This blog is meant to address censorship on The Huffington Post. I’ve been a Huffpo user since the site launched. Just about the same time I cancelled my cable subscription and stopped buying a daily newspaper because I was so sick of the incessant corporate lies and distortions purveyed through them. Since then Huffpo has been my main site for news.
I had noticed for a long time that comments I made to Huffpo often were never posted. For a long time I didn’t pay much attention and just assumed it was growing pains of the site as they scaled up their technology to support their exponential growth. Then I also began to notice more and more users w0uld c0mment l!ke th1s. Much to my dismay I noticed that when instead of crap I said “cr@p” my comments had a much higher chance to make it through. At this point I should point out that I’m not the type of blogger to use curse words or even words like “crap”. I’m also not the type to engage in personal attacks. I don’t see the point in comments like that. I comment because I like to exchange ideas and I like to argue. However, in my experience nothing makes you look worse in an argument than descending to name calling. I always prefer to debate based on reason and facts and when its clear my counterpart is just name calling I simply stop replying. So if this were about having to type “cr@p” instead of “crap” or refraining from other naughty words I wouldn’t care. However, just when I thought I had the Huffpo censorship system figured out I noticed new kinds of censorship.
The next example was on a column someone wrote about Internet security. I forget the details now but it seemed to me there were several fundamental errors in the article (I’ve worked most of my career in Information Technology). I posted a very polite comment pointing out the errors. I was amazed when it didn’t get posted. I tried several other versions and again none of them were posted. This was the first time I got seriously pissed off. Its one thing to censor comments that have “naughty” words. I think that’s foolish but not that big of a deal. It is quite another to censor comments that show an author to be wrong. Once we start to censor those comments it seems to me we’ve really destroyed a fundamental characteristic of blogs that differentiate them from traditional media. The whole point of comments is that readers can talk back and engage the authors.
From that point I started paying more attention to the censorship. I noticed there were at least four types of censorship:
•Bot censorship. There appears to be an expert system or “bot” that pre-screens posts and either removes or puts in a queues for further scrutiny comments that it deems to be inappropriate. How this bot works I have no idea. All I can say is that it is incredibly arbitrary and in my experience screens out many perfectly reasonable comments.
•Author censorship. Comments that are overly critical of an author, especially comments that point out bias that the author may have are often censored. For example in my experience any comments critical of Depak Chopra are always censored.
•Censorship censorship. Comments that ask questions or critique the censorship policy itself are very frequently censored. I’ve personally left several comments on various articles authored by Ms. Huffington hoping for some type of response and those comments never make it through.
•Huffpo censorship. Comments that have to do with the internal workings or bias of the Huffington Post are almost always censored.
So why does this matter? I’m not opposed at all to some degree of moderation. In fact at times I wish there was more moderation on the site. I often see spam, racist comments, homophobic comments, anti-semitic comments and countless comments that are off topic or simply pointless. I would be happy if more of those comments were moderated out. What makes this something I think worthy of concern is that the censorship has gone from being mildly annoying to a serious suppression of free speech on the site.
For one thing I increasingly find myself wondering how to word things to “sneak past the bot” and using juvenile alternative spellings for various words. This seems moronic. What are we afraid of? The bot isn’t actually screening out truly offensive comments anyway. Its possible to get past them using alternative spelling and yet it often screens out totally reasonable comments. As an example, I had a comment on gun control with the word “shot” in it. I wasn’t threatening to shoot anyone or anything even mildly offensive. I took out that word and the comment got posted. To spend time creating a serious post and then see it vanish and to have to consider what word or phrase the automated system objected to seems to me to be an insult to thoughtful bloggers on the site.
Beyond the bot issues I increasingly find that true discussion and criticism of various authors gets screened out. This is especially true for authors who have article after article that says more or less the same thing and promotes their books or other commercial enterprises.
For me the last straw however was when I tried to raise this issue with the Huffington Post itself. The replies I received said that the site wasn’t interested in what the users thought regarding censorship. “The Mandate is from the Corporation” for moderation and the site will do it without input from the users. So that’s why I created this blog.
What to do Next?
Click here to go to the petition against out of control censorship at the Huffington Post.
Please see the greatest hits page. The blog has been up for a while now and on that page I have links to some of the examples I think are most interesting.
If you would like to join the informal group trying to address the censorship issues at Huffpo please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org