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Facebook Censorship or Moderation at the Huffington Post?

My Facebook comments on Huffington Post are visible to me but probably nobody else. If you use social media to expand your visibility, you'll...
  1. A short while ago I noticed that a Facebook comment I left on a Huffington Post article was gaining numerous Likes, only to go from hero to zero activity abruptly. Other comments which took an adverse perspective were suddenly gaining Likes and replies by leaps and bounds. I also noticed that comments from certain people whose names I remembered seemed to spontaneously disappear. As of the past few weeks, my comments on the Huffington Post have received no Facebook Likes or direct replies of any kind. My research indicated that this is not a one time anomaly. Whether you engage in social media personally or as a professional marketer, you'll probably want to be aware of when you may be in a vacuum and invisible to the community.

    Surprise! Only You are seeing your comments!

    Someone I know personally had authored an article that recently appeared on the Huffington Post home page. I left a laudatory Facebook comment. It has yet to receive one Like or response in acknowledgement. I tried a simple test to determine my visibility to others. I can view the comment on the Huffington Post website when I'm logged into my Facebook account.


    But when I am logged out of Facebook and view the article as a standard non-Facebook identified web visitor, my comment disappears. If you look closely at the top of the article, the total number of comments remained the same. But several minutes prior to my page refresh, the comments had dropped from 13 to 12. A Facebook Friend logged into Facebook and viewed the same Huffington Post article. My comment was invisible to several Friends and non-Friends viewing the same article - and confirming it by expanding the entire comment tree. And if you look at the total Facebook comment numbers on some Huffington Post articles where no comments are visible, you'll sometimes see 1 or more comments represented in the comment total.

    I have also noticed that Facebook comments seem to disappear from comment threads. If I compare what I see versus a friend, I will see comments made by Facebook users that will not appear when he is logged into Facebook and viewing the exact same page. In fact, if you look closely at comments you might notice that some commenters will reply to a person whose name may not be visible in the comment thread. And now you understand why that may be the case.

    The Huffington Post Comment Policy

    The Huffington Post Comment Policy states that they may "pre-moderate" comments. If you've managed a website of any reasonable size, you'll certainly be able to appreciate the need for moderation. And with a site that covers politics and whose writers can take some fiercely extreme views, comments can quickly spiral into a vitriol filled abyss. I took the HP's pre-moderation language to mean that Facebook comments might not appear when I view a Huffington Post article until approved. It wouldn't make sense that the user submitting the comment would see their own comment on their site as if it was approved, yet this seems to be happening.

    One possible explanation I considered was that the Facebook comment area on the bottom of a Huffington Post article might be loading as a separate Facebook page appended (or more accurately "embedded") to a Huffington Post article page. But the Huffington Post's Policy seems to imply that my original impression of moderation was accurate. Moderated Facebook comments should be invisible when loading a Huffington Post URL and might only appear in Facebook feeds if that option was checked.

    Q: I posted a comment. Why can't I see it on the site?
    A: Please be aware that not all comments may appear directly on the Huffington Post site, but will still appear on your Facebook feed for you and your friends, unless you have unchecked the "also post on Facebook" box above the comment entry space.

    Website owners can benefit from having stealth moderation by defusing the reactions of undesirable users. Targeted users would probably never realize that their comments were moderated from the start and never seen. Undesirable posters who see their posts having none of the desired impact would probably cease to visit the site.

    Frozen out only at the Huffington Post

    What piqued my curiosity was noticing an ostensible disappearance of comments in articles from people whose names I recognized around the same time I noticed my own abrupt decline in social appeal. These persons usually echoed viewpoints that were unpopular with the more liberal minded Huffington Post readers. The comments seemed consistently civil in their demeanor, even when topics would provoke a heated debate. I doubted that the sudden disappearance of their posts would or should be the result of a conduct policy violation. In fairness, I probably didn't pay as much attention to the hordes of bandwagon jumpers, although the most vociferous liberal voices seemed to enjoy a regular and uninterrupted presence.

    I became convinced that my Facebook commenting to the wall anomaly was occurring only at the Huffington Post because virtually every comment I made at ESPN's sports website received either at least one Like and/or reply. I was convinced that, for an extended period of time, I had absolutely no audience at the Huffington Post. So I took another look at their comment policy:

    Q: Why do my posts never appear in the Huffington Post comments?
    A: If a user has repeatedly posted comments that have violated these ground rules, their comments may be blocked from appearing on the site. This would include inappropriate comments that contain, insults, attacks, abuse towards other users or groups; or have engaged in trolling or hijacking the comment threads.

    I have never received any warning from the Huffington Post and wouldn't expect one. It is possible that one of my comments may have been flagged for pre-moderation, perhaps even accidentally. Reporting abuses are common at many websites, such as users with liberal or conservative politics identifying and labeling comments by users with an adverse position as incendiary, trolling or some other policy violation. Perhaps my profile may have ended up being flagged and left so that all my comments would be pre-moderated and filtered indefinitely. It's impossible to day.

    Research leads me to conclude that my Facebook account's subtle silencing is not an isolated anomaly. I couldn't find a simple way to contact the Huffington Post about this issue. Rather than spend time to track down the contact email address, I feel that my time is better used being productive elsewhere. While I may participate there from time to time and some of my comments have appeared and received attention, I've taken notice that this bug - or feature - can occur there and leave me silenced.

    Social Media Policies and Expectations

    If you actively participate in social media, you'll certainly want to know if and when you may have been placed on mute to the community. It's important to remember that if your membership to an online service is free, you relationship more closely resembles a guest than a patron who has paid quid in exchange for quo. Expect acceptable use policies at larger mature sites to provide the operator with a tremendous amount of discretion in interpreting their terms and policies. You have no First Amendment right to have your opinion reach an audience. And if a site incorrectly silences you, your remedies might be limited to taking your opinion elsewhere. So comment wisely and reasonably and always keep your eyes open.

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    About Author

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an SEO / SEM expert, Internet attorney and the administrator at Fixxer. He has been building online communities since 1990 and also serves as a Google Top Contributor at Webmaster Central.


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