Kernels of Nonsense, #11: The Kathleen Hale Effect

Kernels of Nonsense (2)Normally I post this feature on Sundays, but since the Internet has simply become abuzz about this and I myself am finding it difficult to ignore my own thoughts on this topic, I decided to post this a few days early.

Most people in the book blogging community have heard of the situation involving author Kathleen Hale and the allegations she’s made against blogger Blythe Harris. After reading a negative review by the blogger Hale became so convinced that Harris was lying about her identity that she felt obliged to drive to her house to prove the blogger was lying. You can find the essay Hale wrote for The Guardian here. A lot of book blogger’s have expressed their disgust and fear of Hale’s subsequent actions after she began to suspect the blogger was not who she appeared to be. There are those who have spoken out in support of Hale, calling her actions brave. They view Harris as an Internet troll who harassed Hale and the author’s actions are thereby justified or, at the very least, understandable.

It is extremely important to note that Hale has given us her version of the story and I’d like to believe that the majority of people out there know there are two more versions: Harris’ and the truth. I’m going to try to not comment too much on the allegations Hale has made of Harris because I really don’t know what went on between the two of them. Hale herself does not give enough information to collaborate her story that she was harassed on Twitter by the blogger. Those who want to defend Hale are basing their defense on hearsay which is never prudent. I don’t have a clear understanding of Harris’ behavior from reading Hale’s article, but I do have a clear understanding of Hale’s behavior and so this is what I will be commenting on. Hale admits to obsessing about this blogger’s review; she admits that she felt the need to talk to her because she couldn’t believe some of the things Harris said about her book; she even admits to spending an absurd amount of time online tracking Harris’ online activity.

After thinking about Hale’s actions, I cannot help but point out that she had a choice in the matter. She had a whole cornucopia of choices and still chose to go forward despite advice from people she knew and common sense in general. Her actions, much like her book, have now been publicized. They are now fair game, so to speak.

It all started when Hale chose to read Harris’ status updates on Goodreads while the blogger read the book, even though most authors are told not to read reviews for their books. Hale chose to read all the comments that followed of people who were then hesitant to pick up the book. This is where is gets interesting because according to Hale herself all Harris had done up to this point is not like her book and may have potentially misunderstood certain passages. Dumbfounded, Hale then chose to hop on over to the STGRB’s website (a site dedicated to fighting bully reviewers by well, bullying them back) where she read that Harris was involved in an online incident involving another blogger. Hale chose then to contact other authors who had received negative reviews from Harris. One author warned her not to “ENGAGE” Harris. Hale chose to ignore this. Hale continued to read the negative reviews left for her book and was surprised to find people tweeting their reviews at her. Because some of these reviews alluded to Harris’ earlier one, Hale chose to blame Harris, convinced she was trying to ruin her.

This next part I take with a grain of salt, but Hale says Harris began mocking her on Twitter. Is this true or not? I don’t know. Hale doesn’t offer any evidence for this claim, but let’s say for the sake of this post that it happened. Hale then chose not to block Harris, but instead to take part in “light stalking” (her words, not mine), perusing Harris’ Instagram and Twitter. At this point Hale is convinced that Harris is out to get her, though I hardly think what Hale presented up to this point in her essay could be constituted as “trolling” behavior on the part of Harris. Hale chose once again to keep track of Harris’ Twitter and “good-naturedly drunk” made a snide remark regarding Harris’ pursuit of a writing career. This resulted in a lot of negative tweets from other people. Please note like I did that Hale doesn’t mention that Harris herself responded. Hale then chose to respond to these tweets.

Hale’s actions do not end here. She continued to read the reviews and comments on Goodreads. I’m going to point out that according to Hale a lot of negative reviews and comments were directed at her from a lot of different people, but for whatever reason she’s remained fixated on Harris. Hale then chose to Google Harris which lead her to believe there were some inconsistencies in Harris’ account of her real life. Now Hale is convinced that Harris may not be the blogger’s real name.

Months pass by and Hale still cannot let go. When a book club requested an interview, Hale chose to bring up Harris’ name as her blogger of choice to do the interview. The book club suggested a giveaway for Hale’s book and Hale agreed, the book club then gave Hale Harris’ address. Here is where things get scary.

Instead of using this information to mail Harris her book for a giveaway, Hale chose to Googlemap the address. She then gets hold of “telephone directory and recent census reports”, discovering that there is no one under the name Harris at the residence. Hale then chose to pay for a background check on the listed occupant of the house (in her essay she calls her Judy). When the information doesn’t line up with what Harris has provided online regarding her personal life, Hale chose to reserve a car months in advance to be used when I assume she is in this particular area. Hale then tried to get Harris to talk to her through video-chat or over the phone under the guise of an author interview. While this is happening, Hale continued to monitor Harris’ Intagram and Judy’s Facebook.

Hale is now fully convinced that Harris is lying about who she is and where she vacations. Despite people cautioning her not to, Hale chose to drive to the address the book club provided months earlier. Hale gives us an account in which she chickens out after she makes it to the door, leaving behind a book she dug up in her car. Hale’s excursion doesn’t end here. She continued to obsess over these two different women who she suspects is really one woman. One friend suggested Hale call the woman and “pretend to be a factchecker.” Hale chose to call this woman at work, questioning her on her identity and where she lived. Hale then chose to contact a publishing house to get confirmation that the address she had was in fact the address it sent books to (this is extremely disturbing to any book blogger who has ever provided a publisher with their home address). Hale then chose to call this woman again in order to uncover whether she was in fact Harris or if Harris had been using her information. Some time after these conversations Harris made her Twitter and Instagram accounts private. Hale can no longer views these accounts, not by her own choice.

What Kathleen Hale did was highly inappropriate and I hope she fully understands that it was wrong. I hope, though I am not optimistic, that she will apologize to Harris. Hale made authors look bad and made every book blogger pause and consider whether or not they have protected themselves enough from this kind of invasion of privacy. Given the tone of Hale’s essay and the support she’s been given, I’m not convinced that she actually regrets what she did save for how it affected her mentally. She never mentions how this might have negatively affected the book blogger. To have someone track you online and show up at your house, which all began because you didn’t like her book, is terrifying. My name may not be Alicia, that picture in the corner may not even be of me. I may be a 56-year-old woman with seven cats and may collect little turtle figurines, but just because I write a negative review of your book doesn’t give you the right to track me down to my home and in no way does it appoint you czar of Internet integrity to out me publicly.

Along the way, Kathleen Hale had a lot of choices. I also have a choice here. I am choosing not to read Hale’s book or any of her future books. That is my choice and I will have to live with its consequences, but Kathleen Hale is going to have to live with hers too.

*A lot of people are going on Goodreads and giving Hale’s book one-star reviews in retaliation. This is neither honest nor appropriate. I choose not to do this because I believe if you rate a book, it should be because you’ve read it. I would also like you to note that this post is about what Hale did, not Harris. I do not have enough information to comment on Harris’ behavior and even if I did, it would not change what Hale did and wrote about in her own essay. I also do not believe that the majority of authors would respond this way to a negative review and I hope this situation doesn’t mar any of their reputations nor book blogger’s.

Other people’s take on the matter that may interest you:

When An Author Stalks You…

Shenanigans in social media – An author brags about stalking a reader

HALE VS HARRIS, AND THE BREACH OF ONLINE ETHICS

On the importance of pseudonymous activity

Author Lauren DeStefano’s response

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18 thoughts on “Kernels of Nonsense, #11: The Kathleen Hale Effect

  1. To me, the whole ordeal is appalling and completely offensive. We (book bloggers and authors) are all suppose to be a community. I see nothing wrong with sharing your personal opinions of said books, but to completely blow off an author and not taking into consideration their hard work is inhumane and inconsiderate. That is not say, that what the author did was justified either. Poor thing, I think she just utterly lost it; pride is a killer.

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    • From what I have seen (I emphasize ‘have seen’ here because I will not condemn this blogger based on hearsay), Harris never blew off the author. She was very honest in her status updates and was disgusted with the way some of the topics in the book were being handled. I would like to believe that Hale’s essay was an admission of wrongdoing and she regrets her actions, but the fact that she revealed who the blogger was makes me believe she wanted everyone to know, which is the opposite of remorse.

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    • I have no doubt many other things will come to light as I believe as honest as Hale was in her piece, I’m sure there are a few things she left out. Like you’ve said before, I would really like to hear The Guardian address this issue as well as the publisher. Thank you for the link.

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  2. Exactly. A negative review is still an opinion which is meant to be respected during a review of a book, and it was completely unprofessional, and possibly illegal for her to react in the way she did. Harris, for all she knew, could have been an underage minor, or someone who is considered vulnerable for a variety of reasons, and what she did was stalking, which is illegal, and should never have been allowed. It baffles me that the article was even published in the guardian and none of them picked up on this and the fact Hale’s behaviour and actions are very disturbing.

    Like you say though, I would not go onto her book and rate it 1 star, and slam the author in the comments, because the author’s behavior in this incident is unrelated to her actual book. I get people are doing it to raise awareness of what she did, but there are other ways and means. An eye for an eye makes everyone blind.

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    • I do wonder that if Hale discovered Harris was some fourteen-year-old girl, would she have still written this essay. I feel that a lot of people are viewing Hale’s actions as innocuous because of the way she presented it, but most aren’t considering the other party who we haven’t heard from and who is in all likelihood scared. Who wouldn’t be? And though it’s wonderful that bloggers are rallying behind Harris, sometimes people can be overly aggressive when what we need now is levelheadedness.

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    • Interestingly too, Goodreads, as owned by Amazon (I’m sure we all know that now?), have removed Hale as a Goodread Author. Her profile is still there, but she can no longer log in and comment. At least SOMEONE has had some sense. I have gone in and left a comment on the book – to raise awareness of what happened and put across a slightly more “honest” portrayal perhaps? Seeing as Hale has conveniently left many facts out. I completely see where you both are coming from though, and respect it. But I chose to comment. I had rated it, but only because I was under the impression you had to rate to comment. Since I’ve found out you don’t, I’ve removed the rating, but kept the comment. I don’t think this should be forgotten quickly. Also, Hale has commented on the scandal, but it wasn’t at all apologetic – have you seen it?

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  3. Can you imagine the chaos if everyone tried to track down and personally confront every person they’d ever had a negative interaction with on the Internet?

    Hale’s actions were wrong. It’s as simple as that. And if she isn’t going to face any sort of consequences for that — either from Goodreads, her publisher, or law enforcement — then it’s understandable that people are going to try to spread the word about her. If there weren’t all those one-star reviews on Goodreads, how many people would know what Hale did (assuming they hadn’t seen the story on book blogs)? Until Goodreads implements some sort of system to warn readers about authors who behave badly (or, like in this case, authors who admit to stalking their readers!), the one-star rating is going to be used and abused. I certainly don’t want to support such authors; at the moment, the only way to avoid them is to rely on those one-star ratings from other reviewers.

    I get it: a bad review might sting. A few bad reviews might sting even more. But even with all of this going on, you know what the most common rating for Hale’s book is? Four stars. Reader tastes vary. There are obviously a lot of people who liked her book. If she really wanted to read reviews of her book, she could have had her pick of the 581 four-star reviews or the 361 five-star reviews. Instead, she fixated on one bad review and outed herself as a stalker.

    I wonder if she thinks it was worth it.

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    • I do find it extremely ironic that Hale was so fixated on Harris’ review because she believed it was negatively affecting the way other people were viewing her book and now its by Hale’s own omission of her own actions that more people are viewing her book in a negative way. I don’t believe one-star reviews are the only way to spread the word about Hale’s behavior or the best as the book blogging community that includes readers, authors, and bloggers is pretty small. We have our blogs, twitter, facebook, and any other number of social networks we use to connect with other readers. Goodreads is a place most readers have a presence, but as I’ve seen many people do, you can comment on the incident without rating the book. There are a lot of things from Hale’s essay that I do not understand, like how she focused only on a single reviewer and like you said it would have been better to focus on the positive reviews she was receiving.

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