55

Back in 2018, my CEO wrote a book. I usually don't read these kind of memoir/non-fiction books, but I figure it would be interesting to get insight into the mind of someone I've been working under for the past 5 years.

The book was bad. And I mean REALLY bad. Everything about it. It somehow managed to be pretentious, boring, and confusing at the same time. There were typos all over the place. I had to re-read a paragraph several times just to understand what they were trying to say. In one particularly irritating section, he spent pages bragging about how he is so young and how he'd be able to continue running the company for another 40 years. He brags about how he's cheated the tax system for years. He jokes about personal affairs he's had and how he's destroyed the lives of other people.

(I only tell you this to emphasize how annoying this book was. I can guarantee you that nobody here has read it nor would be familiar with who he is).

Using a different name, I wrote a review on Amazon. I gave the book 2/5 stars (which I thought was EXTREMELY generous). I wrote a few comments on what I thought the flaws of the book were. This book wasn't exactly a best seller, and there were just 3 reviews.

Last week (almost a year after I wrote this review), we got an e-mail saying that the company got wind of bad Amazon reviews of the CEOs book. They warned us very sternly that keeping a positive image of the company is important. Just to avoid any trouble, I immediately removed my negative review.

This morning, I got a meeting invite with an SVP (somebody who probably makes 15x my salary) for tomorrow. The subject of the invite says "Discuss Amazon Reviews". I looked it up, and this SVP reports directly to the CEO.

Now I'm starting to freak out. I didn't think they could trace that bad review back to me, but I guess they must have been able to. What's done has been done, but what can I do now? What is the best thing to say or not say in this meeting? Should I be worried about getting fired?

Edit - 10/14

SVP didn't want to fire me. Now I'm freaking out for other reasons.

The SVP brought me in and told me everything was fine. He said that he read my review and he completely agreed with it. He then told me that the CEO is "even worse in person" than his book made him seem.

He asked me if I wanted to join a meeting with a group of like minded colleagues, who weren't afraid to speak out against unethical behavior. I asked him what the group does, and he said it's fairly confidential and he couldn't share specifics with me at the moment. But he promised me it would definitely be worth my time. I told him I'd have to think about it.

Also, to answer a question, he figured out it was me that wrote the review because my Amazon screen name was the same I had used on an obscure forum, which had my e-mail buried in one of the posts from years ago. Stupid on my part, I know. It's definitely possible that somebody else could have figured it out, but it must have took some digging and I haven't heard anything from anybody else.

  • 50
    This is above my pay grade, but it's ironic how they're concerned about keeping a positive image of their company if he truly wrote about cheating and destroying people's lives. – John Oct 11 at 3:42
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    Was the invite to only you? – user109832 Oct 11 at 4:08
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    Did you write the review while on a work computer? If so, it might have been captured in network logs that would tie it back to you. If would be crazy for them to monitor something like that, but they sound a little crazy. If they have network logs there isn't much point in trying to evade the fact. – Charles E. Grant Oct 11 at 4:40
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    They still may not know it was you... there could be a bunch of other one-on-one meetings - and management are just on a fishing expedition (the fact that their previous global email elicited a reaction - the removal of one or more bad reviews - probably told them that someone in the company was responsible for some of the bad reviews - just not who). That said - if confronted, I'm not sure you should/could bluff it out. – HorusKol Oct 11 at 4:43
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    Dis you have the meeting yet? What happened? Please let us know. Thank you – Mawg says reinstate Monica Oct 14 at 13:02
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They sent a blast email to all employees and then one of the not-fresh reviews disappeared, it is not a major leap to realize that one of the employees from the mailing list wrote it.

Perhaps they have proof that you specifically wrote the review, but it is more likely that they are sweating everyone. If you can find another coworker invited to such a meeting you can assume the latter. You can just assume the latter anyways. If they are just fishing for confessions it might be prudent to just hold on to yours.

In either case the review is gone now. They may be hoping--considering the lack of general appeal--that all of the reviews are from employees who will remove them.

EDIT: It seems like your review wasn't actually that anonymous in the first place, and you have been invited to a secret CEO subversion club. Usually the recruiting for secret clubs is... secret. Your identity could have been known before the public ordeal, but you have only been invited after it. Hard pass. Remaining quiet may be a loyalty test failure as well...

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    +1 for this one. This is the obvious answer; they sent an e-mail that said "no bad reviews" and immediately a bad review disappeared. Obviously must be someone from the company! It's very unlikely they can actually prove YOU wrote the review unless this is a small company and you're the only one that ever accessed Amazon that day. – Baron Oct 11 at 13:01
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    @Baron or if OP used a company machine and they trace network traffic or even have logging on each machine enabled. It all depends on how crazy they are and they sound quite a bit crazy. – Frank Hopkins Oct 12 at 15:14
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    @FrankHopkins There may be easier ways than that-- deductive logic can accomplish a lot, and the lack of attention to the book makes the OP's review (and activity around it) a lot easier to isolate. I agree that it's unlikely that they know it was the OP, but it's not the case that the only way the company could suspect them is through constant, intense monitoring. The OP didn't exactly play this like Jason Bourne, and the company doesn't need courtroom-level evidence to respond unpleasantly. – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Oct 14 at 15:03
19

EDIT: I changed the structure of the answer a little, as a follow-up from the comments.


Be aware that your bosses might actually NOT know that the review was yours. Do not talk too much too early.

Also, you cannot know a-priori if the company has useful logs to prove your authorship of the review.

The answer below is just a preparation for the worst case, which might not happen.


You may be in the situation to choose between keeping the job and keeping your ego.

Normally, whatever you discuss with the management will remain there, and the colleagues will never know a thing. So blaming yourself in any way should not cause any change in your relationship with your colleagues.

If management becomes nasty in any way, you might also need to consider changing your job.


If you deny at first, and they move forward and provide some actual proof of your authorship, you have a way out:

Yes, it is true, it was me. I was too ashamed of my impulse to write that review - and that is why I did not come forward to talk about it.

And then move to the "half guilty" strategy described below.


If you wrote the review from the company's network, and they have proof from the network logs (as already mentioned in the comments), then there is no much you can do. Hopefully, they will not enforce the contract - if the contract has any clause about restricting company's resources for private purposes.

What you can do, although without any good guarantee, is to claim that you did not realize that the author of the book was actually the CEO of your company. And that has a chance to hold ONLY IF the name of the company and other obvious details were not explicitly written in the book.

IF you happen to be in the WORST CASE situation - review written from company computer, explicit information in the book... You MIGHT have a chance to just plead "half guilty".

My definition of "half guilty", using an example:

Yes I wrote it, and unfortunately I did it when I was not in my best state of mind. By this I mean that previously to writing the review I had some troubles in my private life and that negative state of mind greatly influenced what I wrote in the review. I realized later that I was mistaken in my opinions, and that is why I decided to actually delete the under-quality review.


You might be out of time until the meeting happens, but you can turn things in your favor by playing "dirty" - actually just returning the favor.

If the book contains statements about breaking the law, have a discussion with a lawyer about the quality of that information, and assess whether prosecution can be done based on that.

When someone does not pay some taxes, is one thing - nobody likes paying taxes anyway. When the same someone does not accept some irrelevant criticism and goes on to do damage, is another.


Lesson: be careful in the future what you write, where you write, FROM WHERE you write... as I already wrote in a comment: any action requires a reaction, sooner or later. I do not imply "do not do". I only persuade you to be more careful and more prepared about what you do.

  • 3
    OP said he wrote the review over a year ago. Although it's possible that he wrote it while on company Internet connection and that this was logged, it seems highly unlikely. Like 0.001% chance. A logged visit to looking at amazon.com after getting the memo could easily be explained because "I got the memo about negative Amazon reviews and got curious about that." – Brandin Oct 11 at 10:36
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    @Brandin: a log contains EXACTLY all the text which traveled through the network. It is very clear IF OP sent anything and WHAT he sent. I would be curious to understand how you calculated the 0.001% chance. – virolino Oct 11 at 10:40
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    @virolino What type of network logs are you referring to? Amazon is using HTTPS. They would need logs from a browser to get the real data. I think this is highly unlikely. Or am I missing something? – Josef Oct 11 at 11:31
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    I strongly doubt anyone hacked his network packets for something so silly. It's much more likely they simply noticed that the review disappeared the day they sent the e-mail blast, and so they know that SOMEONE from the company who works there still probably wrote it. – Baron Oct 11 at 12:42
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    It is fairly common enterprise networking practice to install a trusted CA on endpoint computers so that the firewall can snoop on https connections for aggregate traffic analysis/anti-virus. It is not really hacking, they own the computers. No custom browsers or super-computers required. It is not standard practice to keep raw data from the connections for any period of time, and if the company is doing this it might be best to find out now and leave! – trognanders Oct 11 at 22:46
10

It appears that the CEO wrote a "vanity memoir". I've seen this happen before.

These are typically self-published by people with very deep pockets and very large egos. The books were likely given away to the employees by the box-load and none were ever sold via amazon. The purpose of such "books" is not to communicate anything useful or interesting, but just so the person who wrote it can have a book to his name.

Getting a scathing review for such a book would hurt. They certainly don't expect it to be a best-seller, and probably assume no one would bother to review it; no one is supposed to actually read the thing, let alone offer their true opinion of it.

Since the employees are the only population who could have read it, because it was literally given to them, it's plausible that a thin-skinned CEO and his goons would try to ferret out the perpetrator among the employees.

Unless there's some breadcrumbs (eg network logs, phrasing, or even other revealing reviews connected to the same username) that can lead back to you, they probably don't know it was you.

If they somehow really know it was you, just admit it and cite your favorite zinger from the book. Yeah, you might get canned, but at least you'll go down saying the truth. That's better than denying it and then getting canned anyway.

In the future, the best thing to do with these types of "books" is to ignore them or put them on your bookshelf at work. After you're done with the job, use the book as fodder for dinner party humor.

  • 2
    Very deep pockets? You can self-publish in the range: $300 – $2000. – Quora Feans Oct 12 at 2:07
  • Well, assuming it ’s not an ebook, there’s the cost of actually getting paper books printed, many boxes of them, for the purpose of distribution. It’s not a fortune but it’s also not cheap. It’s pretty high up on the stays signaling hierarchy! – teego1967 Oct 12 at 11:33
  • today, paper books can be print-on-demand. Self-publishing is not something amazingly expensive, even if you believe no one will buy the book. – Quora Feans Oct 12 at 13:00
7

I would go into the meeting assuming that they don't know you wrote the review. You can go with the flow and don't have to say you wrote it unless directly asked. In the best case they are looking for confessions out of fear and have no idea who it was, although they probably do know it was an employee because the review got deleted right after the email they sent. You don't have to give anything up for free just because they turned the heat up, keep your cool and try not to look too nervous.

I will address the case in which they either directly ask you or somehow found out you wrote the review.

When you wrote the review for the book you made a public action directed at your boss. Actions have consequences and public ones especially so. You need to realize that there will be consequences, however small or big. Yes, you can deny and apologize and deny again and lie and try everything to wriggle your way out of carrying the consequences of your action. You can also use the fact that your boss might put undue and unfair consequences on you as an excuse for this behavior. However, I would just be honest.

Tell him that you found the book bad, and wrote an honest review. Being honest and standing to your opinion about the book doesn't mean you have to attack the personality of your boss or be disrespectful. It can be useful to mention that you didn't realize it would hurt the company and that's why deleted your review as soon as you realized it, if that's true. You are entitled to your opinion, especially if voiced in a respectful way. If they want to fire you for voicing your opinion then there are a lot of better employers out there — not saying that the job search would be easy — but they are out there.

When you make anything public, especially a book, you have to be willing to take and live with the criticism that will come. I will keep myself from going into the childishness that your boss is showing by making one bad review into such a big issue.

Saying sorry and showing remorse can do a lot. Use the fact that you immediately deleted your review to argue that you had remorse for posting it. Explain that you didn't realize it would hurt the company, etc. You can do all of this without having to lie or deny that you in fact do find the book bad.

I understand that not everyone can, or want's, to risk their job over an Amazon review. In the end you need to decide if sticking to your opinion and being honest is worth risking your job to you.

If it was me I would rather lose my job knowing I stuck to my guns in the face of a ruthless employer than live with the fact that I rolled over for him out of fear.

  • 10
    if they want to fire you for voicing your opinion then **you shouldn't have a hard time finding a better employer**: Really? Is this how you know that the job market works? Did you ever hear about the "never criticize your previous employer"? Would a (new) CEO hire someone known for criticizing CEOs publicly? – virolino Oct 11 at 9:15
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    Any action will unavoidably attract a reaction. In this case, the review, as a result of "freedom of speech" attracted the anger of an unscrupulous employer. So the OP must choose between "freedom of speech" or unemployment (or worse). – virolino Oct 11 at 9:30
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    You are dealing with a CEO, who according to the OP likes to brag about their achievements and enjoys telling stories about how they ruined people's lives. Is this the kind of person you think will appreciate an honest response, no matter how rational? Your response is compatible with a workplace how it should be, but, sadly, not with a workplace how it sometimes is. In this case they either have no proof, in which case I personally favor lying, or they do have proof, in which case OP is getting fired either way. – Mär Oct 11 at 12:32
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    @virolino I would definitely tell the CEO of my company (who makes more in a month what I make in a year) that I thought his book was really bad if he approached me and asked. Honesty is not anathema everywhere. – TylerH Oct 11 at 13:51
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    In my current job, I interview people often. One question I always ask is why they are leaving their current employer (or left their previous one). I highly value honest answers. If someone told me they were fired because they honestly reviewed their CEO's atrocious book, I might hire them just for that. Honest feedback is hard to find and something that I, at least, highly value. – David Schwartz Oct 14 at 3:26
3

Deny, Deny, Deny.

This isn't CIS - unless the guys in IT are counter-espionage level, there is no way they can prove it was your review.

There is a chance that they sent the email to you only, then checked to see if the reviews changed (but they'd have to do that for every person at the company) - and they would have to do it slowly, giving each person a couple of days to delete the review.

It sounds like your CEO is a scumbag. He will try and intimidate you into confessing because he can't prove it was you.

Alternatively, I would consider owning it. Your office doesn't sound very nice - you could work somewhere better. Tell him you read his book and it sucked. If he doesn't like the review, he can respond to it on Amazon.

Then blow the wistle for tax evasion and find another job (don't threaten, just do - trust law enforement to sort it out).

  • Depends. If they have network logs AND know when the review was deleted, they check if there's a single device that accessed Amazon at this time. No need to MITM HTTPS for it - knowing that it was amazon.com is enough if there's just device accessing it during that time. – ThiefMaster Oct 13 at 17:28
2

Now I'm starting to freak out. I didn't think they could trace that bad review back to me, but I guess they must have been able to. What's done has been done, but what can I do now? What is the best thing to say or not say in this meeting? Should I be worried about getting fired?

To keep your employment in the short term I would simply deny writing the review if directly asked about it. The likely only evidence that the company has is that you visited Amazon from your work computer at specific dates/times. If they knew conclusively that you had written the review you would likely have been fired already.

That being said, you may want to reconsider working at this company. If what the CEO wrote in the book is true, that is not a person that I would want to continue to work for.

2

You had every right to write an honest review, and you also had every right to take it down out of courtesy to your CEO.

If the SVP is completely unreasonable, offer to put the review back up.

  • 1
    He reviewed it as a customer. He has every right to criticize the book and leave a bad review if he feels like it. The issue here is that if he's in a country where the boss can fire you at his own will, but otherwise there is no legal basis on which he could get into trouble at work. I would actually left the review there standing. We would be living in a pretty shitty world if everyone has to remove their opinion when the targeted person might not like it. – Chapz Oct 12 at 12:01
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    I agree -- I would have left the review up. Taking it down immediately after the company-wide email may be the only evidence that the review was OP's. – A. I. Breveleri Oct 12 at 12:12
0

I'm a bit confused. Your description mentions:

Last week (almost a year after I wrote this review), we got an e-mail saying that the company got wind of bad Amazon reviews of the CEOs book. They warned us very sternly that keeping a positive image of the company is important. Just to avoid any trouble, I immediately removed my negative review.

How did they get wind of it? I mean, were they monitoring whether anyone from this company wrote reviews or were they just looking up Amazon? Did you write the review from your work computer (wrong thing to do!)? Were you the only one to write a negative review?

They warned us sternly:

Warned you all in what sense? How can they assume that the company employees were the ones writing the reviews (if they weren't tracking it)? Did they actually mean that negative reviews will affect the rating and popularity of your company? Were they referring to the fact that employees would have to work to make the company a better place - based on the reviews? But if this book was written by your CEO, I'm not sure how you could contribute to improvement? It looks as if it's the CEO who needs to change.

You should not have deleted the review. If they were monitoring, they might have noticed that right away.

Another thing: Is the meeting invite addressed to you only or for others too? If it's a joint invite then I assume they want to discuss the negative reviews for making corrective actions to improve the companies image (though I don't see how, as your CEO wrote a lot of s#%t - in your own words).

If the invite is addressed to you privately, then I guess they know the truth. Do not try to make excuses or try some evading trick. You should not apologize for speaking what you think is the truth. In all probability, they have solid proof that you wrote the review. If you try and fish out, it'll look like you're the guilty party, while you're actually not.

Keep a calm mind. Assume the worst but hope for the best. Wait for them to make the first play.

If things turn out for the worse, then it's best you not work for a company that doesn't value the truth.

If they give you a warning, then take it and lie low for a while (not sure why they can do that, as you are entitled to your opinion). If they take the extreme step, then you are entitled to legal action. I believe that you haven't done anything wrong by speaking what you think to be the truth (or just YHO).

-4

In case things go bad: There’s always a chance that the SVP is an asshole and the CEO is not. So in this case if anything bad happens, you complain to the CEO.

Obviously if nothing can get salvaged you write a second review, but only the facts. As a reader, it’s something I’d want to know before I buy a book. That’s what reviews are there for.

In your meeting, you should insist that you didn’t write any book reviews on company time (which I hope is true), that all reviews you have ever written represent your honest opinion, and that it is none of the SVPs business which items you have reviewed. Be truthful. Don’t say “I didn’t write it”, say “it’s none of your business”..

  • 2
    While your intentions seem good, the answer itself is so wrong in so many ways. It is almost like you are the SVP / CEO of the company, and want this employee crushed. The comments to the question do a much better job at answering. – virolino Oct 11 at 6:00
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    Given that the CEO published a bad book bragging about tax fraud and other stuff, I won't hope on him being a good guy... – Dirk Oct 11 at 7:22

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