Anyone who has ever put anything of artistic worth on the internet in the past decade—whether it be an 800-page literary novel on Amazon or a trinket on Etsy that looks like it was made by somebody’s kid at craft camp—knows about the tyranny of the online review. These can be personal—behold the one-star review I once received on Amazon for being “too Jewy; get over yourself” (a summation in which every word was spelled correctly, I imagine due mainly to the miracle of spell check). They can be logistical, like an angry pan of a book because the reader failed to figure out how to load it onto their iPad, or similarly error-prone: “I ordered the wrong thing! It was supposed to be a sponge, and instead it’s a vegetable peeler! This can’t be my fault!”
Fame provides no insulation from the attack of the trolls. Take the case of Amy Schumer, whose Netflix stand-up comedy special The Leather Special has been torpedoed by one-star reviews on the service lately (710 out of 876, at last count, bringing the total user rating down to a measly 1.35 stars). While many media outlets seem to have taken this as evidence that perhaps the heretofore unstoppable comedian’s grasp on her material may be slipping, as Splitsider reports, a quick perusal of Reddit’s swampy alt-right domains (i.e. the one called “The_Donald”) shows a concerted and organized effort to encourage its denizens to leave bad reviews in order to purposefully tank Schumer’s project, urging “Please go and one-star that piece of shit” and “you know what to do, folks.”
Why? Well, it could have something to do with the fact that Amy Schumer is a) a famous and successful woman; b) a famous Jewish woman; c) a famous Jewish feminist woman who does not conform to strict beauty norms (while still being very attractive) and d) has been outspoken on gun control, abortion, and other liberal causes, or e) all of the above. Schumer, for her part, has pushed back on the trolls as well as the entertainment journalists who report their shenanigans with credulity: “The alt-right-organized trolls attack everything I do… It reminds me what I’m saying is effective and brings more interest to my work and their obsession with me keeps me going. I am only alarmed by the people printing their organized trolling as ‘news,’ this is what the current administration wants. … Journalists, do better, it’s embarrassing.”
I’d even go a step further. The great thing about the internet is that it was given so many previously voiceless people a voice; the terrible thing about the internet, which is proving increasingly destructive to the fabric of our society, is that it’s given so many terrible, hateful, previously voiceless people an undeserved and corrosive voice, and what’s worse, a captive audience. Moving further and further away from critical expertise to user reviews has only exacerbated this tendency. A company’s policy of a unmoderated ratings system—i.e., allowing abusive reviews to remain, or allowing reviewers to rate things they haven’t actually watched—only undermines public discourse, the products they are trying to sell, and ultimately, their bottom line.
Schumer is right that journalists should do better, observing what is one of the cardinal rules of their profession: “consider the source.” But so do the platforms that produce and sell an artist’s work. That’s not just good politics. It’s good business.