Huffington Post Makes Radical Change to Commenting Policy – With a Hefty Dose of Privacy Violation For Profit Purposes

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This past summer Arianna Huffington announced that the Huffington Post planned to end anonymous commenting on its sites – a policy that apparently went into full effect yesterday given the significant drop in comments.

Huffington said she has decided there are too many “trolls” using the site who hide behind anonymity to make violent or offensive comments, and that she believes people should “stand up for what they say.” To that end, The Huffington Post is now requiring that all users – old and new – connect their HP accounts to a verified Facebook profile. Verified in Facebook means that a user has to share their cell phone number with Facebook – which Facebook will then use to send a text message back to the user with a code for verification.

First of all, I highly doubt that Arianna Huffington ever personally reads the comments section of HP in order to be able to assess that it is being trolled by people leaving violent and/or offensive messages.

Secondly, The Huffington Post already has comment moderation in effect whereby so called “violent” and “offensive” comments – and in most cases controversial ones – do not get approved. In fact, one of the biggest issues with HP commenting is the extensive moderating and censorship that goes on – more so than on any other site I have encountered –  to the point where often comments put on the site percolate in the queue for so long that no real conversation can take place, because by the time your comment gets approved, it is buried underneath 800 new comments that have since posted.

Therefore, it is quite frankly unclear to me what Huffington means when she says that getting rid of anonymous commenting would eliminate “violent” and “offensive” comments.  I thought they were already being eliminated through extensive comment moderation/censorship.

Gross Privacy Violation Coupled With Data Mining 

man masked anonymous group member computing computer silhouette

The official reason for doing this, namely to promote civility and accountability to the experience of commenting at HP, appears to be nothing but a smokescreen, a front, a euphemism for what is really going on here, namely a gross violation of peoples’ privacy to gain access to and mine their personal data in order to sell them things – in collaboration with Facebook – the masters of data mining and advertising.

HP, of course, states that linking one’s HP account to a verified Facebook account would still “keep privacy tight” but that is not only not true (their privacy disclosure clearly states that HP would have access to a person’s Facebook profile, email, friends’ list and information, even interests etc. and a court order could easily request even more) but if that were truly the case, then why require connecting HP to a verified Facebook account at all?  Why wouldn’t a regular FB account do? Why the verification? Why this extra step?

Why does HP need access to a person’s Facebook profile, name, friends’ list, email – even interests and a host of other private things? That is going entirely too far. This has nothing to do with civility.

Arianna Huffington is clearly looking for a way to get on the cash cow that is Facebook and start profiting through advertisements by having access to peoples’ very personal information. Why does The Huffington Post need to know what a person’s interests are and who their friends are in order to maintain civility and polite discourse on their forums? Peoples’ Facebook accounts are for their friends and family only, not to be used by Arianna Huffington to make more money.

Additionally, HP’s new commenting policy makes having both a Facebook account and a cell phone number a requirement for participating in the HP community – which should never be the case. People should not feel obliged to sign up for a particular kind of service, such as Facebook – that carries with itself a host of other privacy violations – including targeted advertising based on your web-browsing that FB logs – just to comment on some news site. Some people also do not have cell phones, or do not like cell phones and/or do not have text messaging. Requiring that they possess all those technological capabilities  in order to leave a lousy comment on HP is ludicrous. And I mean let’s face it, this is The Huffington Post – where 75% of its contents are lifestyle and entertainment. This isn’t some high end intellectual epistemic community that needs to identify its commentators to remain credible.

At any rate, requiring verification by connecting cell phone numbers that require a person’s government issued name and social security numbers for activation   – with Facebook accounts and then, by extension, with Huffington Post accounts is just about as deep down the privacy and identity rabbit hole as it goes. Even George Orwell would be impressed. It would not be too difficult, in such a case, to track back the comments of an individual to their name, address and social security number if need be.

The NSA doesn’t need to spy on people anymore – looks like they can now just request the data straight from Facebook and/or The Huffington Post during one easy data dump/transfer.

But let us assume good faith here and that Huffington’s real reason for this change in commenting policy is genuine concern (it is not). Such an assertion assumes that there is no value in anonymity and anonymous posting, which is not true.

Value and Safety in Anonymity

Politics is fundamentally about settling disputes and as such it puts winners and losers in unique positions to avenge themselves against each other. Protecting the political privacy of ordinary citizens has always been an issue and in a true democracy, the secret ballot is the simplest and most widespread measure to ensure that political views are not known to anyone other than the voter—it is nearly universal in modern democracy, and considered a basic right of citizenship. Even where other rights of privacy do not exist, this type of privacy very often does.

anon 2

Secrecy at the polls is crucial because it insures that individuals can not only cast votes sincerely but also, and thus most importantly, without fear of persecution and retribution of any kind.

In the legislative realm, for example, Representatives are supposed to serve citizens without regard to how they voted in the most recent election—something which would seem impossible if it was easy to look up an individual’s vote.

In practical, every day terms, a lot of people would potentially face persecution  – formal or informal – from retribution by employers in the form of discrimination and mistreatment at the work place,  to denial of services by third parties to a host of other adverse consequences – if their political views at the polls were not anonymous.

The same goes for political views expressed in online forums and commenting sections of news sites, especially in the internet age where employers and other interested parties can look up individuals before giving them a job or granting them a loan or render a wide variety of services.

People have enough to worry about when it comes to image crafting. This world can be a judgmental place. People are worried – and rightly so – that even good opinions can hurt them, should a person in authority (a school administrator, a prospective employer) take offence. While Arianna Huffington can demand “accountability” from her readers, is Ms. Huffington going to hold the rest of society accountable, when her readers’ comments become grounds for tearing up a resume for a serious, but “PR-unfriendly”, stance? I don’t think so.

When people see that they can express their political views and opinions without their colleague, boss, manager, neighbor, landlord, phone company, Facebook and government knowing about it – black on white – connected to their social security numbers no less, then they are more likely to express their honest opinion. In turn, this leads to more honest discussions as opposed to the kind of censored, mutilated, insincere debates that take place between people who realize that there is a cost associated with making one’s political views known and transparent to the world.

When it comes to political discourse, therefore, anonymity is not only crucial but it also carries value and is of utmost importance for the functioning of a democracy. Moreover, it serves to protect those who potentially face adverse consequences based on their political views. Finally, the quality of posts and comments and with it discourse will suffer as well, because of the diversity of opinion that anonymous posting offers.

anon 3Therefore, even if “civility” and “accountability” was the real reason for why HP was getting rid of anonymous commenting, overall and in terms of allowing for honest, sincere discourse, such an approach is more likely to backfire because not only would there not be honest discourse but there is a real, legitimate reason for people to not want to post with their identities fully disclosed.

Someone should have briefed Ms Huffington that the internet is not just full of people who post violent and offensive things offending her delicate sensitives, but that it is also used by some of those same people to stalk, hurt and threaten those whose political, social, and religious views they do not agree with. By getting rid of anonymous commenting, HP is rendering a host of people vulnerable to such threats.

I cannot even begin to describe how truly harmful, detrimental and problematic it is if everyone in the internet-verse is required to adhere to such steps and disclose so much personal information in order to be able to participate on the internet through its various forums and outlets. It exploits people, it exploits their privacy, it makes them vulnerable to a host of adverse factors and it leads to the kind of police state mentality whereby every inch of a person’s being is monitored by Big Brother, in cooperation with private entities, for the “security of the state” and “welfare and safety of the people.” A brave new world, indeed.

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  1. #1 by Lynn on December 29, 2013 - 8:21 PM

    This is the best article I’ve read about the new HuffPo comments requirement. You brought up points I had not thought of, such as HuffPo getting access to the person’s lists of friends on Facebook and what they might do with that information; and the abiity to track a person all the way down to SS# from a comment opn HP/FB. Each of the points you made is clearly explained and supported. The Facebook comments policy is pure greed on the part of Ariana Huffington and her AOL toadies. They really do not care how much they invade people’s privacy or how much they put us at potential risk of retaliation from those who disagree with our coments. I deleted my HuffPo account as soon as I heard about the Facebook login requirement. I’ve never had, and never wanted, a Facebook account.

    • #2 by clem2 on January 11, 2014 - 7:39 AM

      One thing about FB I really hate is if your friend “friends” a page or a contest or whatever, that page, which you know and care nothing about, gets you as the list of friends. Which is why I don’t add friends I don’t totally know on FB. Also why I use it once in a blue moon.

      Yes, I also left HuffPo….. tho for the first time in like a month peaked over there and there seemed to be plenty of comments ;-/ I’m not surprised, even if their numbers were low I’m sure they have ways to inflate em.

      • #3 by popreflection on January 11, 2014 - 1:33 PM

        Or, you don’t use your real name on Facebook.

  2. #4 by john on December 19, 2013 - 3:02 PM

    Excellent post.

    The “real-name” thing was a total deal breaker for me. I’ve posted something like 19000 comments on HP over 5 years, mostly about climate change – endless battles with anti-scientific propagandists. I am a science professor, in an academic position, and I didn’t want to be tracked down and hounded by the far-right clowns who seem to think that you’re some kind of war criminal if you actually believe that the vast majority of scientists have good reasons for thinking the things they do.

    I am so outta there.

  3. #5 by sally on December 17, 2013 - 8:16 AM

    What makes me laugh about huffpost, is that they aren’t all that! If I wanted to post under my name, I would like them on facebook and post there. They don’t need access to my friends and family, nor phone numbers. I am still unsure why facebook needs access to any of these things, and this is why I don’t have it on my phone! Many of my friends have dumped their accounts at huffpost, and will not go back. They are losing alot of people’s accounts! Their are other sites out there that are way better than hp!

  4. #6 by clem2 on December 15, 2013 - 6:11 AM

    Great blog. I learned a lot here explaining why the FB connnection. And the phone number? They truly must think we are stupid. Who would give out such information– nobody with half a brain!

    • #7 by sally on December 17, 2013 - 8:10 AM

      Many have given out their numbers or they wouldn’t be posting. HP is the trash of the internet.

  5. #8 by ledenjak on December 14, 2013 - 11:30 PM

    Yep. Also don’t forget that all prior posts from years and years ago will be linked (and searchable) by one’s name. So that time someone, with the protection of anonymity, discussed (in a polite and civil manner) a medical condition, or abusive relationship, or rape, or loss of a loved one, or sexual orientation, or a cheating spouse, or a crazy ex, or a hated relative, or a co-worker with hygiene issues, or a legal matter…. you get the idea. All of that will be linked to a name and facebook account and a phone number – for all time.

    Some topics are not appropriate for every time and place – or audience. One should be able to discuss sensitive subjects without having to expose oneself to the world.

    HuffPo doesn’t care about civility or respect – a glance at their headlines proves that. This is about money and just money. I hope HP’s greed is their undoing.

  6. #9 by Grant on December 14, 2013 - 3:10 PM

    Great article. It may of interest to note that one of the most important documents in the history of our Republic, The Federalist Papers, was written by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay under the name “Publius”. If we were living in some banana republic or China, it would be easy to say they did this to forestall dissent, but obviously (I think) they wanted to cash in on their gigantic user base. Well it’s no so big anymore. Looks like the free market might take care of HuffPo and the executives that came up with this thinly disguised marketing ploy. Perhaps their readers are smarter than they gave them credit for.

  7. #10 by Sharyn G on December 14, 2013 - 2:58 PM

    Awesome article and so happy they’re brave enough to tell the truth.

    Those on huff, they WANT you to create a junk account, because FB NEEDS NEW BUSINESS.

    There was an article three weeks ago on huff saying their accounts were down and that they had decided to lower their age requirement to 13 to attract new accounts.

    Now suddenly FB has this deal with huff guaranteeing them new accounts or at least reactivation of old ones, thereby upping their web traffic and their bottom line to their stockholders.

    This company is just now joining the S&P 500! This is about money. They don’t care if you use an account, they just want you to make one. Higher numbers equal higher profits.

    Huff underestimated out memories. They have been writing stories about declining numbers at FB. Also, FB was hacked a week ago and account passwords were posted online.

    So, why would huff, who has been widely critical of FB on their own news site, suddenly not ask you, but DEMAND that you have a FB account to comment?

    Money. A deal was made, just in time to guarantee higher account numbers for FB since they go live on the S&P 500 December 20th.

    Coincidence? Ha!

    I myself had my FB account plugged in back in 2011. I never rely cared or used it. But ill be darned if I’m taking orders from a bunch of hypocrites who want to keep me in Plato’s Cave. It’s the height of hypocrisy- huff would be the first in line to report on this type of shady activity if it were happening on a rival news site, and we all know it.

    There’s a couple places where many of us have gathered, if you want to k ow where just ask . I put it down before and people found us , but then the comments were deleted by HP, go figure.

  8. #11 by Dan Bostdorf on December 14, 2013 - 2:33 PM

    This is about $$$ as HuffPost exclusively uses facebook which I loathe. They refuse to accept my verified LinkedIn account.

    So–the exclusive arrangement means $$ between facebook and HuffPost exchanges—along with your privacy as 3rd party venbdors buy Facebook info.

    • #12 by Dan Bostdorf on December 14, 2013 - 3:52 PM

      PS….send your “newstip” or “scoop” to Huffpost. Let them know what you think and suggest a news scoop..

      scoop@huffingtonpost.com

  9. #13 by USAGramma on December 14, 2013 - 1:48 PM

    Very well said! I am not a commodity–I am a free and free-thinking American citizen who very much values both my privacy and my right of free speech without fear of retribution!

    • #14 by HeyJude on December 14, 2013 - 2:54 PM

      USAGramma! Didn’t know if I’d ever see you (and the new pup!) again, so happy to find you here. Come to Epoch Times….it is the gathering place of HP expats. They are welcoming us, and the group is growing continuously as the word gets out. 🙂

      • #15 by USAGramma on December 14, 2013 - 3:00 PM

        Hi Hey Jude! So good to see you! 😀 I’ve joined the wonderful group of HP ex-pats at JackholesRealm. It’s WordPress, too, so you can post both here and there. I’ll probably stop in at both, now that I know it’s so easy.

        • #16 by HeyJude on December 14, 2013 - 3:38 PM

          I will check it out, thanks for the invite! Yes, I’ve been amazed how easy it is to move between these sites…my Disqus sign up seems to work wherever I need it. As time goes on, word is getting out more and more where everyone is congregating.

          • #17 by USAGramma on December 14, 2013 - 5:37 PM

            I hope you will. BTW, I’ve always wanted to tell you I used to have “Hey Jude” on 45. B side was Revolution. 🙂

          • #18 by HeyJude on December 14, 2013 - 6:12 PM

            🙂 Me too! As I like to say…I was cursed with Judith at birth, and thank the beatles for making THAT all better. See HP…I DID post with my real name. Ha!

          • #19 by USAGramma on December 14, 2013 - 6:17 PM

            😆 I gave them their own special moniker–I call them HogPen.

          • #20 by USAGramma on December 14, 2013 - 7:09 PM

            .

  10. #21 by Guy Cybershy on December 14, 2013 - 1:07 PM

    This is just censorship, and nothing to do with civility.

  11. #22 by Farmer General on December 13, 2013 - 1:38 PM

    I quite agree! I myself being part of the outcast. Keep blogging this is how things go viral!
    I also hate the fact that the WHOLE internet now goes through the NSA spy center which is using quantum computers to capture EVERYTHING and it is able to store this information forever!

    I think facebook is just one of their information aggregates. They use it and other methods to put together profiles of everyone. You may think this is impossible, but check out the meaning of quantum then search out quantum computers on startpage(anonymous search engine) This is scary stuff!

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