That's Not What I Meant! - Deborah Tannen image

Reposted by the author's request, this review was originally written by Manny Rayner:

The review below was deleted by Goodreads, along with two others. I received the following message:

Re: [#104307] Deleted Reviews
To Me
Oct 11 at 8:41 PM
Hello Manny,

Your reviews of the following books were recently flagged by Goodreads members as potentially off-topic:

That's Not What I Meant!
Civil Disobedience and Other Essays (Collected Essays)
The Hydra

As the reviews are not about the books in question, they have been removed from the site. You can find the text of the reviews attached for your personal records.

Please note that if you continue to post content like this, your account may come under review for removal.

The Goodreads Team
In accordance with the hydra principle, I am now reposting it. Maybe Goodreads will indeed retaliate by removing my account. If so, it's been nice knowing you all!

Much as I enjoy childishly flinging dung at the other guys, I wondered whether it might not also be interesting to try and approach the current Goodreads mini-crisis in a constructive way. I don't actually know what's going on, and of course it may be the case that the Goodreads management are taking orders from Amazon, STGRB and our lizard overlords. But let's just for a moment consider the possibility that this could be a breakdown in communication between two essentially well-meaning parties with reasonable goals.

On that admittedly far-fetched hypothesis, one might argue that the Goodreads management basically want not much more than to reserve the right to delete posts which are genuinely dangerous: rape threats, extreme cyberbullying, and similar. The enraged reviewers, similarly, don't want much more than to know that their posts will not be arbitrarily deleted without warning. If this is really what's going on, it's conceivable that we might reach a compromise satisfactory to both sides.

If the Goodreads management only want to be able to remove dangerous posts, it seems to me that they have chosen a poor way to implement their strategy. The current rules, as stated in the Terms of Use, make no sense. In particular, according to Article 2, users must agree to absurd conditions, like - clause (i) - "not posting User Content that may create a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement, or physical or mental illness to you, to any other person, or to any animal". Virtually any content I post will create some risk of causing emotional distress to someone, so it is impossible for me to comply with this rule. The Goodreads management are indeed within their rights if they want to remove content, but they have achieved that end by creating a situation in which virtually everyone is arguably breaking the rules. They have now exacerbated the situation by creating new rules defining content which will be deleted immediately and without warning. The new rules make even less sense than the old ones, and are not being applied systematically. This is surely not a good solution.

As several people have already pointed out, a more honest and straightforward way to write the ToU would be for Goodreads simply to say that they reserve the right, at their discretion, to remove any content, in particular content which they reasonably consider may cause physical, emotional or economic injury to another member of the site. In order to protect the expectation on the part of members that content will not be arbitrarily deleted, they would in addition pledge, except in extraordinary circumstances, not to remove content without giving users adequate warning and an explanation. This was until very recently the de facto policy, and it seemed to work well. It was not however part of the formal rules.

We have plenty of lawyers among our reviewers. I wonder if someone with the necessary skills could draft a couple of paragraphs intended to replace the current Article 2 with something along the basic lines of the above, so that we had a concrete alternative to discuss. My guess is that it wouldn't need to be very long or complicated. If it were done in a sensible and timely fashion, there might be a chance of reaching an amicable solution before people start leaving in earnest.

Or of course we could just continue as we are now. Destruction is also beautiful and satisfying in its way.