Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

July 10, 2006

The Huffington Post Gives Me a Hunch

Filed under: blogging,free speech,navel gazing — secretmojo @ 7:15 am

Hunches are delicate things; they emerge from your neural net via billions of connections, gathering data from ostensibly unrelated sources—that time when you smiled at someone else and got fired from your minimum wage job. The silent, blank-stare rumbling during rush hour on a packed El train. Once how, when you asked your girlfriend how she spent her time missing you, the minute creep of a sardonic smile twitched her cheeks. These experiences, along with thousands of others, pull your neurons closer to a concept (new, vague, and nonverbal), then wait in quietus. Wait for the moment when it’s time to recognize. Then it materializes, this hunch, but only as a whisper; hunch-making is not your main job, so these atrophied muscles scream at a faint whisper, as if dying of dehydration.

Hunches are important, because they’re gathered by a brain that’s smarter than you. If you tried to consciously calculate the source of a hunch, you would fail: you simply would not have enough mind to recount the flavor of a thousand different memories spread across time. For all practical purposes, hunches may as well come from nowhere. And as maverick outsiders intruding on the normally linear travel of your mind, they will be ostracized, if you’re not careful.

Because how many times have you been wrong about a person? A movie? A dark shadow? Hunches and prejudice feel much alike: both have little logic, and come from the land of As It Pleases Me. But hunches, unlike prejudice, reveal truth. Not precisely, and definitely with no facts to back it up, but nonetheless tip you off to Truth you daren’t consider before.

Telling the difference between hunch and prejudice is so difficult that hunches nearly always die in the logical fist of your rational mind: “that’s just silly,” you say to yourself. And indeed, it is. This does not make it untrue.

When I do have them, I have good hunches. This is bragging, I know. But if I tell you that my hunches are so-so, what need do they have to come around again? I will admit: the tough part is telling a real hunch from a “feels like” one. Especially when a hunch fits so nicely within my hopes and fears that I am skeptical at the outset, because the hunch comes so well represented it might just call itself “wishful thinking.”

But I am blessed with hunches that are nags. I don’t know why this is. I brush them away from my face, and within hours, they come buzzing by my ear again. Everybody knows the experience of learning a new word, and by that, hearing it ten times in one day. My brain discovers a new hunch, and I will hear it for literally weeks.

You should know that my mind is an alien landscape, a badlands where no hunch should survive. A fourth-dimensional map of a billion unrelated things, seasoned by delusions of grandeur, invented futures, embarrassing pasts, and musings on quarks, lucid dreaming, or telepathy. So to get any thought to return and bother me again is extremely difficult, unless I write it down. Or it’s something rather shameful in my past, which will always nag me.

So when I tell you that I get a hunch, this means that it has developed, marinated, and decided to stick around, despite the chaos up here, and won’t leave me the fuck alone.

Back in 2002, I had myself a hunch. It was about the impending Iraq war. Hunches grow obvious in the greenhouse of time. So my hunch sounds silly now. I don’t even want to mention it, but I will: I suspected the president was selling the war too much. Then, “selling the war” was not in my vocabulary. And all data came from the top down, so no facts and zero countrymen were on my side. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking that this war was not like Afghanistan, because Afghanistan didn’t require months of explanation.

I dismissed my hunch immediately on the basis that many years ago I protested against the first Gulf War. I did this enthusiastically, but I have to admit childishly, because I wanted to be a part of “fixing the world.” So I doubted my 2002 hunch instantly.

Furthermore, by the eve of Gulf War II, I was still not politically vocal by any of my current standards; I was a slouch potato, considered George Bush more “presidential looking” than Gore, and was a nice, gullible target for any politician boisterous and articulate enough to promise grand things.

My hunch had tall odds.

But it nagged and nagged, I eventually bought it, and it was proved right. Whatever you think of the war, surely no one can doubt how forcefully they tried to sell it.

But this is not the hunch that I address today. My Iraq hunch is wind through the trees now. The zeitgeist has changed; I no longer get accused of spitting on the troops for being appalled by the war. My hunch served me, but it’s time for new, smaller hunches I suppose.

No, the hunch I present to you today, totally baseless and without any facts, regards the moderation of Huffington Post comments. Yes it sounds silly; would it be a hunch if it didn’t?

I’ve been a comment junkie over there of late. Primarily because I believe the comment discussion has become dominated by thought-free herd think, and needs a little shaking up, but also because it seems I’m a better commentator than a poster—I think this is because I feel I have more stake in a post than in a comment, so I bind up, but let’s not get into that for now.

My rules for commenting are simple. If I do not have anything new, interesting, or funny (as I see it) to add, I do not comment. When I comment, however, I will try to be as honest with myself as I can. In other words, I give my real opinions, not opinions pre-chewed for public (nor “progressive”) consumption. I do not swear (god, that’s hard to curb), don’t call people names, yet make every attempt to leave a lasting impression. If I disagree with a “progressive,” I make sure that they know I disagree (I have occasionally been mistaken for a right-wing spammer because of this). All in all, between the “christonazi”, “defeatist traitor” and “you’re a crybaby” posts, I think mine stand out as voiced with thought and passion in them. Or so I hope.

Trouble is, I could not comment recently. More accurately: I could comment, but my comment would not appear. This has happened before.

The first time it happened, I felt (here was that hunch coming in) as if I’d said something too saucy. Maybe I put my words in the wrong order, and it was perceived as an attack on HuffPo itself, I thought. So I reread my comment with this perspective, and began noticing every other word as dangerous. Could she take that wrong? Certainly teasing Mr. Hitchens doesn’t qualify as ad hominem, does it? I concluded after this brief session that in fact I’d been entirely insensitive and mean to the blogger, and feared I’d get my IP banned.

The comment appeared later. Apparently the moderators were busy.

But: why the fear? If you read any HuffPo comments, there’s no shortage of disrespectful name-calling or seven-page off-topic spam retaliations, of which my comment was neither. Besides, the site is all about free speech, so it’d be in their interests to allow as many comments through as possible. So it was “silly” that I had this hunch in the first place, right?

Well, I had that hunch hit me again today. I submitted a relatively long comment about the the strategy the Democratic Party should take. No name calling, no swear words, no attack on the author. Just some criticism of talking points.

It didn’t go through. An hour later, I checked; it was as if I didn’t push the button.

So I started freaking again: is it because I had a rather spicy discussion about the Iraq war a day earlier with a Canadian? Is it because I used the verb “b***ch” (asterisks included) in a short comment elsewhere? Could it be because I comment too damn much, and there’s a limit attached to my account? What could it be?

All of it silly. Again, why the HuffPo would champion censorship is beyond me. But the hunch keeps nagging me. I don’t feel this way with any other blog on the planet: I know that if my post doesn’t go through, it’s because of technical difficulties, not because of censorship.

So why the suspicion with the Huffington Post?

I think I can explain. Though only partially; since hunches do million-node work, it’s hard to keep up.

The Huffington Post is a collection of artists, writers, poets, pundits, scientists and generally any smart and successful (and yes, progressive) guy/girl with street cred who’d like to have a blog. Now, in order to get people like David Mamet or Christopher Durang to submit to the idea of slinging their words against a wall to get them pissed on, you must promise civility, respect, and worthiness of the deed. This is where moderators come in. They try to guarantee a culture of dignity in the comments that obviously can’t be achieved by letting the system fly wide open, nor by allowing their sometimes very zealous readers to vote on which comments are decent and which are not. The Huffington Post has decided that humans—specifically, hired moderators—alone can make the decision requiring nuance, perception, and balance.

However, on the comment policy page, the rules to me feel draconian. Perhaps this is just my hunch rearing its head, but a) requiring an account, yet b) banning by IP address reveals an extra level of fear on the HuffPo side, as if they may lose the talent they worked so hard to woo.

Of course, I have no proof. And in fact, my hunch does not say whether or not political censorship is taking place, nor does it tell me that HuffPo deletes those with unfavorable (or in my case, ubiquitous) personalities. But it does whisper that HuffPo is struggling with a comment problem now—for some reason, they’ve removed the “best of” click, which previously allowed you to showcase the good comments by voting for them. My hunch also tells me that those moderating the comments, or those devising the system, have waning patience. Perhaps they truly do risk losing some choice talent because of the silliness of the comments—they certainly risk lowered impressions of the Post itself—, and are tempted to take action to stop this.

I have no doubt that it’s in HuffPo’s interests to screen more vigorously the comments that appear after David Mamet’s blog post than after a news item. My hunch tells me that the crazies seem to come out (or are allowed to come out) more on the external news stories anyway.

Again, I have nothing to back any of this up. But why do I feel like I have to watch what I say, how I phrase it, and who it may tick off at the HuffPo, but nowhere else? Why do I hope for some kind of “flag” in my account that tells me when I’m being abusive, or a page that shows up when I click “submit” that tells me I’ve been banned, so I can find if I’m doing anything wrong? I mean, I don’t know the culture over there; maybe I’m saying insulting things and don’t know it.

And why has this come back to nag me again and again?

So my hunch is, as I distill it: The Huffington Post is internally struggling with a way to tame the comment circus, and will occasionally overreact. They wish to shield their talent from harsh, hateful words, and perhaps some of the talent has voiced a disdain of reading comments to their posts. So moderators have gotten more aggressive, and scrutinize perhaps to the point of seeing something where there is nothing, and temporarily mark an IP for abuse that probably didn’t deserve it.

This atmosphere, through a couple more snafus and the help of stupid people, could change the HuffPo into what Barbelith has turned into, which is a closed community of people who must be invited to participate. I stuck around there for a while, but I would recognize during a discussion some omissions that should have been addressed, but was powerless to contribute without going through a screening processes. Therefore, I read each topic feeling it’d never be fleshed out to my liking; and eventually stopped reading altogether.

It’d be a shame for HuffPo to turn out that way, but it’d be their right. My hunch suspects they may go this way, at least partially, in the future.

Nothing to back this up. Just tellin’ the hunch like it is.

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44 Comments »

  1. I also am beginning to believe HuffPost is censoring their postings. That is Democracy ala Michael Huffington, NOT Ariana Huffington.
    They say that they “read” every posting before posting it, and that causes a delay?
    I haven’t seen any Trolls being censored, yet many well-thought and inoffensive postings (the ones who have made sure there are no comments on the comment page for the Bill Clinton in Harlem article) are lost after posting.

    I guess Trolls and right-wingers provide entertainment value, but serious debate is discouraged. And some bloggers (lately the pro-Israel crew) seem beyond criticism?

    Comment by Nick — July 24, 2006 @ 12:58 am | Reply

  2. You’ve seen relatively civil comments disappear? Now THAT’s interesting. It would show that HuffPo may embrace what it stands against: political censorship. I understand the desire to keep the debate within boundaries, but if the boundary is neither a civil boundary, nor a logistics boundary, but an “opinion” boundary, then that’s something alltogether different.

    I did write tech support (the only non-confrontational avenue available at the contact page) complaining that my comments weren’t showing. I hoped that I’d get some insight into the matter. I received no response.

    If anybody else has seen evidence like the kind Nick has illustrated, I’d be VERY interested. Perhaps we could run an experiment at HuffPo to find out more…

    Or I could just ask HuffPo what the policy really is. But where’s the fun in that?

    Comment by secretmojo — July 24, 2006 @ 7:49 am | Reply

  3. Hello: I was new to Huff post. Like you, there was no name calling or abusive language. Recently I published a comment right out of the news in relation to “McCain” stating that the missle that his the Ireali war ship was manufactured in China. Along with that I reminded everyone of the president words that aiding a abedding the enemy was an act of war.
    All of my attempts to make a comment have recieved a time out error message. This does not happent with any other site I sign on to. Along with that my automatic email posts have dissapeared also.
    As in your case, is this just a hunch, or is it they, at huff post or someone else is interfering with my efforts to connect. Please reply. I hope this is not cencorship. Thanks, Bill

    Comment by bill hunt — July 28, 2006 @ 6:00 pm | Reply

  4. My experience has been a little different. I would submit my comment, get a “thank you” page first, but the comment would never appear. Yours sounds like a connection problem or something of a more technical nature. Though, if your IP has been banned, it’s possible HuffPo is rejecting any requests from your computer.

    Are you submitting comments from a community computer (work, library, etc.)? Also, if your computer is at home, your IP may change, depending on your service provider. This means that HuffPo could think you’re somebody else at the same service provider who abused the system, and reject requests from you.

    This may not be the case, though. Try a couple more times, and see if you get the “thank you” page.

    As to the e-mails, I’m not sure what you mean: the “Daily Updates” mailing list? Or do you try to post via email (which I know nothing about)?

    I’m gathering information about others who have been experiencing problems, and will put up a post on this issue forthwith.

    Comment by secretmojo — July 29, 2006 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

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  36. HuffPost’s moderating system makes no sense at all. Today (Sept. 2/09) there is some guy going by yhe name of NIGGER making all sorts of anti-black, blatantly racsit comments and he is being posted with no problem. I post a comment asking why this is, and it’s held up for moderation. Go figure. Does Arianna Huffington even look at her own website?

    Comment by Stan Schurman — September 2, 2009 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

  37. They’re deffinately censoring comments. Especially anything that disputes global warming. I won’t be back, i just sent the moderator a very very nasty heads-up. It’s basically Fox News for liberals.

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  39. I know I simply cannot be posted on the Religion section any longer. Sure, I am counter to most of the self-righteous, book-selling posts there, but I never call names, nor am I profane. Sarcastic? Yes, I am that, but why would that be a problem?

    I’m on the verge of deleting all references to HuffingtonPost on my computer. I’m tired of wasting time to write comments (some of which I feel are genuinely original and socially worth consideration).

    I’m beginning to HOPE HuffPo loses share, advertisers and it’s place on the net simply because it makes no effort to correct it’s own nasty, uninformative, ill-defined moderation policy.

    Arianna, you can’t continue to be a Diva if your name is on the most censorial blog on the net. Get your head out of your … er … posterior.

    Comment by CWonHP — January 7, 2011 @ 2:10 am | Reply

  40. HP is continuing to censor, and many complain. The problem escalated this weekend during the Tucson massacre discussions. Moderators got so far behind in their reading that it could be one to two hours before a comment posted. This meant people were not able to communicate with one another, and the frustration was tangible. Moderaton is unnecessary since each profile has a button for abusive protestors to be reported. If enough people find someone abusive, then that can be addressed, which is not the same thing as people behind the moderator badge simply deleting posts they do not like. And that is definitely happening.

    Comment by jmcaninch68 — January 10, 2011 @ 10:05 am | Reply

  41. I started posting in the religion section. Just about every other post is set for moderation with every third post slated for deletion. I found this site because I too have a hunch I made the list. I am shocked at the amount of inflaming comments that make it through, but for some reason I cant inform an interested reader how many Baha’is are slaughtered in Iran each year.

    Comment by Prodaytrader — November 20, 2012 @ 2:41 am | Reply


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