08 August 2012

On Lynch Mobs, Social Media, and LendInk

Social media is a funny thing. Nothing moves more quickly than an angry internet lynch mob.

Authors today are understandably worried about piracy and copyright infringement. Especially the ones going it alone, who don't have a big publishing house at their backs.

What do these things have to do with each other? I've seen them work together, for good and bad, the past several weeks. I first became aware of a site claiming to be an ebook library, which was really just a place for people to upload and download (in other words, illegally share) books. The cry of piracy went up. I heard about it on AQC, then Twitter and Facebook. Authors sent takedown notices. Their FB page blew up. PayPal yanked their donate button. Within a very short  amount of time, the site had to deal with a lot of trouble brought by irate authors. And rightfully so. Though hiding behind semantics and nasty online personas, the site owner and main defender know exactly what they're doing.

Fast forward a couple weeks. I was about to get on a plane to visit my #goatposse writing friends in Las Vegas and was checking Twitter on my phone. I came across a conversation where someone I didn't know was accusing a writing friend of violating copyright and owning/operating a pirating site. I clicked through the conversation and links to see what was going on, and that's how I first heard of LendInk.com. My Twitter interactions at the time were assuring the rabid tweeter that no, this other person was not affiliated in any way with LendInk. (Turns out the confusion came up because of a Hootsuite toolbar that popped up on the window with my friend's Twitter profile pic. Which is not an excuse for this other person to get all crazy over it. If you don't know how social media apps like that work, you shouldn't be on social media. Or at the very least, you need to refrain from making accusations like that.)

After seeing what happened with the site-that-shall-not-be-named mentioned before this, I wanted to warn other authors about another possible piracy site.

Guess what I DIDN'T do? I didn't immediately start tweeting and posting and re-tweeting and shouting PIRATES! PIRATES! What I did do was look at the LendInk website. I was a little confused about what the site was, at first, and I didn't have much time to look before boarding my plane that day. What I gathered was that LendInk facilitates lending of ebooks (that are already lendable) and that said lending was handled by the appropriate sites (like Amazon or B&N).

There was still some confusion because I was seeing people tweet stuff about not authorizing LendInk to lend their books and people still shouting about piracy. I also noticed a few murmurings about it on Facebook. I didn't think it looked like a pirating site, and I had a plane to catch, so I forgot about it for a few days.

Imagine my shock and surprise when I returned a few days later to find that LendInk had been taken down as a result of this internet lynch mob mentality. My first thought was Oh, maybe I was wrong and they were pirating books. But I really wanted some more info. I didn't have to talk to anyone personally involved, as others had already done that for me. The first thing I read was April L. Hamilton's post on the topic, and then this one on The Digital Reader. They basically confirmed what I thought LendInk was about, plus clarifying a little farther how their process works.

Still, I was skeptical. Because how could SO MANY people fly off the handle like they did and be SO WRONG? Since the site had already been shut down (a result of their hosting company being bombarded with angry, misinformed emails threatening lawsuits, and NOT as proof of guilt) it was difficult to dig for more info. All I had to go on was what I remembered reading four days before.There were also people touting an emailed response received by a friend (or by themselves) from Amazon as proof that LendInk was in the wrong. The letter states Amazon did not authorize LendInk.com or any other website to lend their book, and then suggested "contacting that website to confirm your rights and request removal of your work." When I read that, the only thing I could think was that A) this sounded like a form reply, based on the misleading question about whether the site could legally lend boks, and B) LendInk was never lending books to begin with. No files were ever uploaded to, downloaded from, or stored on the site or its servers.

The owner/operator of LendInk has since replied directly to the article on The Digital Reader, and today a friend (the same one who had been accused of being the owner of LendInk by an overzealous author last week) directed me to another article, this time on techdirt, saying exactly the same thing: LendInk was completely legal and legitimate, and it was brought down by a lynch mob of authors who didn't do their due diligence in fact-checking.

So, to recap:
  • LendInk was not doing anything illegal
  • LendInk was not offering pirated books for free
  • Users could go to LendInk and state they had whatever title available for lending
  • LendInk hooked up users who were looking to borrow with users who had books to lend, then referred them back to either B&N or Amazon to do the lending
  • Lending ebooks is legitimate and legal
  • This fiasco is an example of social media gone wrong
It is truly sad that this scenario played out the way it did. I don't know what will happen to LendInk or if the owner will be able to get it up and running again. I hope so. But at the very least, I hope this is a warning to writers everywhere.

You are responsible for your own actions. You owe it to yourself and to those who could be negatively impacted by your premature mouthing off to do your homework. Read FAQs, take to google, email the appropriate parties (and for goodness' sake, give it TIME! Not everyone is glued to their inbox every second of every day the way we are, waiting for query rejections or news from an agent), talk to each other in a civil manner, and remember that everything you do in a case like this will be subject to public scrutiny.

Think. Then act.

16 comments:

  1. thank you for this post, your NOT going on my list of authors to never even consider reading, anybody from this internet lynch mob is going on a list I and others are working to compile, we plan to spread the word far and wide to help ensure these "authors who cant read" do not become successful in their chosen field.

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    1. I know people are talking about compiling a sort of boycott list of authors who publicly spoke against LendInk. While it's your prerogative to decide not to buy books from those authors, I personally don't condone the retaliation. There are some people taking it too far (I'm not saying you, but there are others out there) and threatening these authors. Not to mention it's just as easy for people to get the facts wrong (or not check them at all) when calling out the people they think helped take down LendInk. This happened to me on Twitter. Someone simply hit "reply all" to a tweet (that was part of a conversation where I was trying explain to someone how LendInk is legit) and included me and someone else in their accusations.

      Eventually it can become the same type of lynch mob mentality that was responsible for this fiasco to begin with. And none of us knows what personal amends anyone may have made, and who are we really to judge whether that's good enough? Yes, the people who contributed to the hysteria that took the site down should be ashamed, but beyond that, it's the basic principle that two wrongs don't make a right.

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  2. Mob mentality is a very dangerous thing.

    Mostly, I've avoided talk about pirating. It makes me uncomfortable, but maybe I'd feel differently if my book was out. I don't know though.

    It's hard to know as an author when to speak up and when to shut-up. I do have my opinions on certain issues, but how much do I share? Will people realize that I'm open to being corrected if, let's say, I had participated in this debate and been on the wrong side of the issue? Because just sharing a picture about how to make a sandwich similar to how chik-fil-a does it on my facebook caused a huge argument to occur among several people. It honestly freaked me out because I wasn't expecting people to have that kind of strong reactions and once they did, I ran the other way and have been very careful to avoid mentioning of certain fast food places in any way.

    While I have my own opinion, I hope that I can have readers and fellow author friends with all kinds of different opinions, some of which will be opposite of mine. I don't want anyone to ever think I hate them for having a certain opinion.

    So yea, yelling like this over social media can definitely have its consequences. We all have our stupid moments. I definitely have had some. I'm just very scared of having them over twitter or facebook or something.

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    1. The thought of having a very public OOPS! moment like that is absolutely terrifying! haha. Especially because we know it could damage our professional reputation, which in turn can damage sales.

      It is sort of like politics in a way (ahem, I'm looking at you, Todd Akin lol). Once you make a big public mistake, is there really anything you can say to make it better? Definitely scary stuff.

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  3. JLo,

    Thanks for being a responsible advocate for social media. It's amazing how quickly misinformation spreads, and even more shocking how many people don't do their research before accusing another of wrongdoing.

    You know full well how social media can be used to spread good news, to solicit for good causes (Indies unite for Joshua), and to share useful information.

    This case with Lendink was obviously an example of where SM was used to spread false rumors with not an iota of proof, no fact-checking, no allowance for "innocent before proven guilty." Although these rumors were perpetuated by only a few, it paints indie authors as hysterical and uninformed about their own business.

    Some of these authors continue to be unrepentant even with the facts staring them in the face. Not buying their books is the least of my concerns. These are extremely mean-spirited people who have threatened a business owner and his family, spread false rumors, and feel indignant for how THEY have been treated. It's pathetic behaviour for anyone who has an ounce of intelligence, which leads me to believe these are people from the shallow end of the gene pool. We need to feel sorry for them even if we want to choke sense into them.

    PS. I know for a fact your friend really appreciated you coming to her defense ;) You're ace, JLo

    Great post,

    eden

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    1. I'm happy I was able to defend my friend from the social media idiots... ;-)

      Social media is absolutely a double-edged sword, and many people don't realize that until they get cut.

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  4. Mobs are a scary thing. Over all the shouting, no one ever hears a voice of reason.

    I hope the owner of LendInk will be able to start the site up again. I wonder if those authors realize that they screwed themselves out of potential readers by throwing a fit over people lending their books.

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    1. Looks like he'll have the site back online soon! So that's good. As soon as it's up, I think I'll sign up and find some books to borrow :-)

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  5. Greetings!

    I am hopping over from GUTGAA and started visiting some blogs before the fun begins. Nice to meet you...you have a lovely blog!

    Donna L Martin
    www.donnalmartin.com
    www.donasdays.blogspot.com

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  6. Great article! Reminds me of those Olympian's tweeting racist and inappropriate remarks and then being surprised when they were kicked out of the competition. People can forget how powerful and public words have become.

    Anyway, I also found you on GUTGAA. See ya around.
    ~ Rachel Dillon
    ThroughEndangeredEyes.blogspot.com
    RachelDillon.com

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  7. Over from GUTGAA. Unfortunately (and maybe it's a topic for a blog post) I understand that these things often happen because of competitors starting rumors. SM is good for that, and it's impossible to trace the rumors back.

    Others have started rumors against a person they don't like or a rival. It's sad and sick, but it happens.

    Lauren

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  8. Thanks Donna, Rachel and Lauren! I'm about to draft up my meet and greet post for GUTGAA and I have to start hopping around and visiting blogs. :-)

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  9. We really have to do our research for things on the internet. Legit sites seem fake, fake sites seem legit. It's frustrating at times, but like you said think before you act.

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  10. Thank you for raising awareness! We just created the website socialmedialynchmob dot blogspot dot com and are looking for intelligent articles on the subject. If you agree something has to be done about these developments, come on over and contribute!

    ReplyDelete

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