Monday, June 8, 2009

HuffPost policies & statements re user conduct and moderation



Apparently, sometime within the past few months, HuffPost has rewritten its Comment Policy --- and it now includes a more explicit prohibition on comments containing anti-Semitism. (Ironically, the wording of this new "policy" sounds strangely similar to that of our satirically serious Quiz: Are you qualified to be a HuffPost Moderator?, published nearly a year ago).

In its updated "policy" statement, HuffPost keeps explicitly lying about its moderation procedures, claiming that it only "post-moderates" comments on news stories. We've thoroughly proven and re-proven this is a lie over the last 18 months --- that HuffPost pre-moderates every user comment submitted --- using HuffPost's own words and actions, in this special report. The fact is that not a single user comment appears anywhere on HuffPost until it has been reviewed and approved by the site, period.

But HuffPost apparently thinks that it will never be held to account in a high profile public forum for the many, many, many other lies it tells the public --- and presumably its advertisers.

This compilation documents some of HuffPost's articulated policies and statements regarding blogger and user conduct --- specifically:

  1. HuffPost's Terms of Service & User Agreement

  2. HuffPost's Comment & Moderation Policies

  3. Articles about, and interviews with HuffPost re its standards of user conduct

Items (1) and (2) are located at the bottom of all HuffPost pages, as shown below, and via other links (e.g. signup and user preference screens, etc. --- so they are clearly identified and easily accessible).

In summary, as you will see, the basic "rules of conduct" articulated in all three of these document categories are:
  • Keep your comments on-topic (pertaining to the topic of the thread).

  • Don't harass other users, or attack them on a personal (ad hominem) basis, or with vulgarity, defamation, slanders, etc.

  • Don't engage in hate speech, or use slurs relating to race, sexual orientation or gender, ethnicity, etc., or celebrate anyone's sickness or death.

  • Don't threaten anyone.

  • Don't break any laws, and don't encourage anyone else to do so.

In short, act like a civilized, law-abiding human being while using HuffPost.


(1) HuffPost's Terms of Service & User Agreement


The link to this document is here. This is the legal agreement between HuffPost and its users (as the defendant discovered in the federal MySpace indictment). It defines the terms under which users are authorized to access and use HuffPost --- terms that, if intentionally broken by the user, constitute unauthorized access, a basic factor in the MySpace indictment.

The salient portions of this agreement, as applied to the issued covered at Huff-Watch, are:

"Please read this User Agreement before using this Service. By continuing to use (THP), you agree to abide by the conditions of this User Agreement.

1. Your use of this Service constitutes your agreement to all such terms, conditions and policies.

3. In furtherance of the foregoing, you agree that you will not:
(i) submit material that is copyrighted (...) unless you are the owner of such rights or have permission from their rightful owner to post the material and to grant THP all of the rights granted herein;

(ii) publish falsehoods or misrepresentations that could damage THP or any third party;

(iii) submit material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive, or encourages conduct that would be considered a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability, violate any law, or is otherwise inappropriate."


(2) HuffPost's Comment & Moderation Policies


November 2010 UPDATE: HuffPost has updated its Comment Policy and Terms of Service. Key provisions:
"The responsibility of each of our staff moderators is to publish appropriate comments and delete inappropriate comments."

"(W)e do not allow... speech that advocates or supports hatred or unlawful violence (or) threats of violence or threats to anyone or any group's personal safety..." "We also do not tolerate stalking. This includes posting personal information about another community member..."

"We do not tolerate ad hominem attacks of any kind... or speech that is otherwise vile....we do not allow hate speech... racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, or other intolerance... comments that criticize others based on physical appearances or mental characteristics... comments that celebrate the death, illness, or personal loss of any person..."

Previously: HuffPost has two links that lead to two slightly different versions of these policies: its Comment Policy and its FAQ: Comments & Moderation.

The following are the salient portions of these documents (emphasis added):
"Huffington Post pre-moderates comments on our blog posts and post-moderates* comments on news stories.
[NOTE: We already know this is not true; see here]

We never censor comments based on political or ideological point of view.
The following screens from the above links were captured and highlighted on June 25, 2009:

Huff-Watch contends that the documentation it has amassed demonstrates that this "policy" is absolutely not the practice at HuffPost.

We only delete those comments that include the following transgressions:
  • are abusive, off-topic, use excessive foul language

  • include ad hominem attacks including comments that celebrate the death or illness of any person, public figure or otherwise

  • contain racist, sexist, homophobic and other slurs

  • thread spamming (you've posted this same comment elsewhere on the site

  • are posted with the explicit intention of provoking other commenters or the staff at Huffington Post

Q: I posted a comment. Why can't I see it on the site?

A: There are two scenarios for which your comment may not appear:
1. It may be pending approval (...)

2. Your comment violated the policy above. We pride ourselves in providing a medium for engaging and thought-provoking stories and encourage our users to speak their minds freely, provided comments fall within our commenting policy. We must respect our writers and protect them from vicious and inflammatory comments. They too are entitled to free speech- the right to share their opinions without being subject to scathing and mean-spirited remarks.

Q: Why am I blocked from commenting on Huff Post?

A: There are a few scenarios in which a comment might be blocked:
1. A comment is extremely abusive, off-topic, uses excessive foul language, or includes an ad hominem attack

2. If a commenter has previously posted comments that are abusive, off-topic, used excessive foul language, or include ad hominem attacks, a Huff Post moderator may decide to ban the commenter's IP address. This means the abusive commenter is banned from commenting on the site in the future, even if the later comments are not abusive. We ban IPs because the sheer volume of comments makes it too time consuming to individually delete comments written by someone with a pattern of abuse.

Q: There is a comment that I find insulting and in violation of your policy. What can I do?

A: You can flag the comment as abusive by pressing the Flag As Abusive link below the comment. This alerts our moderators and delete the comments that don't comply with our policy."


Articles about, and interviews with HuffPost re its standards of user conduct


New Kid On The Block
Newsweek, May 6, 2005
Excerpt (emphasis added):
[Arianna Huffington] writes in the site's inaugural May 9 [2005] post [...]: "If you're looking for the usual flame-throwing, name-calling, and simplistic attack dog rhetoric ... don't bother coming to the Huffington Post." [...]

[Huffington]: "What we're doing is two things. We do news. I don't believe news is left wing or right wing. And then we do the group blog, which is going to be a dialogue from all viewpoints."

Setting the Record Straight: On Trolls, Moles, and Dis-Invited Bloggers
Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post, June 22, 2006
Excerpt (emphasis added):
[H[is [Dr. Rost’s[ penchant for airing personal grudges on HuffPost continued, becoming problematic when he devoted another long post to a personal attack on one of the commenters to his posts… [H]e responded [to HuffPost’s gestures] by doing the exact opposite of what we had asked -- posting a follow up to his earlier post that included more personal attacks. At this point, it was clear that Peter Rost had ceased acting as a member of our online community [...]

“Arianna Huffington Defies Skeptics, Conquers The Web”
Fortune, October 29, 2007
Excerpt (emphasis added):
[Arianna Huffington]: (O)ur desire (is to) not to have the Huffington Post become a forum for unending personal battles and potentially libelous charges.

“Bill O'Reilly Needs to Enroll in ‘Understanding the Internet 101’”
Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post, March 20, 2008
Excerpt (emphasis added):
We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to abusive or hateful language or comments – such comments are taken down as quickly as they come to the attention of our moderators. And we are constantly working to develop new technologies -- and backing them up with more and more 24/7 moderators -- which will allow us to more effectively filter out objectionable comments. But no system is perfect and offensive comments occasionally slip through.

Arianna’s Answer
Newsweek, July 25, 2010
Huffington credits her decision early on to moderate comments and keep things civil rather than allowing the typical Internet free-for-all. It’s a lot of work—HuffPo has 20 people who do nothing but weed out the nasties.


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