Nevermind the Sock Puppet Reviews – RPG Gamers Have Taken Over the Reviews Section of the Nook eBookstore

The book review sections of many ebookstores are cluttered with suspected sock puppet reviews, and that's a problem which should bother anyone involved in ebooks. But today I learned of a new issue in the Nook Store.Players of a role playing game have been occupying the reviews section of the Nook Store since  some time last year. From what I can tell, they have been using the site to play a game by leaving reviews on various ebooks which never had anything to do with the book in question, and often made no sense whatsoever - unless you were also playing the game.

Carolyn Jewel was the first to notice, and she posted on the topic a couple days ago. She had heard via a mailing list about one author finding a set of bizarre reviews on her books.

After doing some digging, Carolyn figured out that many of the spam reviews were related to a game called WarriorCat. This game is loosely related to Warriors, a series of books published by Harper Collins. A game grew up around the books, and it now spans several websites where the players well, play the game as well as talk about it and soon.

So it's a gaming culture, which by this point in time is merely one of the many aspects of the web. It wasn't much of a story until some players decided to stop acting like Warhammer and start acting like 4Chan.

It's not clear when, why, or how this started, but over the summer several WarriorCats players moved the game onto the B&N website. They used the reviews to pass messages, tell stories, and more. Most all of the spammed reviews were left by anonymous users, so it's not possible to identify who they were and how many were present, but  I don't think we're looking at a small problem.

You can read this screen shot for an example of their activities. If you want to see more examples, check out this Google Search. All of those images lead to a book listing on B&N which were spammed this summer by the players. And that's just the tip of the iceberg; I only searched for a single keyword and I turned up 89 different results. Given the apparent popularity of this game there's bound to be more.

TBH, I'm not at all familiar with this RPG, so I didn't know what all to look for. But if this game is as popular as the books it's based on then there might have been thousands of players participating in the meta-game going on in the reviews section.

Over on Passive Voice one author has suggested that the reason all these kids show up on B&N's website is that social sites are blocked on most school networks. That would be a likely explanation. But it doesn't explain why Barnes & Noble hasn't made any visible effort to clear out the faux reviews. A number of authors have even gone so far as to report the spam, but B&N doesn't always respond:

Oh, I’ve got those on my reviews as well. Especially on my shifter books. And I’ve told B&N and so far–nothing!

Other authors have reported similar reviews, including some from as far back as January and even a report from last year. Would you believe some of those reviews are still up? A few have been removed, but the process would seem to be haphazard.

There's no word yet on what B&N plans to do about the problem, but there is word on the retail store level that readers should report the spam reviews. That's great, but given the extensive nature of the problem simply reporting the reviews does not seem to be enough.

I don't know about you, but this is a new one for me. I'm used to finding all sorts of dross in the review section of ebookstores, including sock puppets, crazy people, price protesters, and even reviews based on irrelevant personal details about the author. I've even seen and enjoyed watching reviewers have fun posting humorous reviews about a product (the recent assault on the Bic for Her Pens are a good example) as political, social, or humorous commentary. But I've never seen a meta-game take over.

So far as I know B&N has yet to address even the sock puppet reviews, and given that they allow anonymous reviews I think it's going to be a rather difficult problem for them to fix. While Amazon could identify a particular user as a sock puppet and delete all reviews, B&N isn't going to have things so easy.

What do you suppose B&N will do about the problem?

via, via

About Nate Hoffelder (11594 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

31 Comments on Nevermind the Sock Puppet Reviews – RPG Gamers Have Taken Over the Reviews Section of the Nook eBookstore

  1. I’ve always been curious what these reviews were, but an RPG hadn’t occurred to me. I just stumbled across one today looking up “Burial” by Neil Cross.

    I’ll start reporting the reviews now that I know what they are.

    • Why, do you really care? I would let them continue and see what Barnes and Nobles does.

    • Reviews never! Role playing forever! For blazeclan and sunclan and all of the eps I participate in. We will fight! They don’t fight back! And we will keep rping until the day we grow out of it(but there will always be more) you can’t terminate us…STOP! TRYING!!!

  2. B&N could start by banning anonymous reviews. Only registered users (i.e. established customers) should be able to post reviews.

  3. The comments at several author sites indicate the game has been running all year and probably started last year. So don’t expect it to end when the school year starts.
    The authors are particularly concerned that some of the players flag their messages with single stars so a book can (and has) accrued over a hundred one-star reviews out of a total of maybe 120. There are different clans at work and some flag their posts with 5 stars.
    There is a pattern at work: they choose books with at least one long detailed review at the top so that their messages don’t show up on the first screen.
    B&N has been aware of it since January.
    They’ve done nothing and do not reply to author complaints.

  4. Some authors are aware of them but as they seem to leave 5 stars …

    I’m surprised there isn’t some other way for them to communicate. The internet is big and diverse.

  5. B&N is unlikely to do anything about it because they don’t want to dedicate the manpower to manually read thousands of reviews and try to work out which are legit and which aren’t.

    I find this pretty amusing and clever. In gaming terms the Internet is Chaotic Neutral. Sometimes you just have to accept the craziness that comes along with the creativity.

    • I get that they don’t want to spend manpower, but at they could at least delete them when they are flagged. They don’t have to then wade through all the reviews.

  6. There are, unfortunately, several problems with B&N’s review system. The same problem may exist at other ebookstores, including Amazon, but I do not know.

    Some time ago, I tried to post a detailed review of a book series that I had purchased at B&N. Every attempt was rejected on the grounds that the review violated the TOS. I carefully read the TOS a couple of times and still cannot figure out how the review violated any of the TOS. I called customer service and was told I had to contact the dedicated review department. I was given an e-mail address — no telephone number available, supposedly — and I wrote. I included a copy of the review and asked them to identify how it violated the TOS so i could fix it. Never heard a word and the review never was posted.

    But I compared my review to that of reviews that were accepted by B&N. What I found was disturbing to me from the perspective of a reader looking for guidance from posted reviews. What I found was that it was OK to post a review written anonymously that said “I never read the book but I think all books should be rated no more than 1 star” but it was not OK to write a review that was not anonymous and that suggested that the book was poorly written and gave specific instances of problems.

    I spent a couple of weeks trying to get B&N to give me specific feedback on my proposed review and finally gave up. As a result, I never try to post a review at B&N and I never read a review at B&N. By its own failures, B&N has discredited reviews at its site.

    Sadly, B&N has many opportunities to outshine Amazon but consistently ignores them or flubs them. The area of reviews is a good example where B&N could turn a currently poor and questionable feature into a very valuable one but doesn’t.

  7. For us NOOK users, this isn’t news. There have been complaints on the B&N forums about the unusability of the Review system going back for maybe a couple of years. Nobody in power cares. Even Harriet Klausner gave up on posting reviews at B&N in late 2011.

    2010: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Book-Reviews/m-p/504576#M17371
    2010: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Submitted-reviews-don-t-get-processed/m-p/547384#M18094
    2010: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Writing-Reviews-The-Thrill-Is-Gone/m-p/707732#M19535
    2010: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Posting-a-book-review/m-p/717719#M19647

    2011: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Spurious-Ratings-Reviews-from-E-Book-Readers/m-p/1000930#M23262
    2011: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/E-Book-Ratings-Ruining-Reader-Ratings/m-p/1047252#M23691
    2011: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Does-Anyone-Monitor-the-Website-Reviews/m-p/1146626#M24827
    2011: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/pet-peeves-regarding-reviews/m-p/1194102#M25258
    2011: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/book-review-and-inappropriate-language/m-p/1202388#M25308
    2011: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/How-to-edit-my-review/m-p/1225056#M25498
    2011: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/WE-CAN-NO-LONGER-EDIT-A-BOOK-REVIEW-WHY/m-p/1238286#M25615

    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/NOOK-Book-Discussion/I-have-a-pen-name-but-I-showed-up-as-anonymous/m-p/1266425#M28736
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/B-amp-N-Review-Censorship/m-p/1274725#M26145
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Review-system-is-fouled-up/m-p/1282231#M26382
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/NOOK-Book-Discussion/Writing-a-book-review/m-p/1291967#M29217
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Flagging-or-Masking-Customer-Reviews-from-your-Nook/m-p/1304413#M27393
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Paragraph-Breaks-in-Book-Reviews/m-p/1306897#M27579
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/NOOK-Book-Discussion/Nook-Book-Reviews-B-amp-N-Needs-to-Moderate/m-p/1328553#M30239
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Please-Only-quot-Review-quot-Books-You-Have-Read/m-p/1332785#M28862
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/What-happened-to-the-Edit-feature/m-p/1338140#M29008
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Customer-reviews-about-as-valuable-as-highly-paid-professionals/m-p/1341204#M29095
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/I-wish-B-amp-N-would-pay-attention-to-making-reviews-worthwhile/m-p/1343892#M29156
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/I-wish-B-amp-N-would-pay-attention-to-making-reviews-worthwhile/m-p/1343892#M29156
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/NOOK-Book-Discussion/How-do-I-update-a-review/m-p/1349466#M30971
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/The-NOOK-Blog/Free-Fridays-Peaches-by-Jodi-Lynn-Anderson/bc-p/1355786#M9472
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/Funny-and-sad-example-of-B-amp-N-s-poor-control-of-reviews/m-p/1368640#M29995
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/The-NOOK-Blog/Free-Fridays-Reap-the-East-Wind/bc-p/1371330#M9802
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/The-NOOK-Blog/Free-Fridays-Amberville/bc-p/1373620#M9855
    2012: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Community-Room/B-amp-N-Review-Rating/m-p/1377204#M30338

    And those are just from a few of the B&N forums. B&N’s review system is a laughingstock, they certainly must know it, and they apparently don’t care.

  8. Maybe B&N did nothing knowing it would aggravate Harriet Klausner and she would leave.

    If so, it was all worth it. LOL

  9. Just stumbled on this article after Googling “role-playng on Nook site”. I had just finished trying to explain the problem to B&N “Online help”, but all “Joseph” would say is that only the poster can delete the review! So then I emailed B&N…after reading this, I guess I shouldn’t have even bothered, since they clearly don’t care. I gave them the URL for this article, anyway.

    Really frustrating. I have tried to flag this stuff but there are just so many of them! On one site for a “cat mystery” book, there were 51 “reviews” and all of them were role-playing messages! So annoying.

  10. It is the work of the tweens, we have slowly taken control of all the reviews. Don’t even go peeking in books like “Scarlet Letter” because there is a horse of them there. You can’t even get a review in before it gets rolled over by other people. Sorry to say, we always find a way to roleplay. What is the harm when most of us are promoting the author’s book? We leave five stars and make it quite popular especially if we have a large clan. 🙂

  11. I role-play on the Nook. The best Warriors Cat role-players type reviews and often leave phrases to search to little-used books.They ARE mostly tweens or teens, but they seek no harm.If you would search a phrase you may find some roleplaying that is good.

  12. I’ve decided to remain anonymous. I just want to say that Role-Playing is actually a really fun thing to do. There are these people who are going through some really terrible things in real life, and they see Role-Play as their only way to escape it. Of course, most parents don’t know about it. It’s only natural. The fact that these kids are escaping problems and channeling their feelings to people that believe it or not, may actually care. Just saying.

  13. i’m sure these companies would love it if people would only use their websites to talk about their EXCITING NEW PRODUCTS

    i’m glad that actual, genuine communication and human connection hasn’t been made illegal yet.

  14. I am a RolePlayer. I just have a few words for the authors of the books we apparently ‘take over’. For example, the Warrior Cat RolePlays. They’re all based on the authors series. The fact Barnes and Noble hasn’t been deleting these reviews is amazing. There have been RolePlayers in book results since 2011, when the NOOK device first came out. These are not spams, really, but rather children exploring new possibilities with other personally from the United states. I know, I, for one, have used Role Play to escape my reality. I know it’s a bad thing to do but sometimes you just can’t deny the fact that in Role Play, children can getaway from problems at home. Role Play is like their consoleing. When they are not role-playing they can meet others who share the similar problems they do.

    And even if the comments are not book based, I know quite a few people who role play buy the books they role play at. There have been several people while we were role-playing that have said things like ‘Grow up and stop acting Childish’, or ‘This is stupid, go outside and actually do something with your lives’, but we always stay strong. Role-playing is not an addiction. Role Play is a new experience for people who have bad realities. And, Barnes and Noble already filters posts with bad language and will not allow the person to post at that book again.

    I see no harm in Role-playing. I just hope the authors of those books, and the people of Barnes and noble don’t either, because I assure you, half of the people that buy books and New e-readers are roleplayers, considering I need to buy a new NOOK now. I miss my fellow Role-Players. Please don’t take what we have away from us.

    -RP Forever.

  15. Okay listen up. I’m a nook roleplayer and these havw been going on since around 2007. And you knownwhat, there are roleplays in there with true friends. We need eachother. Some of us use it to escape the nightmare that is out realities at home. Some of us use it because its relaxing and fun. At least it doesnt cost like fracktarded roleplay games. This is basically poor kids roleplay game. Why dont you just pull some money outbof your ears for roleplay systems for us? Hm? Ans some of us have made real true friends on there. I made a best friend there. I know its not some pedo because weve gotten on social media and sent selfies back and forth. We wil always find a way and we will not be shut down. Its late 2015 and there have been what we call ‘the great lockouts” where posts suddenly disapear every book the account posted at. But we know of something called a multires and switching accounts things like that. B&N cant do anything. There are thousands and thousands of us, now. We wil only grow.

    ?Lizza Patch?

  16. Heyo! No my name isn’t actually Laney. Do you think I’m /that/dumb? cx nope! Alrighty! *crackles knuckles* I am a nook roleplayer. I enjoy it quite much! I correct everyone’s grammar, and that, irritates the heck out of em! But not all of them. I have awesomesaucasparklicious friends on there! True friendssss. You may or may not believe it, but they are the most caring, sweet, people I’ve ever talked to! I have friends from different countries and states on there. It’s. Totally. Amaz. AND if B&N locks us out of a book, we’ll simply use a multi res or switch accounts or books! Duhhh. Sooooooooo, in my favorite rp on there, they’re like a second family to me. AND THEY’RE AWESOMER THAN PRUSSIA. Ehem.. Hetalian, here.. Psh. Why try to fight the nook roleplayers when you really, honestly, aren’t going to win. :3 I found this thing on Quotev ‘how to NOOK RP’ while boredly looking up NOOK RP on google. You should check it out. Because nook rp is awesome. AND FOR THOSE WHO ARE TRYING TO STOP US, I WISH YOU SSOOO MUCH LUCK XD. But I loovvvvess yooouuuu. Not really. GBAI.

    ~Lainey ^.^

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