Huffington Post Comments: HuffPost Exec Dismisses Widespread Criticism of New System

Huffington Post is under fire for its new commenting system, but the executive in charge of the new system has dismissed the widespread criticism.

Long-time HuffPost users expressed outrage in pieces by Poynter and Epoch Times about the new requirements. The primary criticism is that the website now only accepts users who have verified Facebook accounts. Verification on Facebook requires giving Facebook your phone number.

People on the HuffPost community “are leaving in droves,” one user said on the Epoch Times piece.

“The thing that really frosted me, and caused me to terminate my account was that they caught us by surprise,” added another, “ChrisDC.”

“There was no way to comment on what they did without caving in to the garbage about linking to my Facebook page. So, they shut us up over there quite handily, didn’t they? I don’t like being tricked.”

Chris elaborated, saying he works in government, and a range of people who work in government had been commenting anonymously. “Because, when we speak using our own names, we’re (not unreasonably) presumed to be speaking on behalf of our bosses or agencies or clients,” he said.

But Tim McDonald, HuffPost’s director of community, was unapologetic about much of the criticism in an email to Poynter.

“Any change will come with a period of outcry,” he said. “We expected many users would not be happy with this transition, but are confident that as we move forward, this will make for a more engaged and diverse community.”

The website made the move to help “maintain a civil environment,” McDonald said in a blog post previously. The move means no users can comment anonymously using just a moniker (instead of their real name).

Another big issue for many users was the promise that people who had been on HuffPost before the new comment policy would be “grandfathered” into the system, meaning they would be exempt from the new requirements.

However, after Managing Editor Jimmy Soni made the promise in August, Huffington Post decided against it.

On Twitter, Julia Oceania confronted McDonald over the promise.

“I can’t comment on HP [about] the new policy,” she said. “Respectfully, I feel lied to as per August promise we’d be grandfathered in. HP lost me.”

McDonald responded: “I’m sorry. We didn’t change our stance, but did change the grandfathering.”

“You broke your word,” asked Mollie Bly. “What part of that don’t you get?”

McDonald replied: “I get it.”

“No, U don’t get it, Tim! You don’t need to know who we were! Anonymity ENHANCES the ability to present info,” said another Twitter user.

McDonald replied: “We have to agree to disagree on that point.”

 Follow Zachary Stieber on Twitter

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber