Whether you're a small-business owner, a freelancer, or someone who makes Cthulhu figures out of 1980s My Little Ponies, you can count on one thing: at some point, people will get online and say that your product sucks a finite amount of balls.
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh ONE AND A HALF STARS Cthulhu wgah'nagl."
Sometimes people write these bad reviews for dumb reasons. Hell, I wrote a whole book about the stupid reviews people leave online. But it's generally agreed that unless a reviewer is actually threatening to burn your business to the ground because he didn't like the tentacle-work you did on the pony's mane, business owners and creators should react to bad online reviews with cold, dead silence ... not by going as crazy as turd stir-fry. Because that's when we get stuff like ...
#4. Threatening Big-Ass Lawsuits
Here's something you might not know about review sites like Yelp and Angie's List: under a neat little trick of U.S. law, these websites can't be sued by businesses if someone uses them to leave a bad review, but the individual reviewers can. This means the two-page complaint you just typed about the human finger you found in your Pad Thai could potentially lead to you getting sued.
"What does 'human' really mean these days, anyway?"
Obviously, if a reviewer makes up a story about human fingers in food because she didn't approve of the waitress' hairstyle, the restaurant has a right to take action. That's what defamation laws are for. But some recent threats against reviewers have moved way beyond "dealing with crazy liars" and well into "fuck anyone who doesn't like us" territory. One example is so-called "non-disparagement" clauses. You know those long "terms of sale" agreements on websites that no one actually reads because there's a whole goddamn Internet out there to look at instead? You can just shove a sentence or two in there about how the customer is not allowed to complain online, and boom! You're bad-review proof!
In 2012, a couple in Utah experienced this personally: citing a non-disparagement clause, online gadget store KlearGear threatened them with a $3,500 fine if they didn't take down a bad review they'd written about the store four years earlier. The review site wouldn't allow them to take it down, and so KlearGear graciously reported the pair to a collection agency. The couple ended up losing heat for several weeks in their house because of their damaged credit score. Which is exactly the kind of "we're evil; don't fuck with us" public image a business strives for but so rarely achieves.
Keep this in mind next time you impatiently rush through the terms and conditions of ExtraLargeDildos.com.
California recently passed a law prohibiting companies from enforcing these stupid clauses, but that's just one state, and that leaves at least, like, 12 to go. And if you're currently shaking your head about lawsuit-happy Americans, note that in the United Kingdom an author recently reacted to a negative Amazon review by taking both the reviewer and Amazon to court, where the reviewer was forced to represent himself because he couldn't afford a lawyer. The case was thrown out only after Amazon paid out 77,000 pounds in legal fees, so if you live in the U.K. and you're poised to write a one-star review of Guide to Bees because "it didn't have enough bees in it," maybe hold off until your bank account balance is looking better.
#3. Writing Book-Length Rebuttals
Many of us have written a negative book review or two in our time. What else were you supposed to do after the author of Buxom Space Vampires Attack! killed off all the buxom space vampires in Chapter 3 and devoted the rest of the book to the two surviving characters discussing objectivism? For the most part, though, authors graciously ignore all this negative feedback, or at least pretend to ignore it while channeling all their rage into a stress ball they're imagining as your genitals.
Josh Rinehults/iStock/Getty Images
"IT'S CALLED AN UNRELIABLE NARRATOR! I DON'T PERSONALLY THINK THAT
MURDER IS OK AND THAT DOGS ARE STUPID!"
But not all of them. For example, there's Candace Sams, a romance author who responded to a one-star Amazon review with a barrage of posts that exploded into a 41-page flame war in which Sams eventually threatened to report everyone in the thread to the FBI.
Then there's the author who attacked a book-review site that wrote a "meh" review of her first novel, complaining that reviewers should get permission from authors before they write anything bad about books online. That confrontation ended with the author repeatedly yelling "FUCK OFF" at everyone in the site's comment section, which is the sort of online behavior we don't usually see until someone brings up whether or not atheism is a religion on Facebook.
And it's not just little-known writers. Anne Rice, the Vampire Chronicles author who otherwise seems like a really nice person, can get a bit strange when it comes to bad reviews. Rice has used her own site to publicly accuse negative Amazon reviewers of "slander" and of using the site as "a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies."
To be fair, that description does accurately represent a good 65 percent of the Internet.
It's always difficult to hold back when someone is attacking you online. Luckily, I have a Cracked editor who follows me around and deletes my comments whenever I challenge that one negative commenter to a flame-thrower duel (you know who you are!), but not everyone can afford that. The thing is, when it's a popular author who's throwing an online tantrum, the effects are much worse than when it's a random Internet person. To many book-lovers, authors are practically supernatural beings: they're not immediately present in our lives, but they're capable of creating entire worlds that we love and escape to. If an author we admire shows up in a review section and reveals themselves to be the same type of petty, ego-driven ass as everyone else, it's like a statue of Jesus came to life, pulled up his robes and gave us the finger.