Monday, October 20, 2014

A real tale of an author being catfished...

This post is a response to “Am I Being Catfished?” An Author Confronts Her Number One Online Critic an article in The Guardian (which first came to my attention via a blog post by Jim C. Hines called Victim or Perpetrator?) about an author who ends up crossing way way over the line in response to a bad review - like WAY over the line. Conspiring to get a reviewers home address, driving to their house, making "I know who you are" phone calls = BAD!

I had so many problems with this author's story. Any sympathy I may have had for her was completely erased by her actions. This whole situation is why they invented the phrase: "Two wrongs don't make a right." But my biggest problem was with was the use of the term catfish.

Catfishing is when someone uses a fake identity in order to establish a relationship with someone under false pretenses. Usually it is for romantic deception, or for bullying. I have been catfished. I have known catfishers. I met a guy in Second Life who told me he was in his 20s and single, when he was actually in his 60s and married. I was too smart to be catfished for very long, especially when he mentioned being at Woodstock. I quickly learned that his catfishing was extensive. He had female avatars cyber-dating men, and other female avatars cyber-dating women, as well as male avatars cyber-dating girls like me. It was all very creepy.


Before that even, I had been in an online text-based D&D style game where someone I was in an RL relationship with made an ALT account specifically to flirt with me, as a test to bait me into cyber-cheating on him. I didn't take the bait - not because I was particularly cyber-loyal at age 19, but because I was too smart, or maybe he was too dumb. His ALT acted exactly like him. Right down to fav movie quotes. In the end it turned out he was cheating on me and really just wanted to feel better about it by knowing I would also cheat on him.

All this drama is catfishing. To say that a woman who choses an alias to do her online reviewing so that she stays anonymous, is a really huge stretch of the definition, and I just can't accept it. A catfisher is using a fake identity to deceive or harm as a primary goal. In the case of a book blogger who is hiding behind a mask of anonymity the deception and the harm are secondary. Their purpose is only to stay hidden so that they don't ever have to face any consequences for the things they say. That isn't the same as catfishing. And to say that it is minimizes real catfishing. 

Let me tell you one last tale of being catfished, this time as an author.

I have been spending a lot of my time on Wattpad recently. So much so that when I open a new tab on Google Chrome sometimes Wattpad beats out Facebook for the number one spot in my most frequently visited websites. Wattpad is a social media which can be best described as "story blogging" - you post your book one part/chapter at a time and people can add it to their reading list, read, comment and vote on each. I have been putting my very first complete novel up on Wattpad a chapter at a time.

One of the ways you get people to give your book attention, is to give attention to the stories of others. And so I spent a lot of time commenting on other works. My style of commenting is to give constructive critique, but only when it has been requested. This can land me in trouble sometimes when the person requesting the criticism is really just hoping for a fluff comment or has a really rigid definition of how they think critique should be given.

One particular author took offense to my criticism of her tendency to do too much telling and not enough showing. At first she tried to be gracious, but I could tell it was strained. I should have known to move on to another story/author at that point, but it was my early days on Wattpad and I didn't yet know better. Finally, after the third chapter of her book that I made this kind of comment on, she blew up at me. I tried to rationally explain myself, but this just resulted in her deleting all of my comments from her book, and muting me. I made the mistake of reaching out to her on Twitter to say something, I can't remember what, but it was probably just something stupid and reactionary. And after she muted me there too, I figured it was over, and I was ready to move on.

But it wasn't.

That same day, someone created a brand new Wattpad profile, added a couple stories to their reading list, including mine, and then proceeded to attack my book with ferocity. She made a few comments on other books too, I assume to make it look like she wasn't just all about my book. But it was very obvious that it was all about my book. It was pretty clear that this was a revenge profile set up by the offended author, just to target my book. I don't know it for sure, but the signs were all there. Other than a few random one time comments on other books (which were all books from the same group of authors I had met the offended author in), my book was the only one that she had commented six times, on six chapters.

Each time she commented on a chapter she began with "I can't possibly vote for this chapter." Which is not something people usually say. Most people who don't vote for chapters also don't comment. And if they do they certainly don't point it out. The rest of the comments were all filled with personal insults and nothing really to do with the story, or anything constructive in any way. She attacked my homemade book cover, calling it childish (most book covers on Wattpad are homemade, and it's not something anyone usually criticizes). She said things like "have you even read any books in your genre?" and worse.

I wasn't sure what to do at first. I could have argued. I could have accused her of catfishing. I could have deleted her comments and muted her. But I was reluctant to because I thought it would kind of be an abuse of power. I mean what kind of person would I be if I deleted every bad comment I ever got. So at first I just thanked her for her comments and was super sickly sweet to her. I have worked a lot in retail so I have learned this trick: the more I smile the more I destroy them!

When she made comment number 6, things changed. I had taken one thing she said to heart. One of the genres I had chosen for my book was "teen fiction" and not only was my book more middle grade (there was no genre for that category), but also teen fiction was super competitive. So I switched from "teen fiction" to "adventure" and suddenly by book started ranking in the top 500 of both Fantasy and Adventure. It was a huge thrill, but also a new way to get my revenge on this catfish. When I responded to comment number 6, I said how wonderful she was because either my change of genre at her suggestion, or all the wonderful comments and attentions had helped my book finally crack into the Wattpad rankings!

Suddenly, she told me she had decided she could no longer read and comment my book. Even though she had earlier told me that she was committed to reading the whole thing and commenting on every chapter no matter how horrible it was. I was thrilled. I felt like I had defeated her. And after a week went by and there was no more comments from her, I decided to go back and surreptitiously delete all her comments and mute her. I wasn't planning to tell her. And if she had truly left my book behind as she said, she would never have known. But a week or so later I suddenly got a Tweet from her brand new twitter account attacking me for choosing to delete bad comments on my book.

I could have responded. I was tempted to. I could have told her I knew exactly who she as and what she was doing. I could have called her a catfish. But what would the purpose have been? The result would have been a long drawn out argument in which I may or may not have said stupid things (I am not a noble super being, so the odds were not in my favor). I would have had a protracted period of angst in which there could be no possible satisfying outcome, ending in one or both of us finally muting each other. That is the way it always ends. There is no winner. And if you try to claim you are the victim afterward, chances are you did or said things that erase your right to call yourself a victim.

So I managed to hold on to my dignity, and small victory, and muted her on Twitter without responding.

And that is a REAL tale of an author being catfished. This catfish created their ALT specifically to harm me. A CATFISH chooses particular victims and lures them into a twisted ongoing relationship. When a person creates an anonymous account to go around saying things with impunity, the best label for this is a TROLL. It is important not to mix these up. Each are forms of abuse, but by saying catfishing is the same as trolling, is like telling a victim of ongoing bullying or abuse, that their experience is exactly the same as a guy who got punched in some random bar brawl.

©2014 Amanda June Hagarty

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