Huffington Post was once a pet project of commentator Arianna Huffington, a super blog that brought in celebrity commentators and humorists and included links to other people’s news stories. Today it is just another sensationalist news trash site owned by AOL with a table at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. They stormed the castle of major media but ended up just becoming a guard along the watchtower. Personally, I have had enough.
If you have been to Huffington Post lately and tried to comment, you may have noticed that they are forcing you to display your actual name and tie your account to your Facebook page, which, since they’ve added in a phone verification system, gives the AOL owned Huffington Post access to your phone number and personal information to post. Why? To “turn the page” on all the hateful comments and people who hide behind anonymity to say deplorable things.
The move has riled many users and many are leaving, even deleting their accounts. When they announced the move last summer, many of the top comments were from some of their top commenters, with thousands of fans who announced their departures. A few had even achieved the high label of “pundit” and had been with the site since it’s launch back in 2005!
While the commenting thing isn’t the main reason I am leaving the site, I must admit it does anger me quite a bit the way in which they handled it. I have no problem with Facebook or social media comments. Many smaller sites like mine have social media commenting for convenience. Big sites like Huff Post have management of millions of users. I’ve had my account for quite some time, I believe it was created around 2008. It’s a contract with your user and it creates a commenting culture that people become familiar with. Trying to stop the commenting you have is like shooting yourself in the foot. They already have measures in place to stop comments, in fact they shut down way too many comments.
So many of my comments were stopped simply because I used a word that set off their stupid content filter and sent it to a moderator who apparently didn’t like my comment, which was often a well thought out multiple paragraph response that laid out a clear and concise case. Meanwhile 4 word comments that were deplorable and hateful could skip their moderators by putting stars on the N word or whatever. Those comments were then flagged and gone. It was way over the top, and thoughtful responses should never have been deleted because the writer or moderator did not like the comment. That’s what happened though, and many people like me have wasted far too much time writing comments that were deleted for highly questionable reasons.
Most news sites will allow most anything to be posted and YouTube literally allows Nazi anthems to be uploaded and comments to be down right disturbing. So it seems silly to have such tough security measures in the first place, though it seems even sillier to stop the hundreds of thousands of comments that are helping your sites popularity unless you have a damn good reason to do it. Stopping the hate? I see hateful comments all the time on sites that require your real name. It may stop some of the obvious trolls, or the people that normally get flagged for abuse. Since the move is suspiciously tied to advertising and marketing related reasons that seems to make more sense. Ya know, the ol’ sell your info to 3rd party bit.
Well that may have backfired. Looking at the comment numbers today, the place is comparably a ghost town. Where once seeing under 100 comments meant the post was less than hour old, today it is the new norm.
However, the big reason why I have been teetering on leaving for a long time is because of the increasingly dishonest eye-grabbing headlines, the emphasis on entertainment stories and the increasingly Animal-Farm like shift from the blog that once took on the establishment to a just another sensationalist “news” schlock-a-thon.
Why just today they put a story at the top about how “Girl on Girl Action is on the Rise”. Uhm, you mean women admitting to a single lesbian encounter? Oh, well that’s not that exciting as the porn reference. Pretty hard-hitting journalism there that deserves to be AT THE TOP. Of course, it was at the top of the page in the famed, right column, which is filled with stories about Miley Cyrus, stories about wardobe malfunctions and stories about porn. It’s where you will find the headline “It’s Over” above a celebrity couple I’m supposed to know by their looks. All over though, are headlines that promises one thing and then turn out to be nothing what they promised. Another pet peeve that I see many others share with me is the daily segment from last night’s Daily Show or Colbert (sometimes both). It’s a headline that tries to make an out of context line that Jon Stewart said seem profound. The one up as Half the time it’s misleading, ‘What the F*ck is Wrong with Us’. Oh that’s not sensational (oh and don’t try to do the f*ck in your comments btw, that is unacceptable, Huffington Post is a family institution), it’s also misleading, since Stewart was actually slamming the media and the insecure American culture for trying to drum up controversy. The irony was lost on them, though I guess you’re still more likely to click the headline that leads to a 2 paragraph paraphrase of the Daily Show segment than if the more honestly titled, “What Jon Stewart Said Last Night”.
Even the serious articles have all the sensation of a York Peppermint Patty. A fight between politicians in the Georgian Parliament turns into “WATCH: Georgian Parliament Erupts in Brawl”. YEAHHHH! Georgia be brawlin’ yo! I guess that’s more exciting than discussing how Vladimir Putin’s Russia is exerting its will over former Soviet states, leaning on them to join an economic treaty to rival the European Union. That’s not exciting at all! When we lower the bar to reach people who probably wonder what a little brawl in Atlanta has to do with the Ukraine, you’re not doing anyone any favors. You’re just trivializing a pretty serious topic that is going by mostly unnoticed by the major press.
Oh and then there is my personal favorite, the “All We Want For Christmas Is A Twinkie Machine” (yes that is real), style headline. Who is “We”? Am I included in that or are you speaking for the entire Huffington Post organization. Does respectable journalist Howard Fineman want a Twinkie Machine too?
Just to totally drive this into the ground, here are the top 20 from a list of top 50 worst Huffington Post headlines from earlier this year:
1. Khloe Kardashian: My Vagina Smells Like Roses
2. PHOTOS: When a Good Dress goes VERY Sexy
3. What Women Should Never Say to Guys During Super Bowl
4. This Supermodel STILL Looks Amazing
5. NSFW: Former Beauty Queen Flashes Her Headlights
6. Wardrobe Malfunctions
7. More Wardrobe Malfunctions
8. Miley’s Midriff
9. Rachel’s Tiny Shorts
10. Juliane’s Risky Dress
11. Jessica’s Skin Tight Dress
12. J-Law Goes Low Cut
13. Keira Talks Knickers
14. Denise’s Skinny Pics
15. PHOTOS: Mischa Barton Leaves Her Bra At Home
16. Miley Shows Too Much Skin
17. Miranda’s Lingerie Photoshoot
18. Kerry Without Make-up
19. Stars Who Showed Too Much
20. Jennifer’s Jumpsuit
I could go on and on but you get the point. Or should I say, WE get the point.
It’s sad because I remember when HuffPost was just politics. I don’t mind a little celebrity news or comedy or LGBT whatever, it should just be held to standards. It should be told from a specific point of view, the way magazines try to be. Not a mish-mash of celebrity wardrobe malfunctions, iPhone tech gossip, links to articles from Cracked.com and what porn stars look like without makeup next to serious news about the Newtown Tragedy, a call to action from Robert Reich to be more engaged in the process and the multitude of very important news stories that are being drowned out by all that crap listed above. Democracy depends on a well informed citizenry. The job of informing them is the so-called, 4th Estate, the media.
Standards are collapsing in the Internet Age. Arianna, once spoke so highly of her organization as she lambasted the major media. She once wanted people to fight to make the system more fair. Today she is the CEO of a company that sold for over $300 million who was sued over labor disputes with her writers (who work for “the experience” meaning peanuts) and won, screwing them over. I hear the lady who argued once about the decline of the major media and how they are the gate-keepers of important stories. Today, I wish I could ask her, have you even looked at your site lately? My guess is NO.