyway? Absolutely.

– Blythe Barnhill