– 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.
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.
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.]
- AOL Shutters 30 Brands After Huffington Post Merger [REPORT] (mashable.com)
- Victory: HuffPost reverses course on Andrew Breitbart (ynative77.wordpress.com)
- Huffington Post to launch in UK (cash-bandit.com)