Stalking Is Never OK! Authors, Bloggers, Entitlement and Obsession

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I didn’t expect to write this and I honestly wish I didn’t have to. This morning, I woke up to an explosion of chatter on my feed that was being directed to an article from the Guardian. Author Kathleen Hale wrote a piece that chronicled her journey of… stalking a book blogger who gave her a negative review. I’m sitting here, scratching my head, wondering how Hale decided it was okay to stalk a reviewer and then publish an article about it.

Here are the facts presented in the article:

  • Hale wrote a young adult book, No One Else Can Have You, that was published earlier this year. She read the reviews coming in, both good and bad.
  • She then got a tweet from Blythe Harris, the blogger in question, about a story idea for Hale’s book — she’d been soliciting ideas from twitter to connect with her readers.

“Cool, Blythe, thanks!” I replied. In an attempt to connect with readers, I’d been asking Twitter for ideas – “The weirdest thing you can think of!” – promising to try to incorporate them in the sequel.

  • That initial connection got Hale to check out Harris’ Twitter profile, which led to her blog and Goodreads page. She found and read Harris’ review of her book, which was negative. At this point, Hale says, she was ridiculed by Harris on Twitter, who went on to attack those tweeting good reviews about Hale’s book while also referencing Harris’ negative review.
  • Then bloggers came out in support of Harris, arguing:

1) Reviews are for readers, not authors.

2) When authors engage with reviewers, it’s abusive behaviour.

3) Mean-spirited or even inaccurate reviews are fair game so long as they focus on the book.

  • Hale admits in the piece that she became obsessed with Harris.

A few nights later I called my friend Sarah, to talk while I got drunk and sort of watched TV. Opening a new internet window, I absent-mindedly returned to stalking Blythe Harris.

  • When Hale’s book came out, she was asked by a Goodreads book club for an interview and who she wanted to interview her. She asked for Harris. The book club forwarded Harris’ address to Hale so she could send the blogger a signed copy for a giveaway. At this point, Hale found out that “Blythe Harris” was a fake name, used to conceal the blogger’s identity.
  • Hale went to the blogger’s address to confront her.

I’ve seen catfishing described as just “the deception of identity online,” but that’s too broad. Many people use pseudonyms and fake personal information in the book blogging community, in order to separate their blogging from their real life. It’s a common and helpful practice — some have been harassed online because of a negative review. Catfishing, however, is using deception to lure someone into a relationship, or to get money, which Harris hadn’t done. Nor did she engage Hale, regarding her review.

I’m not sure at what point it became okay for an author to go to a reviewer’s home after getting a negative review.

What’s even more shocking is how this article was written. It feels like a lifetime movie; a play by play on how an author went from being obsessed with this reviewer online, to getting her address. An address that was given to Hale under the impression that she’d be sending book.  And going to that address! Hale wants us to sympathize with her: she’s a little strange (but in a creative way), but she consults experts (including Nev Schulman of Catfish and  a professor at Harvard Medical School), and includes insights from comedian Sarah Silverman about hecklers.

In the months before my first novel came out, I was a charmless lunatic – the type that other lunatics cross the street to avoid. I fidgeted and talked to myself, rewriting passages of a book that had already gone to print. I remember when my editor handed me the final copy: I held the book in my hands for a millisecond before grabbing a pen and scribbling edits in the margins.

Under no circumstance is it okay to go to a reviewer’s house.

I review books here on WWAC as well as on my personal blog. I hope that neither Goodreads nor the publishers I interact with, and receive books from, would hand out my address to just anyone.

Some bloggers can be mean, attacking authors rather than the book itself, and it’s inevitable that human beings will be unkind. But I will never condone poor behaviour, and have criticized both book bloggers and authors before. Bad behaviour cannot be a reason for authors to behave as Hale did.

Writing is a wonderful experience. Some people won’t like what you write. Some won’t be so nice about it. I’m so very disappointed with Hale, the Guardian, and those who made Harris’ information easily accessible. I am now sincerely terrified of what could happen when I write a negative review about the wrong author. That fear hurts the ecosystem of the book reading experience.

I’d planned on reading Hale’s book, but now I’m too creeped out. I’m also disappointed with the authors supporting Hale, because they’ve missed the point. Authors, would you like a reader to come to your home because of your book?  As YA author, Abby McDonald put it on Twitter, what if Hale was a male author? Would you still offer your support?

Abby McDonald

Hale, could have handled this differently. She could have listened to her editors and not engaged in the first place. She could have let it go. She could have communicated with Harris privately online.

She should have never gone to Harris’s home.

The book industry and authors alike now have a lot to think about. This is one hot mess.

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About Author

Former senior editor for WWAC. Part-time contributor. BA in criminals (a minor in daydreams). Batman seeks her advice constantly. Bylines at Book Riot, Teen Vogue, Slate, Quill & Quire and Hyperallergic.

6 Comments

  1. I can’t find either one of these individuals defensible in this situation; it is a bag of crazy all around. For starters, I think it is dangerous to describe a blogger engaging in trollish behavior as a ‘reviewer’. It lends legitimacy to her and implies that her trollish behavior is an aside to her “writing a bad review”. Attacking other fans, constantly responding to an author she supposedly dislikes, this is a troll. I would agree that I don’t see simply using a pseudonym as someone catfishing, but creating an entirely separate online identity to garner sympathy from an online community (she’s a teacher! She’s young(er)! She is a globetrotter!) is not the work of a sane individual, let alone a professional. That is not a move to distance ones’ work from their real life, that is deceptive behavior meant to shield her from her own bad behavior. She absolutely deserves privacy from getting a home visit despite all of this, but to paint the author as the only crazy party here distracts from a larger conversation about what is and is not acceptable behavior online.

    • I agree with you. Both individuals are wrong. “Ms. Harris” apparently encouraged the targeting of positive reviewers, including a juvenile. That is deranged too, and a young person might have even less mental reserves than Hale, who went unhinged.

    • The problem with placing the blame on both people is that it becomes victim blaming. I don’t want to spend time talking about Blythe’s behaviour because that somehow makes Hale’s behaviour. This woman sought out the negative review, commented on it, obsessed over it (and the reviewer) before escalating it into a full in real life meeting that involved getting her address under false pretenses. The moment a “but” is followed by “she stalked a blogger” gives a percentage of the blame to the victim which is what happens with rape culture. Hale was wrong. Period. The only time using the address would be if she sent it to the police after being physically threatened. Hale has also had a situation where she wrote about stalking and pouring hydrogen peroxide on a girl when she was fourteen. This is a repeat offense. http://thoughtcatalog.com/kathleen-hale/2013/02/169836/

      • Let me step back a second and say that I don’t believe Hale was justified to do what she did because of Blythe’s previous behavior. They are guilty of two very different reprehensible acts, in both motive and scale. But to say that Blythe’s behavior is inappropriate to discuss because she is a victim deprives anyone of discussing a larger and much more common issue of online bullying. Blythe’s behavior is not suddenly acceptable because she became the victim of stalking, and pointing that out doesn’t diminish Hale’s irrefutable guilt and inappropriateness.

        There is no larger cultural bias towards authors stalking bad reviewers, which I think makes it difficult to compare this conversation with how we discuss sexual assault. It is however, incredibly common to blame victims of online bullying. Victims are told to ignore them. “Don’t feed the trolls”. If you are a public figure of any kind you are expected to accept people will defame you and belittle you on a semi-regular basis because you “put yourself out there”. If there is any history of victim blaming in this context it is most definitely against the individuals that are targeted by online trolls, with many more extreme cases than Blythe’s being seen as “not that big a deal”. I think it is worth having a larger discussion about what drove Hale to such extremes considering that seeking out a bad reviewer in person is quite a rare reaction compared to the commonality of abuse many people face in online spaces. I absolutely sympathize with Blythe as a reviewer myself, but by not discussing what she did wrong is to normalize it outside of the context of this story. Equating what Blythe did with using a pseudonym also makes it more difficult for those that use them ethically and for legitimate concerns of personal safety. That kind of manipulation and abuse doesn’t go away just because it was a tame infraction by comparison to Hale’s obsession and illegal behavior that followed.

  2. Great and succinct summary of what happened, Ardo. I only wanted to comment that the tweet you posted there is not just from a user, but from another YA author, the wonderful feminist Abby McDonald.