The “main character of the day” is now as much as part of Twitter’s vernacular as “milkshake duck” and “tarantula dick.” It is common knowledge that, every day, without fail, one person messes up so badly that their mistake is the only thing Twitter can talk about.
I don’t know if Lauren Hough was Twitter’s main character yesterday, but I know that she was Book Twitter’s main character.
Now, Book Twitter drama, fascinating though it always is, rarely reaches beyond the limits of the community itself. But Lauren Hough’s epic fall from grace was so dramatic that I was seeing it all over my timeline yesterday, even from people not in the book community. And I’m not even surprised it got such wide reach. The whole saga was a prime example of a white woman excusing her own problematic behaviour by hiding behind the fact that she’s a woman.
So What Happened?
Lauren Hough is the author of a collection of personal essays titled Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing, which was published on April 13th of this year. I will state right off the bat that I have not read this book, and, like many people who watched this situation unfold, I had not heard of Lauren Hough until this controversy. I will not be passing judgement on her book or on her as a person, because neither of those things are relevant to this particular event.
Lauren Hough’s troubles began on April 16th, when she tweeted this:
Alright. So. A bit of context for anyone who might be confused. This is a screenshot from Goodreads, which is a website where users can track their reading, rate and review books, and comment on each other’s reviews. Goodreads doesn’t allow half star ratings, which is something a lot of users have been annoyed about for a long time. Because of this, it’s quite common for people to, say, rate a book 4 stars, and then clarify in the review that they actually meant 4.5 stars. This is kind of annoying, because every user’s rating goes toward the book’s average rating, so if everyone is giving a book 4.5 stars but entering it as 4 stars, the average rating of the book will only be informed by those 4 star ratings. This problem is compounded by the fact that everyone on the website has different criteria when rating books. For some, every good book gets 5 stars; for others, a book has to be life-changing to deserve a full 5 stars. From an author’s perspective, this is probably really frustrating, because it means that the book’s rating doesn’t reflect its quality. Since a lot of people get their book recommendations from Goodreads, this could affect sales.
In this tweet, Hough seems to be expressing frustration that some people on Goodreads are giving her book a 4 star rating even though they clearly liked it enough to give it 5 stars. That’s a valid thing to be frustrated about. Going though your reviews and publicly mocking people for engaging in extremely normal behaviour is, however, a very bad look.
Reviews are for readers – not creators – so when authors go on Goodreads to look through and comment on the reviews of their book, it puts a lot of reviewers in a really uncomfortable position. I’ve written a few bad reviews in my day, and it’s awkward, especially if you think there’s a chance that someone involved in creating the thing you’re reviewing might read it. Bad reviews aren’t personal attacks. They’re just there so that anyone still on the fence about reading a certain book or watching a certain movie can see if it’s worth their time or not. We don’t want the authors reading these reviews, and we definitely don’t want the threat of public shaming hanging over us.
I doubt that Lauren Hough wanted these reviewers to get hate – it’s actually pretty hard to track down individual Goodreads users from a screenshot like that – but it’s still super inappropriate and unprofessional of her to seek out random people and mock them on her Twitter account, especially when those people were literally saying nice things about her book, and most likely didn’t want her to see their comments.
I think what really rubbed people the wrong way about this tweet thread, though, was the underlying sense of entitlement. What makes this author think people owe her a five star review? Why is she acting like 4 and 4.5 star reviews are personal attacks? Her book was doing great.
Now, in some other communities on the internet, this type of behaviour might have prompted a few hours of discussion and then been forgotten. It’s unprofessional behaviour, but it’s not that big of a deal. This is Book Twitter, though, and there’s nothing Book Twitter loves more than a good harassment campaign.
It’s like the masses saw Lauren Hough complaining about being targeted by a hate mob, and decided to show her what a real hate mob actually looked like. Her name was soon trending. Her mentions were full of vitriol. Readers took to goodreads en masse to spam her book with 1-star reviews.
Now, just to be clear: this is a thing that Book Twitter does all the time, and it’s not okay. Hough made some very bad tweets, and she should have been condemned for that, but the gleeful mocking, the personal digs, the joy people seemed to take in leaving nasty reviews on her Goodreads, were all completely inappropriate. No one deserves to receive that kind of hate. Also, spamming a book with 1-star reviews without reading it just because you have personal issues with the author is not cool.
With that said, I don’t think Lauren Hough could have possibly responded to this situation in a worse way. Right as things were starting to die down, she took to Twitter to… clap back at her haters?
Oh, and this too:
What we should take from this
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think Lauren Hough deserved the amount of hate she got from that initial tweet. I also, honestly, don’t blame her for lashing out at the people going after her. Twitter harassment campaigns are awful. We can’t expect everyone to react to them with grace. Also, even though Hough was wrong to compare this to sexual assault, she was right to call people out for victim blaming.
However, I also think this a great example of how white cis women are able to get away with a lot that other women can’t, even while acting like victims. If a Black woman had gone on a rant like that, she probably would have been dropped by her publisher, or at least had a hard time getting another book published. But Lauren Hough can mock reviewers, insult people on Twitter, and compare negative reviews to rape, all the while saying that her book deserves to be read in classrooms, and act like she’s the victim because she’s a woman. It shows a total lack of self-awareness.
Book Twitter can be awful and vicious, and I certainly have my own issues with the community. But they were right to call out this type of behavior. Reviews are for readers, not authors. Putting reviewers on blast like this is never okay, and just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you don’t also hold systemic power.