– Text: foxisms;  Illustration: B. McCue –

To begin, now would be a good time for us to come to grips with something that few people will openly admit…or perhaps simply can’t accept. I’m sure, which one or the other varies from person to person, dependent on the situation.

Unencumbered “free speech” is limited to the confines of a concept and is not the stuff of reality we often imagine it to be.

Ogg

Since the very first time that a child named Ogg picked up a charred woolly mammoth bone from the previous evening’s dinner from the floor of the cave and whacked his sibling for any real or imagined expressed verbal affront leveled in his or her direction –  freedom of expression has been a very elusive object of desire and attainment for anyone not a cast away or spared the influence of the social, human condition.

To make matters worse, when Mom or Dad came back from drawing primitive pictures of the hunt or splattered hand prints in the lower section of the cave and found out about it, reprimand and censorship of unbridled self expression was again enforced (at least) as far as one or the other party in a debate or dispute would, from then on ever be concerned.

Since that time little (if anything) of this social aspiration has been able to recover entirely from this stipulation to be considered fair with regard to the right of anyone to pure, unabridged self expression.

Onward!

Now, fast forward (if you will) to today’s modern society… the complexities that concept and language have under gone and the means of mass Internet communications. Apps such as texting, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and a multitude of online information sources offered often for far more mercenary motivation than simply to allow people to express themselves on a multi-verse of topics such as The Huffington Post does (or doesn’t)…which brings me to the object of my current  focus in this PlanetPOV series.

I was a Huffington “Poster”child.

I was later than some and sooner than others coming into the age of awareness on the whole Huffington Post thing. I became a member in April of 2008.

My last ‘post’ being February of 2011, (just a day or so after the $318 million dollar AOL “buy-in” or “sell-out” depending on your point of view) I had a long run that enabled me to successfully have 11,536 comments or posts approved and published  on Huff. While I can’t validate my “misses” due to deletion by the ‘Mods’, my number of rejected posts had to be somewhere around…well,  a whole bunch more if not an equal number.

I still have an account there (though I no longer log in) and a modest “following” of  “friends” that  amounts to 753 other “poster children” out there, just like me and you.

Before anyone might think those stats are exceptional…don’t.

There’s a small army of people, here and elsewhere (some still there!) who have two, three and four times that amount of posts and “fans” and have spent more, less or equal time than I have in shouting into that empty well several hours a day.

About a hundred or more of these refugees can now be found here on PlanetPOV and spread throughout other similar free speech zones throughout Cybercity. So I think I represent a fairly good example of your average user. Being in said demographic makes me a middle class Huffmerican. And hopefully I can remain fair about some of the sights and scenes I encountered while in that  land beyond the rainbow.

Oz or Wonderland?

A quick look at the ‘terms of service” for commenting on Huffington could give anyone the impression that they have landed in Wonderland as opposed to Dorothy’s Oz. The ambiguities of the conditional terms in conjunction with the “new Badge program” (which you’ll learn more about in the course of this series) makes an argument between Tweedledee and Tweedledum look like a debate between professorial intellectuals on this side of the rabbit hole.

I don’t know how you feel about it, but the moment I see that a conditional term of service is dependent on nebulous wording such as “appropriate speech” my palms sweat, my throat gets dry and I just know that ideology and not simply civility and courteousness is the tip of an ice berg that will randomly sink any ship’s captain attempting to navigate the straits of good posting behavior.

And sure enough, at Huffington Post it repeatedly does.

Working in the lab…

Let me confess to a small social experiment I indulged myself in shortly after the HP-AOL merge.

It was early on reported and speculated upon that the degree of moderation would increase at Huffington in direct proportion to its becoming a major player in the Main Stream Media conglomerate leading to an even more aggressive push to increase the number of “clicks”and “hits” through the manipulation of posts and ‘gotcha’ headlining.

Let me explain that this way. If you log on to a site, and you can stop by and leave a comment on an article or join a  conversational ebb and flow, you may click once or twice, now and again to see if you had any responses or to add to the dialog. On the other hand, if your posts become tied up for a half hour or more in “pending purgatory” before it became posted publicly, you might come back to check on its health or “click” about a half dozen times or more on that same subject for each posting effort you’ve made. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

It was becoming increasingly common to see items with 500 or more posted comments to have a “pending approval” queue consisting of sometimes a 4:1 ratio. People would be clicking back like crazy to bitch about it for an hour or more and sending out fresh versions of their comments multiple times before they learned their posts hadn’t passed muster and as well, the politically corrected clones sent afterward were ultimately deleted.

Any idea what this does to make a site look exceptionally busy and profit worthy…even if it may not be otherwise? Plenty lucrative ploy just by clogging the pipes.

I had watched over the course of my time on HP that complaints increased exponentially in the comment section regarding these sort of moderation log jams and expulsions and I wanted to somehow measure this from a new perspective other than just living through the limbo called “pending” and deleted posts. So I put my long standing personae (AV) and account to rest and created a new HP account to see how a new member “poster” might fare under these new rules of engagement.

I presented my same ideologies. I was no more literate or less snarky in my replies and originating posts than I’d ever been and my subjects were as random and occasionally off thread as they had ever been under my old account/personae.

Things went par for about three weeks and the accumulation of 47 “friends” and “fans” until I hit an article of above average controversy rife with moderation.

The issue surrounded a video from a police helicopter circling the Twin Towers on the morning of 9/11. I was careful not to advance any (“kooky”) theories, either conspiratorial or supporting the establishment’s accounts of that day’s events. But I stood firm on insisting in “to the point” fashion that there remained in fact, mounds of evidence from that day to this that has never been properly investigated or verified. Four non confrontational exchanges later, I was informed that I had been banned from commenting. Evidently, a moderator held a different (or corporate) ideology on the subject. Yes. It was that obvious.

After waiting through three days (of ‘crickets’) to hear a response from Huffington Post to my email queries on what exactly my transgressions might have been…even within the broad spectrum of their terms of service, I scrubbed  the  account completely and bailed.

The punchline is this. Immediately following my canceling of my account I received an email from HP’s Admin. They said they were sorry to see me go! Go? For all intent and purposes, I didn’t even exist to begin with and it isn’t likely that you do either.

“The truth is out there.”

Simply put, anyone can, if they so choose, easily provide their own search/research on the topic of moderation as it is practiced at the Huffington Post web site.

The information, opinions and carefully compiled hard and anecdotal evidence of the short comings on (this loosely termed) “moderation” as presented on HP are plentiful and date back as far as May of 2005, which is when the site was first launched.
I’ve waded through sites and postings that covered a wide swath of cut and pasted screen grabs, opinions, complaints, examples, comments and incentives for the scrutiny now being given this subject surrounding HP and the mass publication of said information.

“Everybody’s got an ax to grind.”

Some (but not many) were less than subtly progressing their own  personal, commercial or political agenda — which to their way of thinking were not being given the attention on the comment boards that they felt their topic of concern or cause du jour warranted. In this class, of course, some even appeared to be (perhaps paid?) activists who wished to be the St. George who would slay the dragon or the Don Quixote who would help vanquish what to many might have amounted to little more in reality than a tattered, old wind mill.

Others I found were apparently using this chink in HuffPo’s armor (there are, as many are already aware, several) as a commercial tool in an effort to maybe pry away a few “clicks” in their own direction or open/level the readership playing field a bit through critique.

…but some people have a legitimate need to use that ax sharpener.

For the most part, I came away from it all with an unshakable belief that the bulk of what fruits I had gathered, did not come from these groups. Neither was it limited to simply disgruntled people but instead, the time and efforts were taken to publicly express themselves about being rendered utterly disillusioned and more than curious about the genuine intent and dedication of HuffPo to freedom of speech… as the ‘pub’ and policy (of HP) would like to have everyone believe.

On a curious note:

The absence of web published material in defense of the moderation found on the Huffington site was notably apparent throughout my research, except from the rare and occasional references (noticeably) from Huffington Post staff, co founders or people associated with the site in some cooperative fashion or another.

All that aside…

…this much is certain (and a notable portion of the internet blogging population agrees) in regard to HP’s moderation practices… if nothing is wrong, then something is very wrong.

[In Part 2, we’ll take a look at some of the comments, replies and stories from others who have either broken away from HP for greener pastures of self expression on the web and an update on some of the damage control taking place at HuffPo in the wake of the continuing exodus of ‘posters’ due to their dissatisfaction over having contributed to the rapid rise of this online news empire only to find that the rules of the game had changed dramatically over time without anyone telling them.]

 


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BlueStateMan
Guest

The Huffington Post has devolved into some sort of infantile entity that seemingly has no problem treating their contributors with utter contempt. Liberal, conservative, Democrat, republican… whatever the political or ideological slant. we are all “equal” in the eyes of a small cadre of delusionally self-important apparatchiks and sycophants.. those who feel so “superior”.. so patronizing as to think that they actually have the wherewithal to judge how much value the words of the rest of us might have. When people have the arbitrary authority to eliminate the thoughts of others, it is not ‘moderation’, it is censorship. Now, in… Read more »

KQµårk 死神
Member

Point on and well stated BSM. I for one missed your insights.

KillgoreTrout
Member

You really aren’t missing anything over there. Here, people learn from each other and the great articles posted here.
Slapping trolls is fun to a degree, but a person stifles themselves by doing it on a regular basis.
I compare this site to shooting pool. Sure it’s easy to beat players who don’t have a good game, but by playing those that are equal or have better skills, is the best way to learn how to play a better game.

whatsthatsound
Member

That place has become a fast food sellout of its former greatness. Just like the villain in the film “Ratatouille” tried to do with the Gusteau Restaurant.

By the way, BSM, how is PeaceKitten? Please tell her whatsthatsound misses her.

Khirad
Member

Ah yes, me too on greetings to PK.

BlueStateMan
Guest

She’s doing great and I will pass your greetings along.

We would both love to host an occasion where POVers and ex Huffers can get together on the west coast.

“dutchman” will be here later in the year… we have had small dinners in the past and I’m sure he’d love to meet like-minded THINKERS when he visits the US again.

How about it?

whatsthatsound
Member

Well, considering my “West Coast” includes such hip cities as Niigata and Nagasaki, I doubt I’ll make it. 🙂 But thank you for passing on my “hello”. I hope all is well with her music, which I someday hope to hear.

Truth
Member

It is a shame, BSM – but having recognized all this, why would you want to waste more time over there (instead of for example helping to dismantle the myth of a progressive HP)? Since you say you were deleted as DocStrangelove, were you ACLUCardCarrier earlier? If so, I got into troubles at Huff because of you… At that time when ACLU got banned I tried to make people write to Huff to reinstate that account, yet after a while I got my first and only email from them, threatening me to stop with that or being in the soup… Read more »

BlueStateMan
Guest

I was indeed…

My only problem anywhere else is a dearth of opposing opinions… I like to debate conservatives and occasionally nailing trolls.

But here I will be… and here I will stay!

Truth
Member

You can still take a break once in a while and go to alternet or so…. And many people here have still accounts at Huff and go there if they feel like troll fighting.
Anyhow, I need still some more support for the Emerald series against Huff (see Invite for Collaboration No. 3 and 4 in under Tab: News/Politics; Media; Huffingon Post)- if you’d like to join, you’re most welcome.

Greta42
Member
Greta42

Truth : How funny that I just found your post on the topic of BSM’s multiple identities at HP. I had no idea BSM was DocStrangelove whose posts I admired and read frequently on the threads. When I read Gully Jimson’s post about Doc being banned, I wrote to community support at HP to request a reconsideration of that decision. Within 3 minutes, I received an email back from HP with a very clear message that Doc was not welcome at HP. I felt rather stunned by the speed and the absoluteness of the response. I suspect they were bombarded… Read more »

Truth
Member

Greta42, I don’t know what beef they had, they wrote me earlier he was not welcome and knows that it’s permanent. (and that I should stop telling people they should write to Huff) However, DocStrangelove was reinstated something like 8 months or so after that incident, and lasted till now, which must have been another 8 months or so.
I guess they don’t like if their views are opposed.

BlueStateMan
Guest

BANNED again…. this time as “DocStrangelove” and “GullyJimson”.

Good riddance

KQµårk 死神
Member

Hey BSM long time no see. Hope you are doing well.

Khirad
Member

x2

KillgoreTrout
Member

BSM, I think you’ll find, after being here for a while, that you aren’t missing anything at HP. This site is soooo much better. A slower pace, but there are good reasons for that. People here actually think before they comment. No flame wars, no personal attacks…etc.
And the best thing, in my opinion, is the freedom to actually express yourself, without fear of being deleted. The basic rule is, BE NICE!

Khirad
Member

BSM comes by now and again. I wish he’d stay and leave that place–or at least focus more time here.

Then again, BSM knows how to smack a troll like few others can.

KillgoreTrout
Member

I wish he’d stay too. But smacking trolls on a regular basis leads to intellectual stagnation. Much better here, where people make you think.

funksands
Member

BSM I put in a good word for you over there, all the good that it will do….

chazmania
Guest

repeated so i edited it out

chazmania
Guest

I find it odd that all the progressive smart people are getting banned at the HP…..?? makes one wonder whats the plot over there…

signed
Totos-revenge

Greta42
Member
Greta42

Hello to many ‘friends’ from HP – It is nice to find you and read your posts once again. I just signed up at PPOV and enjoyed this blog and the comments and replies. Yes, the moderation remains about the same there, no improvements and the number of trolls has greatly increased to the point of maddening. Strange how their posts seem not be scrubbed.

I look forward to learning more about how PPOV works.

funksands
Member

Hi Greta, and welcome. Good hard-working peeps here. Looking forward to getting to know you better.

Greta42
Member
Greta42

Thank you funksands – I look forward to getting to know you better as well.

KillgoreTrout
Member

Hi Greta. Welcome to the Planet. This is a song I think is fitting for the old HPers that come here;

Greta42
Member
Greta42

Thank you for the warm welcome KT – The video and music are just great.

KillgoreTrout
Member

My pleasure.

kesmarn
Admin

Welcome to the Planet, Greta! I think KT’s vid sums it up pretty well. Have fun!

Greta42
Member
Greta42

Thank you.

Truth
Member

Hi Greta,

welcome to The Planet. Here’s some support to make it easier to find your way around here: http://planetpov.com/2011/02/09/tips-for-newcomers-and-regulars-alike/

And if you want to make a post on your own:
http://planetpov.com/2011/02/23/memo-to-members-how-we-choose-front-page-posts-and-other-editorial-policies/

If you check the box “Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail” you get your replies to your comments directly to your inbox (otherwise it’s difficult to keep track of them)

Enjoy speaking your mind without having to find a way to circumvent moderation!

Greta42
Member
Greta42

Thank you for the warm welcome and the links for newcomers – Will be very helpful.

I’m looking forward to a moderation free environment!

Artist50
Member
Artist50

Greta – this is more than a site where people seek and share information on posts, it’s a community of friends – with lots of different opinions, from around the world where people feel comfortable sharing a piece of themselves. It’s quite remarkable – welcome!

Truth
Member

Greta, and you will have some difficulty not to write all this f0rbidden wo-rds in such a way as to trick the cens0ring mawd- filters…. I remember I had to re-learn typing a short while ago when I came here…

Khirad
Member

It’s been a while but I think we were HP friends. Welcome.

Dbos
Member
Dbos

The closer one comes to the truth the more dangerous they are. A person who can express themselves in an engaging way with the truth is very very dangerous

chazmania
Guest

In the modern American culture even they are marginalized and pushed to the outskirts of our society if not ridiculed and demonized by this culture of the self serving.

KillgoreTrout
Member

I noticed, as the amount of advertising began to grow, so did the deletion of comments. I signed up in 2007 and at that time, the advertising was minimal. That ads were sort of small and the things being advertised were small in number. There wasn’t much concern about offending advertisers with our comments in 2007 or 2008. Sometime in 2009, the number and size of the advertisements grew almost exponentially. Many different advertisers, so their was greater possibility that some of these would drop their ads because of something unsavory that might be said in the comments section. I… Read more »

Artist50
Member
Artist50

KT – Good thoughts. I absolutely resisted those damn badges. I felt like she had something going on with facebook and we were her little experiment. It all smacked of social engineering to me in some warped way and once AOL came aboard there was more thought control – can we say 1984? I found it unsettling and disturbing. I’m so glad I was guided here. I am so thankful for those that contribute so much time to this site. It would be a huge step for me if I ever authored a post – but I may get there… Read more »

Truth
Member

I’m looking forward to your post…. AND…. to your artwork!!!

KillgoreTrout
Member

Thanks for your reply Artist. I opted out of the badge program as soon as they started it. I had to use the opt out option 4 times before they finally got rid of my badges. Several months later they gave me a pundit badge, and my ego would not allow me to get rid of it. I have learned better since coming here. The deletion of comments by those with a pundit badge made no sense to me. If HP thought enough of someone’s comments to give them such a badge, why then would they repeatedly delete comments from… Read more »

chazmania
Guest

I had this same experience..on my last days i became belligerent and said what i wanted…i got banned after writing to the modes about another post that got cut that did not brake any rule.. they never even explained the banning…
The HP became another unhealthy entity in a long line of deeply unhealthy sites just the same.. i stopped posting on AOL for the same kind of BS.
Ariana puffingdrone did nothing to change any problems cropping up in the site and that led me to believe she was just as bad.

KQµårk 死神
Member

Very thought provoking EP. In the end I think everything they did over there was an effort to close minds. The once proud independent minded left all started to sound like one aggregated voice on just about every issue. They did this in big part through controlled censorship especially the way they controlled comments to AOL HP columnists. It gave the false appearance that every time an HP commentator wrote a column that almost everyone agreed even on some of the most debatable subjects. Not even mentioning that people who disagreed did not even comment after a while because they… Read more »

Truth
Member

That’s an extremely good point, KQuark! I felt the same way, as if the discussions were steered into the direction AH wanted them. So many people say their most thoughtful comments disappeared time and again!

ADONAI
Member

Proudly banned from HP in 2007. Again in 2008. 2009. 2010. And looking forward to the first of 2011.

My favorite thing to post on HP that actually gets through:

“Everything important in the world is decided though a series of blowjobs.”

My favorite thing that never gets through:

“Breitbart is a trite fart.”

Khirad
Member

Ever tried βrεἰtbαrt is a trite fαrt?

I got soooo much stuff through that way.

foxisms
Guest

Buddy, you capture better portraits with your brushes than I could ever hope to catch with a camera.
Your work is amazing!

Buddy McCue
Member

You’re not so bad yourself!

I like this article. You make some really good points, and do so in a very entertaining and readable way.

escribacat
Member

I forgot to say what a great friggin painting that is of the Empress, Buddy. Wow. And excellent post, fox. I think “Ogg” is still posting over at HP.

foxisms
Guest

Thanks much, e’cat!
And you can bet if Ogg is still over there, it’s due to the Stockholm syndrome.

PocketWatch
Member

I’ve said it before… I always expect to get screwed over by profit-centered enterprises. Therefore, it did not come as a shock to me that HP became what it became. I was on it for the last 2 years, ended up with well over 35K comments and hit 1,600 fans or followers or whatever you want to call them, and a Mod2 badge along with all the other badges. As anyone that knows me from there (same AV) can attest, I tried to “do it right.” I kept my cool, did not engage in flame wars, kept the snark to… Read more »

Dbos
Member
Dbos

and quite well

Pepe Lepew
Member

The exasperation over the scrubbing and moderation just completely sucked the life out of HP for me. If it’s an interesting topic, odds are it’s fully moderated. On open threads, I just saw too many posts arbitrarily vanish. And I got tired of trying to work around their myriad “dirty words.” Christ, you could have a thread about Sarah Palin or Dick Cheney, and “Cheney” or “Palin” would automatically go to pending. Maybe it drives up clicks, but it also drove away the best commentators. So now they’re inundated with trolls, and people looking to hijack back threads so they… Read more »

Abbyrose86
Member

I must admit, it didn’t dawn on me that the heavy handed moderation was a method of to drive an increase of traffic on the site.

Excellent catch!

The more I think of it, I think you hit the nail on the head. Of course such a policy, can lead to unintended consequences in the long term…but of course most of corporate America is NOT concerned with the long term, and thus doesn’t think about consequences.

Truth
Member

Abby, that’s exactly what left me wondering: lots and lots of people got disgruntled with the site and left it due to the heavy moderation. But maybe AH is another Honey badger and just didn’t give a shit, for she knew that AOL or anyone else would be on the horizon and the progressive schtick never was anything else but a schtick.

— And so they may have happily counted their clicks with this.. “progressive” method…

Abbyrose86
Member

Indeed Truth. I think that is exactly what it was a schtick. Sadly we fell for it…on the plus side…we all met some great people.

foxisms
Guest

It’s a cumulative stratagem, I’m sure, Abbyrose.
A little of this (creating clicks) and a little of that (creative headlines) add a dash of this (free blogging from celebrities) and a spat of that (aggregated news) and before you know it, you can fluff those numbers anyway you like. Then sell and make a fortune.
Laughing all the way to the bank.

Chernynkaya
Member

Yay! I’m so glad to see the first of this series! I had never considered this: That the moderation is a way to increase clicks! It makes sense now that you pointed that out. I was lucky at HP in the moderation department–I was rarely moderated except on those lock-down threads: Anything written by her highness and the bloggers were always and uniformly moderated heavily. So I rarely commented on those and when I did, I didn’t stay on the thread because there was no conversation at all. And the comments were at most in the low hundreds–and that was… Read more »

Buddy McCue
Member

Thanks Chernynkaya.

And like yourself, I had never considered that the excessive moderation was a way to increase clicks. That seems like such a likely thing (now that Foxisms has pointed it out.) I wonder why it never occurred to me before!

escribacat
Member

My impression always was and still is that they delete posts at random. In more paranoid moments, I envisioned a bunch of disgruntled or bored young people drinking and having a gay old time messing with commenters. “Hey, watch this guy get pissed off when we delete that long thoughtful post of his and leave the troll drivel right above it intact. Hahahaha!” I also suspect they enacted the badge program for two reasons: 1) to save money on salaries of moderators and 2) to shift the blame of random deletions onto the Mod2s. Most people there now blame the… Read more »

Truth
Member

e’cat, I really don’t know what they were thinking, if anything. It was just stunning how my most thoughtful comments always seemed to disappear, while the drivel, even my own, was published.
But one thing I’m very sure about: never ever criticize Arianna. My first – say – 10 – 15 comments I tried to post on AH’s threads simply never showed up. Then I learnt to say 1/4 of what I wanted to say and water that down 90% more – this was the way to post on her thread. Queen of progressives, my bad!

Buddy McCue
Member

I found it impossible to mention her by name at all.

I wanted to say something about the panel of KCRW’s “Left, Right & Center,” but I couldn’t get the comment through, no matter how much I disguised the words. I think it was because the name of Arianna Huffington was one of the names I needed to use to describe that panel.

My comment wasn’t even all that critical.

Truth
Member

Yes, Arianna H…. are some of the high-filter words. Unless you heaped a ton of praise on her (which I observed others doing) it would never show up.
Even mild criticism on AH’s thread never got posted. I tried several times.

Pepe Lepew
Member

They once claimed that less than one percent of the deletions at HP were done by CM2s …

… but they get 90 percent of the blame.

Haruko could barely post for a month after she got hers; people would start jumping her shit out of the blue over her badge.

Truth
Member

…shouting into that empty well several hours a day…

— nice expression to describe commenting at HuffPost!

foxisms
Guest

…shouting into an empty well” is also an applicable metaphor for where this series would be without all your time, hard work and focus, Truth.
I think everyone is in for a pleasant experience as these articles start rolling out over the course of the series.
Good show!