What to think of a person promoting their book in a dishonest way?
January 26, 2013 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I caught someone I knew promoting their book in a dishonest way. How to react?

There is someone in my life who once did something sneaky and underhanded to me. I never forgot this, but I had learned a number of things about this person that made me think he might actually be a good person who had made a mistake. I had been wondering whether I should forgive him. Every good thing I learned about him made me feel a little less distrustful.

Well, this person has written a book, and I just caught him promoting his book in a sneaky way! He's going on message boards and pretending to be a reader who found this book helpful. I am 100% positive it's him; he has one username he uses for everything, it's very unusual, and he's using it to post these fake reader messages. Stupid of him.

There are just two of these, so I can hope that it was a momentary weakness. More probable is that he's done this hundreds of times but was only dumb enough to use his normal login twice.

Well, I am horrified. I guess sneakiness will out. Before this happened I had a long list of reasons why it would really be better if we made up. Now, I am very doubtful. How would you guys feel if someone you knew had done this?

(The messages are years old and he's not active on that board now, so I don't think I need to inform the message board operator that he's scamming them.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total)
How much is he in your life now? If not much, then why does it matter? It sounds as if you are already more or less estranged.
posted by michellenoel at 6:13 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

This happened years ago? Flag it and move on, except don't bother flagging it. Odds are he's spending more time and effort on these fake reviews than the book is making him.

Don't let this guy rent space in your head for free.
posted by Etrigan at 6:17 PM on January 26, 2013 [12 favorites]

I would try to care less about this, and him, frankly. A lot less.
posted by sm1tten at 6:18 PM on January 26, 2013 [18 favorites]

Before this happened I had a long list of reasons why it would really be better if we made up. Now, I am very doubtful.

Doubt means don't. He did something sneaky to you once, then you caught him doing something dishonest online. What more do you need? It sounds like your gut is telling you he's not trustworthy, so I'd just stay away from this person.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:29 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

How would you guys feel if someone you knew had done this?

I'd be like, "baller move, Deceiver!"
posted by Greg Nog at 6:29 PM on January 26, 2013 [10 favorites]

How does it matter in your life that this is happening?

It's not against any laws.

It's probably not hurting anyone except for maybe the mods of those forums who may have to deal with Pepsi Blue viral marketing fallout.

It doesn't sound like you're that close to this person or that his authorship of a book really has anything to do with you. If you were his agent or his editor or the co-author of the book, it would be one thing, but it sounds based on what you've written that this is just some person you know and already dislike/distrust.

I guess just keep on disliking this guy and move on?
posted by Sara C. at 6:37 PM on January 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Chalk it up as a lesson learned and score one for your gut feeling that this guy is not worth your time/is sketchy.

And I wouldn't waste any time stressing about how to catch him in his lies or anything. In this day and age I feel like tons of amateur authors pull shenanigans like this, not to mention tons of businesses doing it for their products on various websites, particularly Amazon. It's almost expected at this point and the actually cautious consumer wouldn't blindly believe an online testimonial like that without fact-checking further any more so than they would believe that all you need to know about the book you can find out by reading the dust jacket...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:39 PM on January 26, 2013

It's not against any laws.

It's arguably fraud, but I doubt he would ever be charged.
posted by grouse at 6:40 PM on January 26, 2013

Mod note: From the OP:
I should have explained better - lately I have been missing him and wishing our friendship could be restored. If I could convince myself he wasn't so bad and had just made a mistake, then we could be friends again. I really valued the friendship and the only two bad things I know about him are 1) sneaky thing that made me end the friendship, which might have been a misunderstanding and 2) creepy fake book promotion.

I guess what I want to know is, can you imagine a person who would promote his book like this being anything other than a total creepster? Because I'd like to think so, but man what a lame thing to do.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:45 PM on January 26, 2013

I wouldn't describe someone who engages in this behavior as a "total creepster" but it is dishonest, and I think you should listen to your suspicions rather than trying to convince yourself that they are baseless. You know they aren't baseless.
posted by grouse at 6:48 PM on January 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

lately I have been missing him and wishing our friendship could be restored.

Your "friendship" cannot be restored because a friend is someone you trust and rely on and feel at ease with. However, you can have a relationship with this person on your own terms if you accept them for the imperfect person they are and don't expect those imperfections to change. Even a good person who made a mistake will do what he can to create a positive buzz about something he's put a great deal of effort into. He's not kicking puppies. What harm is done by a sockpuppet saying that his book was helpful? Is his book objectively not helpful?

can you imagine a person who would promote his book like this being anything other than a total creepster?

What in the world is a total creepster? How old are you?
posted by headnsouth at 7:00 PM on January 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

You need to let this go and get over him. Stop wanting to manage his behavior from afar as a way to somehow reconcile what he did to you then with what he does now.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:02 PM on January 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Go with your gut. If you have to ask strangers on the Internet "should I be friends with this guy?" then you already know the answer and are just looking for validation.

I validate you. Forget about reconciling.
posted by Etrigan at 7:04 PM on January 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Soooo many people do this astroturfing for their books (including distinguished scholars like Orlando Figes) that that particular bit of fraud I might write off as a common authorial madness. There are "guerrilla marketing" books that flat-out tell people, in so many words, to do it.

Now, sure, if some marketeer's book told you to jump off a cliff...but in this at least your former friend is far from alone.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:05 PM on January 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't think anything other than "this person is not at peace with himself, and that leads him to be dishonest with others." And I would not be friends with him. Not saying he's a villain, he's probably really sympathetic, but the best thing I've learned growing up is it's good practice to not put to limit emotional involvement with people that let their faults hurt or mislead other people.

In other words, he doesn't need to have done anything egregious to not be worth the trouble, and you don't have to convince yourself you don't like anything about him to know it's for the best that you not place your faith and goodwill in him ever again. Even if he had never pulled this book lie, you'd have been perfectly justifed in setting the boundary of "I do not hang out with people who do [deceitful thing] to me, regardless of the motivation or extenuating circumstances." That's a pretty normal boundary.

I myself have a broad boundary of not tolerating malicious behavior no matter what state of mind the other person is in (maybe short of psychotic break). I've been friends with a lot of wonderful depressed people, and a fraction of them lash out when depressed while the rest never lash out. I let people know my boundary ahead of time if there are strong emotions at hand (e.g. talking about their feelings) and I have had to cut off contact with only four or so because they ran up against that boundary. All of them had wonderful qualities and I had a good understanding of why they lashed out, but I do not tolerate malicious behavior. I still miss them and wish them well but my life has been much better since setting that boundary.

You get to decide that people who aren't evil aren't good for you.
posted by Nattie at 7:10 PM on January 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

A friend is someone you trust. This guy is dishonest. You don't trust him. So, he's not your friend.

Forget about him, and find something more productive to do than wonder about could-haves and should-haves. Like Etrigan said, don't let this guy take up your head-space. Find someone better to waste time thinking about.
posted by krakus at 7:13 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I get it: He deceived you, you got over it and became nostalgic, and now you've found out he's still a deciever and think he deserves revenge not only for what he did before, but for disappointing you when you were about to try and get things good with him. Shilling a book is no crime, let sleeping dogs lie and move on. "Living well is the best revenge."
posted by rhizome at 7:15 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I guess what I want to know is, can you imagine a person who would promote his book like this being anything other than a total creepster? Because I'd like to think so, but man what a lame thing to do.

This falls pretty low on the list of "creepy behaviors". On MeFi, doing something like this is (rightfully) considered to be THE SIN that would get you publicly named-and-shamed before being banned.

For the rest of the online world, this is more under the category of the sort of thing expected of annoying/not-as-clever-as-they-think-they-are people that goes on every now and then.

I would place this friend into he category of, "guy that I like but has some irritating habits."
posted by deanc at 7:23 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You know what? Most books flop. The stakes are too low to worry about.
posted by steinsaltz at 7:29 PM on January 26, 2013

The message board postings are skeezy, but not that big a deal. You don't seem to trust this person, so I don't think rebuilding your relationship makes sense. Consider forgiving him and moving on, but for your sake not because it is what he deserves.
posted by Area Man at 7:34 PM on January 26, 2013

This was from years ago? I happen to think people can and do change. If you want him back in your life, contact him and ask him about it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:57 PM on January 26, 2013

Are you planning on sleeping with him or something? I might be friends with a person like this, but I would probably limit my emotional (and financial!) attachment.
posted by anaelith at 9:38 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, I am horrified.

Your strangely strong reaction to this is the problem? "Horrified", for grade-C dishonesty that isn't directed at you?

Just chill out and disengage. It's not your problem, don't make it yours.
posted by spaltavian at 9:46 PM on January 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Did he ever apologize for the thing he did to you? If he's never owned up to it then additional evidence of him being dishonest would be a major red flag. I'd probably decide I didn't have time for the drama he was likely to bring into my life and not reconnect.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:51 PM on January 26, 2013

I think that morality tests are not a great thing for friends who haven't murdered someone or committed some sort of awful crime. Hang out with him if you enjoy his company, and if you don't think you can hang out with him without bringing up his moral failings, don't.

You are not perfect and have almost certainly done less-than-completely-moral things at some point in your life. You are likely certain you had good reason, or you were certain at the time. Let people be people. They're a messy and weird creature but you've got to take them as they are.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:16 PM on January 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

I cant see a lot wrong with what he did on this message board. Hell I'd do the same!

Forget him or not but don't make his business part of yours... It isn't.
posted by aqueousdan at 11:07 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe in your morality, lying to people is an unforgivable sin, but in mine, it's pretty OK just as long as you're honest with the people whom you respect. Personally, I wouldn't care at all if I caught a friend lying to the rabble as long as I knew they were always completely honest with me.

My point is simply that different people have different ethical standards and if you have decided you can't bear your friend's moral system in this regards, that sounds more like close-minded intolerance on your part rather than a flaw on his. Your ethics do not supercede other people's, except in determining whether you want to be their friend or not. I recommend simply cutting contact. If you attempt to sabotage his career simply because your ethical standards are different from his and shilling a book is unacceptable to you, then he would be well within his rights to retaliate. It doesn't seem worth it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:28 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I find your question and the answers its gotten so far absolutely fascinating, I would have never thought that AskMetafilter would be capable of providing so many rationalizations for spamming, something that would strike right at the heart of this community. I don't think there is a proper answer for it that doesn't include link to these two lectures discussing the scientific research that addresses it.
Free Beer: The Truth About Dishonesty (28:46)
The Truth About Dishonesty (11:08) a smaller condensing of the lecture that has been beautifully animated
So long as this wasn't reddit he was spamming, where apparently they generally don't care about this sort of thing, you're friend did a shitty thing. I think its a really shitty thing, though as it turns in this thread, out one's miles may vary. What he did was steal from the commons, not exactly anything tangible, but something very real; an ability to trust that the reviews in the communities he spammed are genuine and from otherwise disinterested observers. He is clearly doing it expecting not to get caught, knowing that it is a shitty thing to take advantage of these communities, and presumably you haven't found him owning up to it on any of them. Ultimately friendships should be grounded in genuine solid trust, and that your friend was so willing to abuse the trust of others, is really good grounds to call into question that trust. If you can't find a reasonable way, some at least valid-ish rationalization, to see this guy as generally 'good' and 'trustworthy' than I would strongly recommend unilaterally letting the friendship go.

As far as I can tell you are asking for both rationalizations for your friend's behavior and advice as to whether you should use them. In roughly chronological order this is what I see the the thread as having come up with so far:
  • This happened years ago. As far as rationalizations for shitty behavior go this is not a bad one, we've all done shitty things and it would be silly for all of us to be haunted by all of them forever.
  • "It's not against any laws." This is a really common rationalization for shitty behavior but I think is a pretty bad one, especially on moral issues between friends. There are all kinds of profoundly shitty things that the law does not address.
  • "It's probably not hurting anyone except for maybe the mods of those forums who may have to deal with Pepsi Blue viral marketing fallout."/"The stakes are too low to worry about." While it is true that there probably wan't much meaningful harm, what harm there was is roughly proportional to what ever gain your old friend received. I think however that the magnitude of harm isn't really the point anyway, if you saw a friend stealing candy from the checkout isle of a grocery store wouldn't you be less likely to invite them to your house despite the minuscule harm you saw them cause?
  • Everyone is doing it. This is a non-intuitively complicated rationalization to unpack, but I think it is ultimately a pretty shitty one. The video I linked above talks about it at length.
  • He did this to other people who are not you/?those people are of lower or dubious class status?/what business is it of yours the shitty things your friends do to others/nothing is true and thus everything is permitted. These kinds of rationalizations frankly scare the shit out of me and there is great wisdom in avoiding the fuck out of anyone who makes them.
  • and I have one to add,
  • Is your old friend maybe not so familiar with the internet or its cultural mores? Removed from familiar cultural context for what things are shitty, we are all pretty stupid when it comes to moral judgements, these sorts of things are pretty complicated to think about and very few of us ever do much in the way of genuine thinking
  • All of this however seems pretty silly considering that your friend already abused your trust much more directly. Hanging out with, and especially sharing real intimacy with, people who are sneaky and underhanded are not worth the risks.
    posted by Blasdelb at 5:03 AM on January 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

    I think it's kind of funny. It wouldn't bother me.
    posted by amodelcitizen at 5:53 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

    I mean, I guess I find it funny because OP has told us it's a helpful book of some type, so I'm imagining this guy pumping up his "How to Hang a Hammock" book or something. What he did is sort of lame, but it isn't creepy, and I certainly would not not be his friend over it.
    posted by amodelcitizen at 5:59 AM on January 27, 2013

    Nobody's perfect. Sounds like his ethical boundaries are a bit sketchy. Like him but don't trust him? Why not? You can tell each other pleasant stories until the cows come home, but do keep an eye on which way his feet are pointing.

    All relationships, including friendships, are qualified: I would trust some folks to drive me to Kansas City, but not to watch my cats while I'm gone. As to whether you should get up in his face about this....I don't see any point. I might change my mind about another situation involving him, though. If I were asked for a character reference I would have to qualify it: nice guy, but he seems to have a fluid ethical base. Others can make up their own minds about whether this sort of self-promotion violates their own ethical boundaries. In his case, his default condition of getting the benifit of the doubt has been modified.

    The parable of the snake applies here. If he decides to bite you, you can tell yourself that you should have known better than to trust him.
    posted by mule98J at 9:53 AM on January 27, 2013

    These kinds of rationalizations frankly scare the shit out of me and there is great wisdom in avoiding the fuck out of anyone who makes them.

    Observe that Blasdelb in no way offered a logical rebuttal of my completely rational point - his above statement simply indicates his own personal abhorrence towards a non-judgemental outlook that he apparently finds undeserving of respect. Considering that what I basically said boiled down to a condemnation of judging people based on one's own ethics (which are highly subjective), such a virulent reaction seems pretty close-minded.

    The most intolerant people in the world are those who believe in imposing their personal subjective morals onto others, and forcing others to live by their ethos. Homophobes, misogynists, conservative religious groups, and violent pro-lifers all live by this same poisonous creed. Do you want to model your outlook from the same source? For all you know, you could have severely violated your friend's ethical views a dozen times so far with regards to how you interact with others, yet he hasn't presumed to judge you for it. What gives you the right to judge him?
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

    The presumption here is that the OP needs permission to judge the dishonest behavior of their former friend. They don't. And getting to the point of the question, the OP certainly needs no one else's permission to decide who should or should not be their friends for any arbitrary reason.
    posted by grouse at 12:28 PM on January 27, 2013

    Personally, I wouldn't care at all if I caught a friend lying to the rabble as long as I knew they were always completely honest with me.

    "A Person Who's Nice to You but Mean to a Waitress Is Not a Nice Person"

    More to the point, the person who treats other people like shit will eventually treat you like shit.

    And by this standard, the guy who dishonestly promotes his book on someone else's website will dishonestly promote his book on YOUR website. Which, when I think about it, I would put in the category of, "minor league annoyance which I would tell him to stop doing," not, "creepster red flag which indicates I must throw this person out of my life."
    posted by deanc at 12:28 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Yes, what deanc said. I don't demand absolute honesty from my friends; astroturfing your own book is to me more like dodging a parking ticket than embezzling funds from charity.

    I don't AstroTurf my projects, and I don't dodge my parking tickets, but I'm sure I do other equally dishonest little things that get to some of my astroturfing and ticket-dodging friends.

    I guess it's fine to insist that all your friends are scrupulously honest in all respects, but for me it would mean a fairly lonely life, and one in which I was too often informed that my ass looks terrible in those jeans.
    posted by Sidhedevil at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

    Well, what do you want to be friends for? Like, to have a quick drink and shoot the shit after work, or to invest in some vacation real estate, or what? I don't hold all my friends to the same standards, and I don't have the same expectations of all of them. That said, some things are deal breakers, like being unkind to waitstaff or shitty to animals. If being deliberately dishonest on a message board is a deal breaker for you, that's fine. I think you need to decide how you feel about this person though, not poll other people who have never met them and have no idea what you mean by "friends" in this context.
    posted by oneirodynia at 1:33 PM on January 27, 2013

    While Blasdelb's points about abuses of the commons and of trust are very valuable and worth considering, I think it's fair to say that most people behave badly at some point in their lives; and furthermore, that everyone is aware of the fact that most people behave badly at some point, and that it's actually wise to distinguish in our moral judgments between, e.g., everyday bad behavior (being rude to someone who doesn't deserve it, littering), less common but more or less acceptable lapses, behavior that's manipulative vs. behavior that's careless, mistakes or bad judgments that are foreseeably dangerous, and other sorts of things like morally problematic patterns, unrepentant wrong-doing, and out-and-out sociopathy.

    So the question really becomes, Do the things you know about this person constitute a pattern of willful deception? If so, I think you'd be better off making friends with people who you can trust. But since you're not sure whether this guy deceived you before or if it was a misunderstanding, and you want to be friends again, you should contact him and find ways to answer the questions you have about his behavior. Most of the respondents in this thread are suggesting that it's not worth the effort, and while I'm inclined to agree, I think that the proper answer to your question is to find out for yourself if your suspicions about this guy's proclivities are correct (over e-mail) and then proceed accordingly. You should not base your trust in personal relationships, even partially, on what some strangers from the internet think makes someone a creepster. If this is at all important to you, you need to find out for yourself if your perceptions are accurate. If you don't want to go to that trouble, then, again, I think it's a good indication that this whole business is a waste of your time and emotional energy.
    posted by clockzero at 2:43 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

    This type of behavior is probably more common than you think. People even pay companies to do fake reviews. It's a big problem.
    posted by Dansaman at 8:00 PM on January 27, 2013

    Mod note: A couple of comments deleted. As always, please don't debate other answers; just address the OP with your advice / suggestions, thanks.
    posted by taz (staff) at 6:46 AM on January 28, 2013

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