Would You Speak Like This if You Were In Front of Them?

Cave_troll_as_corporate_bullyWhy is it that, so often,  the Internet turns people into abusive dickheads? I’ve been wondering this for a while now. I mean I get that with the veil of “anonymity” some of the worst tendencies in people come to the forefront. I believe this is known as disinhibition, but I think back to the day of the Roman Forum, where, if you wanted to pontificate on a topic, you had to be present as did your detractors.

I am firmly of the belief that, as it relates to discourse, the Internet has been an epic fail. The rules of rhetoric are disregarded and people’s first reaction is to go to the ad hominem attack. We even have new words for this – trolling.

Where is all this coming from? I was reading a post – found originally on the Passive Voice which I read daily –  entitled Refunds for Amazon Ebook Sales, Should You Be Worried by Lindsey Buroker.

In the comments, one T.O. states that she (I don’t know if she’s female, but I’m defaulting that pronoun) is now banned from returning Kindle books because she has a 60% return rate which exceeds their threshold. She wrote a comment letter in response to this. Now, for the record, I don’t return books. Period. If I’m unhappy with a book I either delete the electronic book or I donate the hard copy to a library. Why don’t I return the books? Because that comes directly out of the author’s paycheck. Every book of mine that is returned by the user is deducted from my royalties. I only get paid for what is sold minus any returns. Hence, I don’t personally return books. However, that is my choice and returning books is T.O’s (though my personal advice to her would be to utilize her local library, most of which allow for Kindle book downloads now).

What was so disheartening is how many commenters immediately began calling T.O. a “thief”, a “manipulator” of the system, a “freeloader”, etc. Now, whether you believe this or not is irrelevant, why can’t we just stick to the topic at hand and discuss the merits or lack thereof regarding returning books and Amazon’s policies? That is the topic under discussion, not T.O’s.


I apologize for the rant, I’m just sick and tired of how poorly we treat each other these days.

For the record, Harvard has provided a great summary of the rules of rhetoric as well as a discussion of the logical fallacies. I highly suggest more people get back to sticking to the rules of productive argument.

UPDATED: To reflect that commenter T.O., not Ms. Buroker, had the 60% return rate.

19 thoughts on “Would You Speak Like This if You Were In Front of Them?

  1. Some did discuss the issue rather than the person, but I wanted to point out that Ms. Buroker was not the offending party. It was an anonymous commenter, T.O., on Ms. Buroker’s blog post about the problem of serial returners.

  2. You’ve got your facts wrong. You wrote: “Ms. Buroker is now banned from returning Kindle books because she has a 60% return rate which exceeds their threshold. She wrote a comment letter in response to this.” That is incorrect. It was a commenter on Buroker’s blog who has a 60% returns rate.

  3. Dearest Elene,
    I personally agree with donation. I had weeded out our little library of books. The ones that we no longer wanted or that were out dated (pharmacology, nursing) I donated to our local library. It felt so good to know that someone may benefit from them.
    I believe the practice of purchasing for use and then returning is in such poor taste. If you can’t afford the purchase wait until you can. I honestly would like to believe that those whom have no knowledge in publishing, don’t understand that when they return the publication that it takes money away from the Author. Maybe I’m being naive. Okay I’ll step off my box now.
    Have a Fantastic Thanksgiving Holiday.
    Your Friend,
    Anastasia 😊

    • Anastasia – I’m inclined to agree, I seriously doubt people realize that returns come out of our pockets. It doesn’t work that way in most retail situations – the exception being commission based sales. But, when you return a book to the Barnes & Noble, the cashier who sold you the book is unaffected – their salary remains the same. This is not true of the author, however, who just lost that royalty percentage on that book.

      In addition, it takes an entire year for many of us to even get paid on paperbacks, just so that the publisher can account for the returns.



  4. Hi, there, Elene. How are you?

    I agree. I find it sad that such a large percentage of people who post, even on the most frivolous of articles, post in the negative. But, I suppose, what we are seeing, is people, who want to say SOMETHING, doing so.

    And they’ve fallen into this bad habit.

    I’ve been on the internet since 1997. Perhaps, I steer away from certain kinds of popular exchange, but yes, in recent times, I, too, have seen too much of this kind of negative graffiti; it puts me off commenting, in general.

    And yet, inside of me, in this tiny little way, I want to believe the internet is here so we can communicate honestly with one another; and I’ve had my moments, in years gone by, but I’m gonna stick with that idea.

    Nice to meet you.

    Thanks for the post.


    • Hello Heather … nice to meet you as well. I’m sure that there are plenty of nice people on line, I’d like to think that we are at least two of them 🙂

      All joking aside, I’ve met lots and lots of wonderful and polite people online. Communities like Black Box Warnings prove this. I too have been online since the 90s and it saddens me to see the state of human discourse today.

      I hold out hope though!

      All the best,


  5. I think an additional factor in the exaggerated bile spat out on the web is the time factor: most of us type more slowly than we can talk which, added to the ability to edit our words before spewing them forth, gives us the opportunity to refine them. (In conversation I know I am less eloquent and my cutting wit is far less honed than online.) The result is bitterness becomes more bitter, just as adulation becomes more stratospheric. One extreme is seen as negative, the other positive.
    Just my twa penneth.

    • AM – I agree with you in principle. I’ve often had something I’ve written taken out of context or in a different manner than I intended. However, it’s hard to mistake calling someone a thief or a freeloader.

      Wit is something that can be very subtle and must be used judiciously in a written format. Even colloquialism can get you in trouble. I recently got trolled on a site because I used a colloquialism and was taken out of context.

      So, while I do agree when a statement could be taken in several ways. Outright insult is pretty clear.

      Happy holidays, AM!

    • If I thought you were being one, hell yes. I never write anything I’m not willing to say in person which is exactly why I have an issue with people who do. If you won’t say it in person, don’t say it online.

      Marie – checking back, I’m guessing you’re the person who said that TO was flawed and a freeloader. If that wasn’t you, then please disregard the rest of this.

      However, on the assumption that it is you, in particular this statement “You seem to be the type of person who gets off on manipulating the system in order to get free stuff. You, my friend, are a free-loader. No one likes a free-loader. Remember that.”

      Where is your evidence for this? Prove she likes to manipulate systems in her life rather than in this one instance. Prove to a reasonable satisfaction that she freeloads in her life and is weak in character. You cannot do it with the information provided.

      TO stated that her main entertainment is books and therefore she returns anything not satisfactory to her. Given this one area in their life, how do you determine she’s a free loader. She might give all her extra money to feed the poor. She might donate her time to animal shelters. You HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF THIS PERSON’S CHARACTER based on one statement about returning books.

      For the record, I felt others were more abusive than you. However, your statement was presumptive and off topic. You have no idea who TO is as a person or how they conduct their life. You stepped outside of the rules of productive argument and went to an ad hominem attack on TO rather than prepare a cogent argument on why Amazon’s policy was a reasonable one and should be enforced.

      Again for the record, I agree with Amazon’s policy. Use a local library if you cannot afford books. You’ll be helping maintain a valuable community resource and the livelihoods of people who work there.

      If I were in front of you, I’d say that you’d gain more respect if you prepared a compelling argument with valid proof for your statements and that I cannot take you seriously when the only thing you do is attack a person’s character while lacking enough evidence to make that judgment.


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