Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Mean You Can Say Anything, Anywhere (like on Amazon and Goodreads)

Are you misunderstanding freedom of speech? It doesn't mean you can say anything, anytime, anywhere.

I’m back from Hawaii! More on that later.. but for now, I want to talk about an interesting topic.

Friday morning (the day we left for Hawaii) I got SO INSPIRED. I’d had this post sitting as an unfinished draft for months and I was incredibly inspired to finish it. Suddenly the words were just pouring out! So while my husband was running around the apartment packing, I was blogging (naturally).

Here’s something Nereyda submitted to me a few months ago:

Hey Ashley, you wrote a really great comment on a different blog last week about freedom of speech and how bloggers get it wrong. I would love it if you could make a post talking about it. With all the drama going on right now with bloggers vs. authors and bloggers vs. bloggers, I thought it would be a good thing for us to see since everyone is so quick to cry ‘freedom of speech’ for everything.

Thanks!

Nereyda

You know what grinds my gears? When someone signs up for a website, breaks their rules, their post/topic/review gets removed, and they cry, “Censorship!! Freedom of speech!”

I used to moderate an online forum with hundreds of thousands of users, and part of my job was removing/hiding posts that broke the rules, sending people written warnings, and issuing bans. We had rules like “no flaming” and “no naming a specific person in a negative light”, etc. And I got A LOT of people messaging me back saying things like:

“You shouldn’t have removed my post! THAT’S CENSORSHIP!!”

Freedom of speech is freedom from THE GOVERNMENT—not everyone in the world.

You cannot go into a school and say, “Fuck you” to your teacher and expect to get away with it because of “freedom of speech”. Schools, organizations, websites, and other normal citizens have their own rules and codes of conduct. You cannot act in certain ways or say certain things. This is equally true of online communities, like Goodreads and Amazon for example.

Goodreads is fully allowed to ban or remove certain kinds of reviews.

It’s been a few months now since I made that comment that Nereyda mentioned above, but if I remember rightly, it was in response to a blog post about someone saying their review was removed from Goodreads for targeting the author. Goodreads doesn’t allow reviews that mention the author personally, or shelves that name the author (like a shelf called “stupid-author”).

Now, whether or not Goodreads should remove reviews that mention the author is irrelevant here. I’m not going to sit and pick apart whether or not the rule is a good one. But what I will pick apart is the fact that Goodreads is fully within their right to make whatever rules they want and enforce those rules. We don’t have the right to say whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want.

We can’t go into a school and say, “Screw you, you giant asshole” to our history teacher without getting a detention (or worse). We can’t sign up for a website, agree to follow their rules, then break those rules, and expect to get away with it.

Similarly, Amazon is allowed to implement their “you cannot review a book if you’re friends with the author” policy.

A lot of people are up in arms about this new policy. Amazon is forbidding people from reviewing a book if they’re friends with the author. That in itself doesn’t sound so bad, but the problem is that Amazon has taken this to the extreme. They see that a reviewer is friends with an author on Twitter and takes that to mean that they have a personal relationship, thus banning the person from reviewing the book.

Now I’m not saying this is a good policy. In fact, I definitely think Amazon has taken it to the extreme by overestimating who’s actually friends on a personal level.

But my point is that Amazon is allowed to be doing it. If they take down your review, they’re not infringing on your freedom of speech because Amazon is not the government. They’re a separate entity and allowed to have their own rules and posting/publishing terms and conditions.

It seems a lot of bloggers are misunderstanding this. Just last week I saw someone comment on Amazon’s policy, saying something like:

“Amazon is infringing on my freedom of speech by not letting me post my review.”

Sorry, chica, but that’s just not true. Amazon is not the government so they’re not infringing on your freedoms if they decide to remove your reviews/posts/comments/whatever.

Want an example that’s easier to digest? You are the master of your own blog. You’re fully within your right to delete any comments you want.

Imagine this scenario:

  • A spammer posts a comment on your blog advertising Viagra (let’s assume it was published by a real person and not an automated bot).
  • You delete the comment because.. it’s spam.. duh.
  • The spammer comes back crying, “Freedom of speech!” You removed their words. HOW DARE YOU!
  • But your reaction is probably going to be to roll your eyes and think, “It’s MY blog. I can do what I want!” And you would be 100% correct.

When it’s your blog, your space, and your property, you’re in control. You can do whatever you want. That’s because you’re not the government of the United States. πŸ˜‰

Let’s talk about freedom of speech. Have you ever seen someone throw that term around incorrectly?

Have you run into any problems with Amazon’s “no friends” review policy?

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I'm a 28 year old California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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62 comments

  1. Great way of laying things out plainly. I’ve been fortunate not to have any run-ins, I think I’ve had a Goodreads review removed once – for whatever reason. But I’m a “shrugger”, I’m not going to make a big deal and I think I wound up turning around and just putting a new review with less of what they have on their radar.
    – Krys

    Krys recently posted: Review: 5 to 1 by Holly Bodger
    1. Yeah I haven’t had any run-ins either. The only thing I’ve had happen to me is to have some Amazon reviews auto-rejected when I forget to filter out my swear words, hah.

      If I want to make waves, I do it on my own blog—not someone else’s site.

  2. Say it louder so the people in the back can hear! It’s frustrating how many people do not fully know what the 1st amendment entails. Great crash course blog post!

    1. Haha, thanks Colin!

      I agree that it’s baffling how many people just don’t get it. I always feel the need to start lecturing.

    1. I don’t think I’ve seen it on Twitter, but I’ve seen it on Facebook and a few blog posts now and then. The Facebook comment is what finally motivated me to finish this post. πŸ˜€

  3. After MANY college courses, the best way to sum up freedom of speech is this:

    You have every right to say whatever you want. But that website/company/person has every right to react. If you walk up I someone and call someone a bitch, congratulations! You’ve just exercised your freedom of speech. Just be prepared because they’re going to exercise their arm and pay you out cold.

    You have the right, but in exercising that right, you have to accept the consequences whether that be a few loose teeth or having your material removed from a website.

    Ugh. Before people go spouting off about things (especially LAWS) I wish they would take the time to read and actually know what they’re talking about.

    1. You’re totally right Dani! Thanks for sharing your explanation. πŸ™‚

      I also wish that people would take the time to read and learn before talking. It makes me embarrassed for them when they post something SO CONFIDENTLY and yet they’re 100% wrong, haha.

  4. Yes. Now if only folks would read this and understand. I think with Amazon folks have a right to be upset by the new policy but they need a better defense. TOS are in place for a reason and I think both Amazon and Goodreads have made there rules clear. Unfortunately just like with Blogger’s method of removing violators of their TOS some are unjustly removed.

    1. Yep, I totally agree that people have the right to dislike Amazon’s policy. I’m actually okay with the rule itself, but they’re being WAY too harsh with their execution.

      People just need to realize that although they can dislike Amazon’s rules, that doesn’t mean Amazon is violating their freedoms!

  5. I didn’t know about Amazon’s new policy and the extreme they are taking it to. I “follow” authors on twitter if I’ve reviewed their book to keep updated on what is going on with new publications. It seems a little crazy. It’s not like I’m “friends” and go out for drinks with Hachette or Simon and Schuster. Do you think they’ll delete all my reviews for anything they publish? HA!

    1. You’re totally right Elizabeth! It’s crazy how sensitive Amazon is being. And what’s worse (in my opinion) is that people have contacted Amazon, explained the “friends” (or lack thereof) situation, and Amazon just replied and said, “This is not negotiable. Stop contacting us.”

      Unbelievable!

      But although it sucks, people need to realize that there’s nothing legally wrong with what Amazon is going. They’re fully within their right to make and enforce whatever silly rules they want.

      1. So I went looking around at Amazon and couldn’t find the actual policy written out. But I did notice that they are encouraging me to Follow authors on their site and I wonder if that would keep my reviews from being posted. Maybe they only want readers to Follow people at Amazon, to what purpose I don’t know. As of now none of my reviews are down.

  6. Thank you, Ashley, I couldn’t agree more with this post! I am so tired of people hiding behind their computers spouting what they “want” and saying it is okay to do so. It isn’t. Those that run forums, websites and blogs have every right to take down vitriolic speech if it goes against their policies and to say otherwise is pure ignorance. I do think that sometimes “seemingly innocent” material is removed based purely on the fact that it falls into a broad category. As well, I agree that Amazon’s “friend” policy, while smart in its conception – I don’t want an author having 25 of their closest friends posting 5 star reviews and influencing me to buy their book – has now reached far and wide to include ME simply because I friend authors on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. I am not their true friends, I don’t know them personally. Friending them in these cases allows me to keep up on their latest happenings. But, Amazon has every right to take my reviews down if they deem my association as “friendly”. Policies and rules are in effect for a reason. If you don’t like them, you don’t have to join.

    1. Totally agree! Biased and kiss ass reviews are a huge problem on amazing and I’ve bought more than one book that was *nothing* like the glowing reviews described. (I’m not talking opinions either, I’m talking calling things expertly written when they use the wrong form of “their” more than once lol) They have every right to try and combat that to help their customers. But yeah, they need to simmer down with the aggressiveness haha.

    2. Thanks for stopping by Angela!

      I think forums in particular are FULL of people who think they’re entitled to post anything they want without it being removed. It’s pretty crazy that they think that. X_X

      Although I’m also okay with the idea of the rule, I think it was pretty crazy how Amazon reacted to someone’s “appeal”.

      Someone contacted Amazon and kindly explained that they weren’t actually friends with the author and that they just happened to follow them. Amazon just replied and basically said, “This is not negotiable. Stop contacting us.”

      And while Amazon is within their right to react that way (their rules, their enforcement) I did think it was pretty absurd. I like the rule in theory, but the way they’re enforcing it and failing to listen to appeals is a negative for Amazon in my book!

    1. Another forum frequenter! *high five*

      I think sometimes forums bring out the worst kind of people. It’s crazy what some people think they’re entitled to on forums.

  7. All of the yes to everything! I especially like those who, in the morning, complain about bloggers being fake and sucking up to authors in reviews. Then in the afternoon they say that amazons new policy trying to prevent that is appalling and offensive. I agree that they’ve taken it to the extreme but I understand what they’re trying to do, and it’s something the community needs. They just need a different execution.

    You also make an awesome point about when people break a website’s rules and then complain about being punished. A little while ago I put a *lot* of time in trying to help a friend solve a problem they were having due to breaking a website’s terms of service. Trying things myself, reaching out to contacts at the company, as well as researching things for them to try. Instead of any sort of gratitude or a thank you, all I was met with was “how dare they do this to me?!”

    1. It’s crazy when people think they’re so entitled, isn’t it? It’s very, “Don’t you know who I am?!?!” *eye roll*

      I’m also all for the theory behind the new policy. The execution just sucked.

      One person appealed to Amazon about the removal of her review. She explained how she wasn’t friends with the author, she just happened to follow her on social media. Amazon replied and basically said, “This is not negotiable. Stop contacting us. We will no longer reply.”

      The policy is fine. But the implementation and refusal to listen to appeals makes no sense. X_X

      1. And the really ironic thing about Amazon’s implementation is this: So many authors use pen names and have separate Facebook accounts for those that they friend readers and bloggers with. So if Amazon’s trying to block reviews from their IRL friends, they’re probably not even looking at the right account haha.

        But I really do think something needed to be done about reviews, and hope they figure out something that works without blocking out so many legit ones.

  8. Well, duh… πŸ˜€

    I think Publishers might get a bit pissy when we can’t put our reviews up b/c we have Twitter contact with an author. I don’t think Amazon/GR will care but perhaps it will breed a platform for reviews?

    1. I think publishers will be totally understanding if Amazon rejects the review. As long as you explain the situation to them, I think publishers will realize that it’s not your fault and nothing can be done about it. πŸ™‚

      If any authors or pubs get pissy at you for it then they’re in serious need of a reality check!

  9. I am emailing this to my brother, because we got in a fight about this just a few weeks ago. He insisted that some moron spouting out hate and was expelled from a university shouldn’t have been, because of “free speech”. I said that no, he CHOSE to attend that college, and they can CHOOSE to have him not attend anymore because of his vitriolic statements. I then extended the scenario to an employer terminating employment because your actions and words can reflect poorly on them. He wouldn’t listen of course, but I know you and I are right πŸ˜‰

    I agree with you about all of it. Do I LIKE Amazon or Goodreads’ policies? Nope. (Especially Amazon’s, but that’s a discussion for another time. But since you asked, I think it is the most asinine policy out there. It’s the internet, everyone is “friends” with everyone. If I follow the president on Twitter, it doesn’t mean I am now penning laws. I digress.) But I can choose not to go to that site anymore if I don’t like their policies.

    And as for the “I can say whatever I want” argument? Sure. You CAN. But know that there are consequences and ramifications, especially when you’re saying stuff in a public forum.

    Anyway, this post makes me happy. Applause all around πŸ™‚

    1. What a coincidence! Super funny that you just had this conversation with your brother. I hope he reads it and that it makes sense to him. πŸ˜‰ All he needs to do is Google “freedom of speech”, click on the Wikipedia article and read the first sentence:

      Freedom of speech is the right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship.

      Government. Not “anyone in the universe”.

      Argument CLOSED! πŸ˜€ Hah.

  10. I’m glad you wrote this! One thing my dad always taught me was that you have rights… until you acting on your rights violates someone else’s. For instance, slander, defamation of character, etc violates someone else’s rights, so your rights (freedom of speech, etc) are no longer valid. You approach an author/blogger, or talk crap about an author/blogger, or post rude things in a point to make them look bad/cause shame/etc for a thing they didn’t personally do to you – You did whatever you did with the intention to harm or hurt someone else, and therefore you should have no say in what is ‘right’ or isn’t ‘right’.

    I think people nowadays, and definitely the last few generations (ours, and the most recent) think that they have some sort of right to the ground they walk on, and don’t think they deserve any sort of punishment for what they do because RIGHTS! They want everything handed to them and in return want to do nothing to earn it and I think that’s part of what breeds this sort of ‘I can do and say what I want, and you can’t do anything about it’ attitude.

    It annoys the mess out of me to no end.

    1. You’re totally right about people nowadays. It’s crazy how many people think they’re entitled to anything and everything. Bleh.

  11. It’s about time someone said these things because it’s always annoyed me. It annoys me how people think they can say anything and not get punished for it because ‘freedom of speech’ when that’s not how it works. You have the freedom to speak words, but your freedom doesn’t extend to all the words in all languages, simple as that. Thank you for saying what others haven’t before, and being so blunt about it! πŸ™‚

    Amanda @ Nellie and Co. recently posted: Book Review - A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
    1. Yes! I despise people who think they’re immune to consequences. One of the things I hate most in the world is someone who does something terrible and doesn’t have to suffer the consequences.

      I like people to get a good kick in the ass for doing bad things.

  12. Thank you! Nice summary of what people can and can’t do. πŸ™‚ I have read comments in which people have complained about the Amazon policy prohibiting friends of authors from reviewing their books. I know from experience that I was given a book for review; the book sucked big time; up to then, it had received a few reviews – all 5-star.
    @dino0726 fromΒ 
    FictionZeal – Impartial, Straightforward Fiction Book Reviews

    1. I think the policy in theory is fine. It makes sense that reviews should be unbiased. But the way Amazon is enforcing this rule isn’t very helpful to any of us! Just because I follow an author on Twitter doesn’t mean they’re my friend on a personal level.

  13. Great job making this super clear for a lot of people. Love it. I hate the new Amazon rules, because I do follow a lot of authors on Twitter and Facebook. I’d love to be able to support them, and give my two cents, but loose standards of friendship seem to be preventing that. Oh well. I’ll just take to my social media accounts to promote something I like. Their business, you have to play by their rules.

    Beks recently posted: Friday Finds #1
    1. I totally agree Beks. I’m fine with the new Amazon rule in theory but Amazon is enforcing it super poorly. It makes no sense!

  14. Yes!! It drives me crazy when people throw “freedom of speech” around when their opinion isn’t well-received. The government allows you to say anything you want, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune from consequences beyond that Besides, I have the ~freedom~ to tell you your opinion sucks. πŸ˜›

    Raisa recently posted: Sparkle Box Review: August 2015
    1. Haha YES Raisa! People need to learn that there are consequences when they do something wrong. Maybe not from the government, but from the person/company/entity whose rules you violated.

  15. Great post you have here and its so true!! I honestly haven’t seen much of this to be honest. A little complaint on what Amazon has been doing, but they are within their rights to do it even if its extreme. I think its important to respect each other and even when I do a review of a book I have issues with, I try to be very diplomatic and not mention anything offensive. I have read what some people say to certain reviews or slander against authors and its shameful!! We are human beings not animals. πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing this.

    Renee (Lover of Romance) recently posted: Book Review-Chase The Darkness
    1. I love your policy Renee. πŸ™‚ I’m the same as you in that I try to be respectful. Even on the rare occasion that I do “rip a book to shreds” I always keep it about the book. I never ever ever get personal about the author or say they’re a terrible writer or anything like that. I keep it all objective about the book.

      I never want to personally attack or slander authors in my reviews. I just like to talk about how the book made me feel. πŸ™‚

  16. I cringe whenever I hear that phrase, because 99.9% of the time it’s used incorrectly. Same goes for this phrase’s more insidious cousin: “It infringes on my freedom of religion,” used by everyone from bakers refusing to make cakes for gay weddings to businesses refusing to serve people who visibly practice a different faith. The stupid hurts so much sometimes.

    Abria recently posted: Cover Design Considerations
  17. Great post, Ashley.

    There are times where I read reviews that were attacking the author instead of criticising the book. Book blogging is a very large community which we don’t have a set of rules to govern on what we can post on our blog. As you mentioned in your post, it’s OUR blogs so we can literary publish anything on it.

    But when it comes to publishing reviews/comments on OTHER PEOPLE’s platform, for instance, Goodreads and Amazon, I strongly agree with you that we should respect their set of rules.

    Regina @ Queen of Bibliophile recently posted: Feature & Follow: Quote
  18. The way I see it is that the internet is basically an international, lawless space – and so it’s up to managers of specific websites (i.e. Amazon, Goodreads, personal blogs) to be the “government”. If you choose to use those website, you’re abiding by their rules – and you can’t exactly cry “freedom of speech!” if that government doesn’t have it. πŸ˜‰ Lovely post, Ashley – I think this is something a lot of us need to remember!

  19. Hi Ashley- I completely agree with your blog. I’ve had Amazon reject a few of my reviews and I thought, “What? I didn’t say anything but what’s true!” but it is what it is. I adjusted it, keeping my opinion and moved on. People feel they can just cry and whine about anything and everything these days! Time to adapt, adjust and move out!

  20. Great post, Ashley. I’ve seen this kind of stuff for years, but it has definitely gotten worse over the last few. People have such easy access to all these sites and have this entitled attitude that they are free to say whatever they want. -sigh- It’s frustrating sometimes, and sad that they just don’t comprehend.

  21. Very clear and concise thoughts on freedom of speech and so on point, Ashley! This is one of the reasons I set up my blog in the first place β€” to have my own space to post reviews independent of other websites. I wanted to have control over my thoughts and not entirely submit them to someone else to curate.

    And that’s the thing that a lot of people don’t want to accept: that Goodreads, Amazon, etc are well within their rights to take down reviews and comments that don’t comply with their T&Cs. Trouble is, very few people actually read them when they sign up for various services. There were instances I didn’t agree with the take-down of reviews because I thought those were really stretching it but in the end, it’s the decision of Goodreads or Amazon that matters not everyone else’s.

    JosΓ©phine recently posted: Photography: Even Light with the Burn Tool
  22. Excellent post, Ashley! I might also sum it up as “my house, my rules.” I know a lot of sites feel like “public space” or “community property” because of how much and how widely we use them, but people have to remember all these sites are owned by someone else — who can run them however s/he likes.

  23. What a great article! I hadn’t heard about that new Amazon policy…and boy does it sound like they are taking it to a crazy extreme…but they have the right to set their TOS for their site. There is always the option to opt out.

    I don’t even remember where the expression came from…but I’ve always had it in my head that – “Your freedom ends where my nose begins” – basically we have the right to control what happens and how we react to what happens to our bodies and our property (including virtual property)

    Although I always ponder the fact that the government does seem to have the right to tell private businesses how to operate – not sure where the line gets drawn there…

    Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf recently posted: Book Review: If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins
  24. I totally agree with you! Though I don’t really let such people bother me so much. I guess I’m far enough out of the line of fire that it’s easy to ignore. What bothers me is plagiarism. I found a blog that plagiarized my textbook yesterday, and I commented on the guy’s blog that it was plagiarism, please take it down. Then I told the rest of my class they were welcome to say the same. Of course, the blog owner can just delete my comment, and claim “free speech,” though it wouldn’t be.

    Rachel B recently posted: August 2015 - Monthly Review
  25. To be honest, I never knew about the “friends with authors” rule of Amazon. But then, I am not an active Amazon user or something!:)
    I agree with you on this wholeheartedly! I value speech freedom a lot. but everything comes with a limit. And I get super annoyed with people who take the said freedom for granted.
    Wonderful post Ashley!

    Mishma @ Chasing Faerytales recently posted: Channelling my inner supervillain
  26. Let me tell you something, Ashley: If you want people stop hiding behind free speech and using as an excuse to get away with badmouthing whoever they want, then don’t sink to their levels.

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