Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When grad students go bad

A troll, in internet slang, is a person who posts inflammatory or abusive material anonymously, with the intention of causing arguments or discrediting an opponent or just for the pleasure of spreading negativity.

A sock puppet, in internet slang, is a further anonymous persona adopted by a troll in order to increase the strength of their attack.

A straw puppet (from the term "straw man") is a sock puppet that ostensibly takes an opposing point of view from the troll, but so weakly that their arguments can be easily demolished by the troll.

A meat puppet
is any weak-willed associate of a troll who permits themselves to join in the anonymous attack by posing as a stranger sympathetic to the troll.

There's a particular "troll" out there who has in the past few years been amusing himself on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk by posting derogatory reviews of recent Janet Frame-related titles, especially the new releases from Janet Frame's estate, granting them only one or two stars and attempting to dissuade any potential readers from wasting their money by buying the titles in their new editions.

Mr Troll clearly has decided to try to make the star ratings of the Janet Frame new releases as low as possible by finding a newish product that has not been reviewed yet and giving it a poor review. (It's too late for him to be able to affect the ratings of most of the older editions on sale, which have received a range of different genuine reviews and generally come highly recommended, although from a cursory look around ads for older editions, it seems that the troll has occasionally made curiously incoherent attacks on positive reviews - which seem to offend him to the point of losing his cool.)

Of course one is entitled to an honest opinion, and there is nothing wrong with giving a bad review to a book one didn't like, but Mr Troll's ten reviews are all of Janet Frame-related books and they are all negative.

Which begs the question, why does he stay in the kitchen when it's too hot for him?

The fact that there is a good indication that Mr Troll also employs sock puppets, rather indicates that his motives in making vigorous critiques are more than literary; they're personal, and appear to be vindictive.

In fact we do know Mr Troll's real identity - his login name of "expat" can be traced digitally to an earlier online identity which was also his email address when he enrolled as a grad student studying Janet Frame.

Apparently Mr Troll is unaware of the electronic trace, because he seems to feel safe enough in his pseudonym that he will even attack a scholarly tome on the subject of Janet Frame that was co-edited by one of his university supervisors.

One of Mr Troll's identities is 'Expat' and another is 'Samiam'. Here he is reviewing the same book in almost identical words, on the same day, first on America's amazon.com, and then on amazon.uk.

(1) The Troll

Here is Mr Troll as the anonymous Amazon.com reviewer expat, on the 1st April 2010, on amazon.com reviewing Frameworks: Contemporary Criticism on Janet Frame (Rodopi 2009)
edited by Jan Cronin and Simone Drichel.

Expensive & Inessential, April 1, 2010 (One out of five stars)

By ExPat "ExPat" (NZ/UK/US)

This most recent collection of academic essays on NZ writer Janet Frame is outrageously overpriced, particularly considering the paltry number of contributions. A far better resource and value is the 1993 collection edited by Jeanne Delbaere, with more than twice the number of contributions as well as an expansive bibliography.

Quoted from: amazon.com 
(Accessed 17 July 2011)

(2) The Sock Puppet

Here is Mr Troll's sockpuppet or meat puppet Samiam also on the 1st April 2010, but this time on amazon's UK site amazon.co.uk, reviewing the same title, Frameworks: Contemporary Criticism on Janet Frame (Rodopi 2009) edited by Jan Cronin and Simone Drichel.

Overpriced, 1 April 2010 (one out of five stars)

By Samiam "Samiam" (London)

This latest collection of scholarly interpretations of Frame's work is outrageously overpriced, particularly when considering the limited number of essays featured therein.

Those interested in exploring this side of Frame's work would be advised to buy a used copy of the 1993 "Ring of Fire" collection, which includes more than double the contributions and an extensive and invaluable bibliography on her work.

Quoted from http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R3IZX9C8S09GIN
(Accessed 17 July 2011)

Why is the April Fool so bitter? Perhaps his academic paper was rejected for the anthology? Or perhaps he found that the theoretical tenor of the volume rendered his own research ideology irrelevant?

As Stanley Fish said, "Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low".

Expat's other nine reviews are all of Janet Frame titles and all are just as negative as the report he gives the book edited by his university supervisor. Three of Samiam's six reviews are Janet Frame-related.

A fascinating phenomenon, and rather a waste of energy. Firstly because this pathetic attempt to harm Frame 's reputation has come at least 60 years too late. She's out of the box already! "A gnat may bite an elephant, but the gnat remains a gnat, and the elephant remains an elephant". But also one wonders why the troll doesn't turn his energy to writing legitimate and rationally argued critiques, signing them with his own name and thus getting the credit for his effort, and earning some credibility in the field, instead of resorting to anonymous gutter commentary in little visited corners of the wild west that is the internet?

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