In a letter to the Daily Telegraph
, Ian Rankin, Lee Child, Susan Hill and other famous authors have condemned the practice of posting fake reviews on the Internet.
The practice, known as "sock puppeting", has been given added salience by the recent disclosure that best-selling crime author, R J Ellory, whose novels have sold more than a million copies, has been using fake identities to write positive reviews of his own books, his "magnificent genius" and critical attacks on his rivals.
credits the crime writer Jeremy Duns with exposing Ellory's fraudulent practice. In a sign of the Internet's capacity for self-policing, Duns unmasked Ellory's fake identities on Twitter. Unfortunately for Ellory, it seems he found it difficult to consistently remain in character and unintentionally revealed his real identity.
According to Forbes
, using one of his fake identities, Ellory said of his own work, A Quiet Belief in Angels
RJ Ellory is one of the most talented authors of today. His ability to craft the English language is breath-taking. You find yourself experiencing so many emotions as you read this book and when you come to the end you don’t want it to stop. When I did finish it, I thought to myself, “Wow, that is an amazing book, give me more!"
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who really wants to experience a class read.
Ellory has admitted to posting reviews on Amazon using fake identities. He said:
The recent reviews – both positive and negative – that have been posted on my Amazon accounts are my responsibility and my responsibility alone. I wholeheartedly regret the lapse of judgment that allowed personal opinions to be disseminated in this way and I would like to apologise to my readers and the writing community.
In their letter
to the Daily Telegraph
, the famous authors express the view that Ellory's deceptive practices are unfortunately common. They say:
These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended online, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large. Few in publishing believe they are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well.
The practice of sock puppetry is not merely dishonest, it is in England and Wales illegal under the 2008 Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, which makes it a crime to pretend to be a consumer and leave positive reviews of one's own products. However, the law is easy to break and difficult to police. Indeed, at the recent literary festival in Harrogate, best-selling author, Stephen Leather boasted:
As soon as my book is out I'm on Facebook and Twitter several times a day talking about it. I'll go on to several forums, the well-known forums, and post there under my name and under various other names and various other characters. You build up this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself.