HuffPost Comment System: Longtime Users Tell Why They’ve Left the Huffington Post

December 29, 2013 Updated: December 30, 2013    

Hundreds if not thousands of users have left the Huffington Post (also known as HuffPost) after a surprising new comment policy was implemented.

The new requirement is that users must connect to a Facebook account in order to comment on articles on the website, and that the Facebook account must be authenticated. That requires a mobile phone number. In the end, users are forced to use their real names (either first and last or first with the first initial of the last). 

The main surprise for longtime HuffPost users was a broken promise: scores of these users tell of being told repeatedly that they would be “grandfathered in,” meaning they’d be exempt from the new comment system requirement. However, on December 10, the users logged on only to find that they weren’t, in fact, exempt.

Users leaving the Huffington Post have migrated to multiple websites, including this one, and a blog run by a former user, JackHolesRealm. The following are some of these users telling why they’ve left the HuffPost, many for good. For people who included it, the number of years they were at the site, the number of comments they had left, and the number of fans and friends they had, are included along with their thoughts.

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User: signgrrl56 (via email)

“i was a huffpo person since 2009; i doubt if i ever missed a day there.  i was a superuser with 3200+ fans and lord knows how many comments. they ruined a great thing and i miss commenting and interacting with everyone. trolling was NBD, we handled it ourselves.  i miss y’all and hope i meet up with you somewhere else. love from signgrrl.”

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User: J_R_M (via email)

“In some ways, I am grateful for the addition of the auth requirement – the new format, the increased density of fluff and rerun pieces, and the increased moderating had combined to make me consider dropping HP from my daily routine even before the new auth requirements hit. I had found that increasingly less than 10% of my comments were being published in a timely manner – and all of them met the guidelines. But I was calling commentators on their errors and providing references to back up my rebuttals. I was also getting irritated by self-promoting commentators and commentators who were clearly shills for various factions – and it was clear that commentators with opposing viewpoints were being suppressed. Now some comments to me were inappropriate, but in responding so, the commentators labeled themselves. I found some respondents to have very valuable insights and adjusted my subsequent comments based upon information they provided me.

As it was, I dropped my membership immediately. I am a computer security professional and would not recommend that anybody follow their guidance. I do not have and will not have a FB account, let alone an authenticated one.”

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User: Joe the nerd Ferraro (via email)

“I saw your article on the HuffPo purges. I don’t know if I would fit in your article because I am staying. I am irritated, but staying.

 They allowed me a break and allowed me to blog.  I am pretty loyal when someone cuts me a break.

 I look at commenting as verbal jazz –hence the attraction.

I liked trading 4’s with smart people.

 I used to comment a lot more and was able to build up a fan base.

(For a while I think I had one of the gaudier numbers there.  As a blogger it was easier for a comment to be seen.  For some reason I am not good enough to be a pundit, where the comments are more featured.  But that is life.)

 The limitations they have put on commenting page are pretty rough.  The ‘protection’ logic falls apart when there is no feedback as to why a comment is deleted, or who deleted it.  That means you cannot train yourself to write a comment that passes whatever passes for muster.  In fact, it makes the interaction worse because there is no rhyme or reason to what gets bounced.

Knowing who is bouncing the comments would be very helpful also. But this is a business and they are not making a lot of cash on commenting at this point. This may be the corporate method of brushing people off.

 It is ironic they are calling the commenting section ‘social media’ when people cannot be social outside of posting on an article – exploring development in that direction may bring some folks back, if they want them.”

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User: peeganr

“I first joined HP in 2008. I didn’t post often in the beginning but that changed just under 4 years ago. While on bed rest for a difficult pregnancy I started to comment on HP a lot. It was more informal back then and you could have some great chats. But sometime in late July of 2010 I upset someone greatly. It was on a Mel Gibson thread of all things. We had some less than pleasant exchanges when this man realized he wasn’t going to change my opinion, but I didn’t think to much about it. Unfortunately he wasn’t willing to let it go. He hacked into HP and retrieved my e-mail address from their system. Like most people, my e-mail address was based on my real name. He then opened an account using my name as his poster’s name and followed me all around HP harassing me. I was upset but not real worried about it at first and figured he would go away if ignored. He didn’t. He then started e-mailing me directly. He had apparently gone through my old comments and gathered up enough information on me to figure out exactly who I am. He was able to do this because I was careless in giving out too much info in separate posts and because my father, who I had spoken of, is well known in his field.

The e-mails came fast and furious. He had details on my family, on my parents, my husband, and most scary, my kids. He knew where I lived and asked if i was planning to send my daughter to XXX elementary school that fall? Was it a safe school? Did I worry about my kids safety? It was really bad. My husband and I immediately tried to contact HP. We e-mailed them and used a phone number we got through 411. We made at least a dozen (probably more) attempts to reach someone. The e-mails went unanswered and messages left on voice mail were never returned. We then turned it over to a lawyer. Armed with screen shots of the HP harassment and copies of the e-mails, our lawyer contacted HP and forwarded the information. HP’s initial response was they would look into it, but they didn’t seem very interested. Our lawyer then informed them that if IMMEDIATE action was not taken not only would we be filing a lawsuit but that we would do our level best to generate as much bad publicity for them as possible and explained to them why we would be effective at this. THAT finally got HPs attention. They closed down all accounts associated with an identified IP address and blocked any new accounts from being made from it. They contacted the NYC police. They promised to monitor my account if I decided to post again (it took a while for me to do that) for any problems and gave me a number for a staffer who would return my calls.

I wanted to tell this story to make sure people understand that even 3+ years ago HP had no concern for their posters privacy or safety. Only the threat of bad publicity got them to do anything. If you are thinking of linking up your FB account and phone number to HP PLEASE keep this story in mind. Their site can be hacked. Your info can be available to some very dubious people. I also ask people to be smarter than I was, be careful about the info you post. I never thought I was giving that much a way. But i now realize that if one looked at my comments in total, they could get a good deal of information on me, enough to identify me.

Asked to place this addendum…As you all know HP stated that one could apply for anonymity and each case would be reviewed;. Although I was fairly sure that my relationship with HP was coming to an end, I did fill out the form, referenced what had happened to me in the past and gave dates so it could be confirmed. After about 4 days I received what appeared to be a form letter stating I did not meet their criteria for anonymity. So, to recap; I had been a member of HP for years and a frequent commenter. I had my information hacked off their site resulting in being stalked and threatened both on and off site. HP ignored it until a lawyer was involved and the police were brought in. But I didn’t meet their criteria.”

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User: Haruko Haruhara

“There’s so many things wrong with this policy change, I hardly know where to begin.

First of all, HuffingtonPost outright lied on a number of occasions to their posters about this policy. They just flat lied. There simply is no nuance here. We were told repeatedly on various threads that nothing would change for current users and we would not have to provide our identity. That is a major violation of trust. It was so disappointing because up until this moment, I personally had had a very positive interaction with HP staff and felt that my concerns to them had been listened to and taken seriously. When a lot of people attacked HP and attacked the staff over the pre-moderation, I consistently took the position of defending HP staff and defending the professionalism of the moderation staff.

But, it was obvious in this case that HP didn’t take people’s concerns seriously, not their trust. It is impossible for me to respect Community Manager Tim McDonald’s glib and flippant responses on Twitter about ‘We didn’t change our stance, but did change the grandfathering’ and my favourite, when Tim was told HP had lied, he responded with a simpering: “I get it.” So, he’s admitting HP lied, but doesn’t take it seriously, and doesn’t take it seriously how furious users are over that.

I fail to see how this could possibly improve the ‘civility’ of Huffpost forums. It’s quite easy to create a fake Facebook account and fake mobile phone number through Google+ or other means, and trolls, who know how to mask their IP addresses, will easily find workarounds past these guidelines. In fact, I could easily do it myself with my limited Internet savvy, but I won’t bother. So, it’s not going to do anything to stop trolling. I am not going to bother asking for an “exemption,” either, because I feel I shouldn’t have to.

One of the biggest concerns I have is I value my anonymity on the Internet. I had one poster several years ago on HuffPost threaten to kill me and I have been stalked by several other posters, partly because I was once a CM2. Some of these people are deeply disturbed and obsessive. Some have threatened to show up on my door one day, and I believe some would not hesitate to try to harm me in some way in real life if they learned my true identity. Stephenie and Eric can both confirm that I have been targeted repeatedly by these online stalkers. “Beejer” is also a well-known among HuffPost circles for starting up a website personally attacking a number of HuffPost commenters. He’s been doing this for years and it’s well-known he’s a disturbed and obsessive individual. What do you think he would do to people in real-life if he garnered enough information on HuffPost about people’s identities? You have literally handed these kinds of people a gold mine. This was explained to HP before the policy was implemented, but you ignored it.

Based on how blatantly HuffPost simply flat lied about the grandfathering and based on Tim McDonald’s pathetic glibness over the issue, I simply cannot trust that you are telling the truth that this is really about ‘civility.’ It appears to be more of some kind of cross-marketing scheme involving Facebook, which has its own myriad of security problems (more than 2 million passwords hacked earlier this month).

To this date, I have lost more than 100 fans, about 6 percent of my fan base. I estimate at least twice that many within my fan base have not deleted their accounts, but no longer post on HP because of this policy. I notice that HuffPost generally only has one or two stories now with more than 1,000 comments on its home page. Did you anticipate this drop-off? I can only hope the drop-off is longterm so that it affects your longterm ad revenues to the point that you can admit this was a mistake and change your minds.”

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NEW: Huffington Post Draws Ire After Posting ’11 Reasons You Should Quit Facebook’ Following New Comment Policy

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User: gmb007

Comments: 28,061
Time on HuffPost: 4 years
Number of friends and fans gone: 352

“The ONLY reason I became a rabid HuffPost “addict” was its Comments and Community.

The brilliance, wit, intelligence were staggering.
The open, lively, spirited – sometimes fiery – debate was like a good-drug I could not get enough of.
My world and mind, as so many others’, blossomed in its pages.
Real friendships and a sense of family flourished.
The comments were better and more informative than the stories so many times.

Then darkness fell.
HP sold out to AOL.

An insidious chill slowly started to freeze out our little Paradise, one stealthy ‘change,’ one ‘addition,’ one ‘improvement’ at a time.
Think frog and boiling pot.

Aside from the institution of the surprise FB ID requirement and rampant censorship, the most flagrant assault was the whole removal of ‘Friends Tab’ on comments and the removal of Friends ‘Commented’ Activity.

No longer could we find and easily talk to our ‘friends.’
This was no accident or tech glitch.

This happened several weeks before FB ID was implemented.
The strategy of divide-isolate-and-conquer worked perfectly – crush organized debate and dissent when the FB Hammer fell.

HP’s moves are pure, cold-blooded 24K Machiavelli.

Let’s face it, news aggregation sites are a dime a dozen.
Arianna Huffington did not make HuffPost the media behemoth it is today – her members (and unpaid bloggers) did.

Community is the heart and soul of HP.
Without it, HP becomes just another backwater blog.”

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User: termgirl

“The reasons for wanting to post anonymously on the internet are numerous. Perhaps a person has an ex-boyfriend, girlfriend, former spouse or admirer who is stalking them. Maybe they are going through a divorce or child custody battle, where anything they might say could be used against them in court.

Maybe they want to be safe from an on-line stalker. Possibly they are in a job, where voicing their political or religious opinions could result in professional suicide.

The Huffington Post is promoting the notion that anonymity fosters “civility”, and that people should “own their opinions.” This is laughable on so many levels. The story headers at HP are designed to promote knee-jerk reactions, right-left debates, and controversy. You are still engaged in heavy moderation of your site to this day. Are you not, HP? So apparently posting people’s real names and acquiring their cell numbers hasn’t solved your self-generated problems. You want to know what creates a lack of civility? You want to know what makes people really cranky? It’s having a simple comment held up in moderation for days on end. It’s having a comment deleted that in no way violated your guidelines.

I have been disenchanted with the Huffington Post for some time, your ID verification requirement was just the final straw for me. That is why, I closed my account. You have had very little regard for the opinions of the people who helped build HP.From the beginning, it was the people who were the attraction. It wasn’t the news. (I could and can get that from numerous sources.)

So after almost six years, I bid you adieu.”

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User: Araxiel

“Been posting on HP since 2007. This new requirement to link to FaceBook has caused me to stop posting or even reading HP stuff any longer. I don’t want to give the the clicks that translate into $$ for advertising rates. And to boot, HP has become little more than a slightly more civilized version of the National Enquirer with its teaser, suggestive headlines and recently very shallow stories.”

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User: Arbutus

“I was a member of the HP community for the past five years, and greatly enjoyed the variety of topics on the site, as well as conversations with many intelligent, creative and caring people. Unfortunately over the past few months, the site has been on a dismal downward spiral. There are way too many fluff articles for the website to be taken seriously anymore. The awkward new commenting format stifles conversations. Users have been almost uniformly negative about the new format, but have been completely ignored. Lately, moderation has increased to an extreme, capricious and ridiculous extent. Many comments that meet the site’s own stated guidelines are never posted, and no reason is ever given. Even comments that are eventually posted are placed in a pending purgatory for long periods of time, so that following and replying to conversations is virtually impossible.

The latest policy disaster has been forcing users to link to FaceBook and offer their private cell phone numbers if they want to make comments. No matter that many loyal users have serious privacy concerns with this new policy. No warning was given, and they’re not listening to feedback about it. The hypocrisy of this new policy is striking when so many articles on the site discuss privacy concerns regarding FaceBook, the NSA, etc., and purport to be aghast when privacy is compromised. HP showed great promise as a progressive, inclusive website, but has not lived up to that promise. I see it now only as the commercial enterprise that it is.”

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User: Cynthia W.

“If I thought that joining Facebook would make things more ‘civilized,’ I would be less critical, but this move is more about getting private information for marketing purposes. In addition, comments take hours to appear, if they appear at all. Seems the moderators, with their heavy censoring are steering the conversation. Most important of all is the total disregard of people who have been there for years, making intelligent and informative comments.

I had been commenting for just a year, but the reason I joined the community was for the comments. News can be obtained from many sources, but we had a community, which is now sorely missed. Many people need anonymity, and Facebook is one of the most persistent trackers on the web. My anti-tracking programs numbers don’t lie. This was a wrong move by the Huffington Post, and it’s most precious assets, its dedicated community were made refugees.”

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User: USAGramma

Time on HuffPost: 2 years
Fans and friends: Almost 2,000

“I echo the reasons given by others here for leaving. In addition, I am a victim of extreme domestic violence. The man who repeatedly stalked me, attacked me, and beat me just short of losing my life left me with numerous physical disabilities, brain trauma, and PTSD. When they started instituting the new commenting format, I had to cut way down on commenting, as I already use an on-screen keyboard to post and my physical disabilities were aggravated by the increased clicking required–I commented less and less as the new format increased. Then they put the new format on the entire site, which meant not only was my ability to comment stifled, but even my ability to read many comments at all. When I logged into my account on Dec. 10, 2013 and found Mr. Pavley’s promise that existing members were ‘grandfathered in’ was a bold-faced lie, I knew my days on HP were over. 

I kept my account open until Dec. 15, 2013, and logged in daily to read only, and watched my fans/friends totals drop by an average of over 30/day. I was there solely for the conversations I could have with intelligent, thoughtful, respectful people on news of interest to me. They were leaving, so what was the point? The BIGGEST reason I left was because if the man who has tried to kill me before finds me, he will try again. HP wants me to put my life in danger to access their site? No Thank-You!!! I can aggregate my own news articles, and none of it will include ‘side-boobs!'”

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User: F. Grump

“Since this whole registration scandal started on Huffington, I’ve been hearing from a lot of people that lost a lot when the site changed its membership requirements. Requirements many could not or would not meet. It entailed requiring people to sign up with Facebook, own text-enabled cell phones, and give up their rights to privacy and security.

I was saddened by some of the stories I had heard. About members who had to give up their association with The Huffington Post after years of loyal membership, with the advent of the new changes on Dec. 10, 2013. Of people who lived alone, who might have been disabled or with limited mobility. People for whom the HP community was close to their only contact with the outside world. People who found a place where they could interact in meaningful ways, with people they never would have had the opportunity to do in their lives. People who learned to find their voice in their writings, and find themselves, in a community of people that appreciated what they had to say. And who’s words they could appreciate and connect with as well. It felt as though HP provided shelter for homeless people, then with no warning just booted everybody out on the street in the middle of winter, because they figured it was more financially viable to turn the place into a parking lot.

That led me to realize HP knew exactly what would happen as a result of their policies. And that they simply could not care less about the human lives and relationships that had built up for years between members, that they were going to destroy in one day. It became clear their true motivation behind the change was solely in making profits off of people. As many of us eventually learned, there was a lot more going on than some nonsense premise about how anonymity is destroying the internet.

I resented having to open up a Facebook account, which I didn’t ever want, and have it verified with a cell phone, which I didn’t ever own. It was a long, drawn out process for someone a bit more computer-savvy like myself. I could imagine it being a nightmare for one with less experience. For this reason, I wrote a crude guidebook to help HPers minimize the privacy issues created by their new account. But HP never allowed me to post it. Once I made it back onto the site, I found quite a different landscape than I was used to. Comment tallies on home page articles were a fraction of what I was accustomed to seeing. Entering the comment sections revealed pale remnants of what those conversations once looked like. You could almost smell bleach in the air, from the heavy duty scrubbing and sanitizing the comments appeared to have gone through. It eventually became apparent that their plans to turn the commenting community into what they called a ‘sophisticated, grown up and civil’ one, was never going to rely primarily on a strategy of forcing people to use their real names. Seems even HP knew that dumb idea wasn’t going to work.

So instead, their real means of controlling rowdiness is now mainly being driven by a new policy of “secret” unwritten moderation directives that greatly increased the influence of moderation, ensuring that the comment sections looked ‘clean’ (to use their term). Almost any hint of dischord or whiff of controversy would not be tolerated. More than ever, comments often agreed with each other and looked like they were written by the same hand. Reports of 60-90% comment deletions started coming in from members. People couldn’t even post poems or ‘goodbye HP’ comments under this new moderating system. I couldn’t even post two different messages in a row, and always had to wait until several people posted before hoping to get anything through.

The Huffington Post has become a 4-letter word to me now. I can’t say the name without spitting on the ground. They turned thousands, if not millions, of members against their very name. No wonder. They lied to their members about policy. Informed them of it only after locking them out. Ignored complaints about their unpopular comment format. Treated their commenters like children thru brutal moderation policies. Instantly killed comments people poured sweat, blood and tears into. Simply because it contained some innocuous word or other that happened to have been entered into their flagged word database. Made people invent all kinds of silly inflections of the English language, just to get posts past their mod-bot system. Said they would provide anonymity exceptions to those who fear repercussions. Which also turned out to be a lie, as many have reported their claims were denied, without so much as a word in return.

In the now buried thread where they announced the Dec. 10 change, about 99% of respondents complained about it, while a mostly uninformed 1% were fine with it. Just that statistic alone is all anyone really needs to know about the past, present and future of The Huffington Post.”

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User: Jerrygkayaks

“55% of my ‘friends’ have abandoned HP. Many super users among them. 30% of my comments never get posted for no apparent reason. I’m still in the game to monitor reactions. It’s like watching the fall of the Roman Empire in real time.”

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User: Helen NPN

“…The commenting at the already terrible pixelpaper Huff Po is going to be Super Safe, Super Sanitized, Super Nice – For Your Protection!!! Huff Po has officially turned itself into a sanitary napkin type product, instead of the community, information hub and part of everyday morning routine that it was.

I’m just not buying their troll thing – I was a long time commenter and sure once in awhile there were trolls but you just flagged them and moved on. If the management/staff there can only concentrate on the trolls to the exclusion of the overwhelming majority of comments which were shared stories, exchanges of ideas and the civil and sometimes even enlightening discourse that DID represent most of the commenting there, then it is their own myopic shortsightedness and increasing inability to manage their own creation.

During the occupy protests I had an amazing exchange with an active duty NY cop that went on over two days – I ended up helping him see the protesters as human beings, not just motley trash – he specifically told me I had changed his attitude towards what they were doing – amazing! Mostly though I found a lot of humor, mostly gallows humor which Americans are now specialists in, for very good reason. I’ll never forget a particular thread back when Karl Rove announced he was going to “name names” in his biography of anyone on his [list], or something to that effect. The thread was a stomach-muscle-aching workout of ongoing laughter as thousands of commentors found every which way to say, “how can I get on that list please…” and give Karl ‘Turdblossom’ Rove his well deserved due from the public.

The Huff Po era is done and so be it. Let it become a safe spot to say nothing and build a better bubble for their brand of Insipid Info-tainment. The real action will happen elsewhere with discourse, disagreement, humor but most of all, what freedom can still be found online. Goodby Huff Po, and good riddance.”

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Some further examples of longtime users leaving:

Lance Wagstaffe

Comments: 29,885
Time on HuffPost: 6 years
Fans and friends: 3,300 (almost 300 lost several days after the changes)

msanonymous222

Comments: Over 10,000
Time on HuffPost: Almost 4 years
Fans and friends: Nearly 600 (Was a SuperUser)

RockyMissouri

Comments: Over 42,000
Time on HuffPost: 4 years
Fans and friends: Nearly 11,000

ChesapeakePirate

Comments: Around 14,000
Time on HuffPost: About 3 years
Fans and friends: Around 1,500

justin sayin

Comments: 4,700
Time on HuffPost: 3 years

Quick Brown Dog

Comments: Over 15,000
Time on HuffPost: Less than 1 year

Leslie

Comments: Over 10,000
Time on HuffPost: Over 7 years

Guy Cybershy:

Time on HuffPost: Over 8 years
Fans and friends: 2,000

HeyJude

Time on HuffPost: Over 1 year
Fans and friends: Over 500

previously2008

Comments: Over 8,000

HamletsMill

Time on HuffPost: Almost 6 years

Canukistani

Time on HuffPost: 7 years

kateerbe

Time on HuffPost: 7 years

Helza Poppin

Time on HuffPost: 9 years

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