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Friday, January 25, 2013

For Michael Jackson Bio, Trying to Even the Score

When Randall Sullivan published his biography of Michael Jackson in November, he said he thought the singer was innocent of child molesting but he could not be absolutely positive. He said that after surgeries and more surgeries, little was left of Mr. Jackson’s nose besides his nostrils. He argued that despite two marriages, Mr. Jackson was probably a virgin when he died.

None of this went over well with Mr. Jackson’s fans, who voiced their displeasure with attacks on “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson” and its author, a longtime contributor to Rolling Stone. Their primary weapon: one-star reviews on Amazon.

Since my article about their campaign appeared in The New York Times on Monday, dozens of people who were apparently outraged by what they saw the fans doing went to Amazon and wrote five-star reviews a a sort of riposte. There are now 142 five-star reviews, up from two dozen a few weeks ago, and 132 one-star reviews, up from about 100.

But the battle is merely joined. After the article appeared, Michael Jackson’s Rapid Response Team to Media Attacks asked via Twitter that people continue to post comments on Amazon. Many of the newly posted positive reviews have critical comments.

The positive reviews are no more believable in their praise than the negative reviews were in their criticism. By this point, the truth about the value of “Untouchable” â€" not to mention the truth about Mr. Jackson’s virginity and nose â€" is buried underneath all these competing claims, which must count as a victory for the book’s opponents. As a result, don’t be surprised if “star bombing,” as it’s been called, keeps on happening.

Amazon has tried to make reviewers more accountable by adding several tools where people can evaluate reviews. But this incident proved that those tools ar! e open to their own manipulation. Take, for instance, an excerpt from this review: “Randall Sullivan is fake, my uncle best friend use to work for the Rolling Stones company and known Randy and the jacksons for years, He use people and lie to them to get ahead and he is not born again.”

That is not a review, that is semi-coherent slander. But Amazon, which said it reviewed all the reviews of “Untouchable,” did not see anything wrong with it, and 53 Jackson fans voted it a “helpful” review, which in theory pushed it to a more prominent position on the page. Apply those votes to dozens of critical reviews and it’s relatively simple for a handful of people to create an apparently massive surge of disapproval.