Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

July 30, 2006

Flip-switch Editing: banning and commenting issues at The Huffington Post

Filed under: blogging,free speech,mediachumps,Politics — secretmojo @ 2:56 am

This is a follow-up to my earlier post on the Huffington Post commenting weirdness. That post is a bit too long (even by my standards); just take a peek at the comments at the bottom if you’re interested.

The Huffington Post has suffered a few scandals since launch. The most notorious was with Dr. Peter Rost, who blew the whistle on a HuffPost technical manager who trolled the comments of Dr. Rost’s blog (he’s moved elsewhere as a result). The other was the piecing together of George Clooney quotes and presenting them as a blog entry (without the disclaimer that they were gathered quotes). Another was to team up with an advertising firm, and allegedly allow them to billboard their commenting system.

All of these actions indicate something a bit deeper going over at HuffPost, but none relate entirely to the commenting/banning problem some users are experiencing.

The Difficulties

First of all, The Huffington Post has a huge backlog of comments (which I believe still continues today) they need to moderate. 15,000 was a number thrown about a while ago. This is not a political issue, but a management or technical issue. I’ve heard gripes about it, but hey, what can you do with limited staff? This may contribute to crazy comments getting through on news posts, while well-thought-out comments get censored on more prominent blogs. But in and of itself, it’s just “birth pangs,” as our illustrious Secretary of State might call it.

Secondly, because of the popularity and slant of the site, HuffPost attracts wingnuts and crazies that troll about, self-promoters who want publicity for their names or sites, or hackers who just want to cause trouble. This is of course an issue with any site that allows comments, and there are many ways to get around this, including account creation and IP logging, which HuffPost implements.

Third, I believe HuffPost wants to maintain civil discourse. They don’t want to be another (at least, I hope not). Trying to balance this with free speech is rather difficult, because arguments can get very heated over there, and stupid people really love the sound of their own voice.

HuffPost’s Solution

Ostensibly, the solution at HuffPost is unbiased moderation, treating comments as real-time “letters to the editor” that must meet certain legal and style requirements for posting. None of these are supposedly “edited” in the sense that a print newspaper would edit them, but are screened for ad hominem attacks and foul language, for example.

“Supposedly,” I said.

“liketodrum” over at DailyKos describes how he could get special treatment:

I was also told that if I wanted to “skip ahead” I could just call my new buddy and he could get my comment expiedated. Now I was not happy to hear that, and I have never taken that up. In fact I would never want to do that. That defeats the whole point of blogging in my opinion.

“whl”, as well, describes how got himself banned forever:

I was banned from there a couple of years ago for flaming a troll who had really screwed up a good post with a sequence of repetitious 2 liners. The assistant troll in control, gunned me down & let the dittohead continue a jihad for many entries.

“Steve53,” who is most interesting to me, brings up frivolous banning:

I used to post there, but now I’m apparently banned.I have not been able to post there for 2 weeks.An e-mail asking for an explanation(it could have been a tech glitch) yielded no response.

I’m a generally polite liberal,not an abusive troll.

Antichrist2” has taken up the cause, and says:

Not only has HuffPost not posted most of my comments, they have now banned me from ever commenting again.

Now, I do not know what they said to get banned/censored. Of course I don’t, because their comments have been whisked into the void. But I do know that they have interesting things to say in general, and now they will never say them on HuffPost.

In my own experience, I submitted a very short comment that linked to this page at Red State Son. In my opinion, it was not abusive. Provocative, maybe, and definitely shocking, but considering that adults read the HuffPost, not at all illegal or vindictive, at least in my interpretation of the comment policy.

So I know for a fact that content matters. Especially on blog, as opposed to news, entries. This is actually okay with me. But the parameters of acceptable content are not delineated on the Comment Policy page, nor are they implemented with any consistency at the site, and it is very possible that you can get permanently banned for no other reason than not knowing the “hidden rules.” So if you do get banned, you will never be told, and you will never know why.

I used to have an RSS feed of the Huffington Post which I browsed daily. Now, however, I rarely go there; the inconsistent comment policy is why. If I feel tempted to dispute something posted, I’m aware that I might just get myself (and all the poor suckers who get my IP after me) banned, and refrain from commenting. Furthermore, as a matter of principle, I don’t go to web sites that a) intimidate me, b) don’t tell me what’s going on, and c) have arbitrary rules.

This could be unfair or paranoid, but it seems I’m supported by other people on this, so I’ll be spending my Web time with the multitudinous other blogs out there, even though I may never comment on them.



  1. I’ve noticed that often, the quality of comments on a site is directly related to the quality of the blogging. Generally, if the site in question doesn’t have ad hominem attacks or flame posts, the comments are often pretty civil. This is by no means a universal statement- there are dumb and smart comments at almost every blog, but as a general rule, I find that intelligent blogging leads to intelligent commenting.

    The HuffPo is an inconsistent site. One of my favorite blog posts on the Intelligent Design debate was both posted at HuffPo and contrary to my own viewpoint on the matter, but some of the most heated, spurious rhetoric I’ve ever seen also came from the Huffington Post. So on some level, I think that the HuffPo is to blame for some of the flaming they get, but at the same time, I’m sympathetic to the desire for good, civil dialouge.

    Comment by curtisschweitzer — July 30, 2006 @ 4:41 am | Reply

  2. Thanks for providing this info.

    I’ve also found that although I’m not abusive, and don’t engage in ad hominem attacks, voluminous cut & paste, or off topic rants, few of my comments at Huffington Post ever appear. Some do appear a day or so later, which could indicate backlog, but more often comments posted after mine, including intentionally obnoxious ones, appear in abundance, while mine are thrown into the bottomless bit bucket.

    It’s disappointing to have to surmise that Huffington Post is not interested in free speech and that they are not being honest about their comment policy.
    I give up. I won’t bother with them anymore.

    Comment by mlb — October 13, 2006 @ 8:23 pm | Reply

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