Why "Founderstein"? Read the original essay here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Day I Was “Review Bombed” at Amazon.com

Until 3:30 this afternoon, I had no idea that “freep” could be used as a verb. Or even a noun. Since then, however, I have become an expert, so to speak, in freeping. This afternoon, you see, I was freeped.

Freeping, as near as I can tell, is a portmanteau of “Free Republic,” a conservative commentary and blog site based in Fresno, California. It advertises itself as “the premier conservative site on the web,” and I have no reason to think otherwise. At 3:53 this message was posted to the Free Republic Site (and moments later, through the miracle of Google News Alert, to my personal e-mail account). The title of the post was simply "Freep This Book: That's Not What They Meant!
Remember how the DUs trashed Mark Levin's books at Amazon? Well, here is our chance. Some English prof named Michael Austin wrote a scatterbrained hit piece that is full of cheap shots directed at the Tea Party, Mark Levin, Hannity, etc. To do this, he took teaspoons from various works of our Framers, mixed them up with some Howard Zinn, and baked them with social justice gravy at high heat.
Wanna see how the left corrupts our college kids? Here it is.... Click the link and give this radical leftist clown Austin the zero rating he deserves!

(Click here for screen shot) 
I did not quite know, but I suspected, what would come next. And it did. Within an hour some 15 one-star reviews had appeared on my book’s Amazon site, all of them, with one exception, containing boilerplate phrases that could be applied anything left of Ron Paul or Glenn Beck. The one review that actually does refer to something in the book (a story about Elbridge Gerry), actually refers to the forward that, while not actually written by me, is available in the Amazon preview.

Perhaps even worse (from my perspective) is that the few existing reviews by people who had actually read my work—not all of them positive—were sabotaged according to the instructions given on the Free Republic site: lower the stars on the gushy reviews by clicking NOT helpful and BUMP the 1 * star reviews by clicking HELPFUL!”
They came, they saw, they freeped. And as the day winds to a close, I am trying hard not to let it go to my head. As much as I would like to think that I was freeped because somebody considered my ideas dangerous, or radical, or worthy of rebuttal, I know that this is not the case. That’s Not What They Meant was chosen more or less at random because because somebody who participates in a blog site stumbled across it and thought that it would be fun, or noble, or brave to crowdsource their disapproval. Apparently, somebody at another site did this to another book. And so on.
I can't really object to the actions of the freepers, nor would I do anything to stop them even if I could (and I can’t). I made a very conscious choice to enter the ideological marketplace with a book that criticizes some people and calls them wrong. There are consequences to doing things like that. And I would much prefer to be criticized (even by people who have read no more than the book’s title and a call to action on a popular blog) than to be ignored, which is, after all, the fate of most books. As far as I can tell, all of the reviews have spelled my name correctly, and, beyond that, there really isn’t any such thing as bad publicity.
But I would like to issue an invitation to the freepers—an invitation that I will post to Amazon and, if I can get access, to the Free Republic as well. Here it is: let’s really talk about the issues that divide us—not in a tribal way, where we immediately divide into teams and dismiss the other side as intellectually and morally inferior, but as actual intelligent, responsible human beings who might disagree about some things, but who love our country and want it to succeed.
I currently maintain a blog site called Arguing as Friends where I invite people of all backgrounds and perspectives to come together and talk about current political issues without insults and without personal attacks. Your voices would be welcome there, and I would be very happy to discuss my view of the Founding Fathers—or anything else—with all of you on those terms. Really discussing controversial issues with people you disagree with can be a powerful experience that can lead to understanding, intellectual growth, and the kinds of deep compromises that led to the founding of our Republic and continue to be essential to its success.
This is a more difficult approach to political discourse than simply taking pot shots at each other on Amazon. But it is much more rewarding as well.