Detail map of Seattle, Washington, United States,Brooklyn, New York, United States

A: Seattle, Washington, United States, B: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Online Reviews Can Be Used as Attack Weapons to Kill Sales of a Book


"Reviews on Amazon are becoming attack weapons, intended to sink new books as soon as they are published.

"In the biggest, most overt and most successful of these campaigns, a group of Michael Jackson fans used Facebook and Twitter to solicit negative reviews of a new biography of the singer. They bombarded Amazon with dozens of one-star takedowns, succeeded in getting several favorable notices erased and even took credit for Amazon’s briefly removing the book from sale.  

" 'Books used to die by being ignored, but now they can be killed — and perhaps unjustly killed,' said Trevor Pinch, a Cornell sociologist who has studied Amazon reviews. 'In theory, a very good book could be killed by a group of people for malicious reasons.'

"In 'Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson,' Randall Sullivan writes that Jackson’s overuse of plastic surgery reduced his nose to little more than a pair of nostrils and that he died a virgin despite being married twice. These points in particular seem to infuriate the fans.  

"Outside Amazon, the book had a mixed reception; in The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called it 'thoroughly dispensable.' So it is difficult to pinpoint how effective the campaign was. Still, the book has been a resounding failure in the marketplace.  

"The fans, who call themselves Michael Jackson’s Rapid Response Team to Media Attacks, say they are exercising their free speech rights to protest a book they feel is exploitative and inaccurate. 'Sullivan does everything he can to dehumanize, dismantle and destroy, against all objective fact,' a spokesman for the group said.  

"But the book’s publisher, Grove Press, said the Amazon review system was being abused in an organized campaign. 'We’re very reluctant to interfere with the free flow of discourse, but there should be transparency about people’s motivations,' said Morgan Entrekin, president of Grove/Atlantic, Grove’s parent company" (, accessed 01-21-2013).

Timeline Themes