Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Letter to the Huffington Post

Dear Mr. ___________,

I am a Huffington Post reader who wrote you two days ago to express my gratitude toward the new comment policy. I would like to thank you and the other Huffington Post staff for your hard work in keeping our community a civil one, and I know that this new comment policy is a reflection of that dedication. I would particularly like to thank you for mentioning "anti-Semitism" specifically as a form of hate speech that is not to be tolerated. I have been reading the Huffington Post for almost a year now and in that time I have found anti-Semitism among the readership to be a huge problem, and I hope that these changes mean you do as well.

However, it is on the topic of anti-Semitism that I feel like I should write to you and communicate what I have been feeling. I would appreciate it greatly if you would spare some of your time to listen to what I have to say. I have always found the Huffington Post staff to be an open one that are receptive to the opinions of its readership. I write because I truly want this community to be an open one, so I hope you do not mind if I offer some suggestions.

Mr.          you have told us that anti-Semitic comments will no longer be allowed on the Huffington Post, and that moderation will be used to end them. I think this is a great step in the right direction, but in my experience watching the HP I have found that anti-Semitism has never been tolerated, and yet many threads are still plagued with it. The moderators work hard, and stop anti-Semitism where they see it, but they cannot be everywhere at once, even with the "flagging" system. It is therefore that I must tell you that part of the problem is with the nature of the Huffington Post itself. And if you want to stop anti-Semitism on your site, some changes will be required for there to be a lasting effect.

Before I continue I wanted to be clear: I'm not telling you how to do your job, nor would I be so bold as to tell you how to run a newspaper. All I can tell you is what I have seen and what my experiences have been while reading and commenting on the Huffington Post. What I have found is that there are certain aspects of the Huffington Post as an internet newspaper that allows anti-Semitism to be welcomed and to flourish. If you don't mind, I will provide some examples. As I am sure I don't need to tell you, most examples of anti-Semitism today takes the form of criticism of Israel. There is a place at which criticism of Israel and its policies become anti-Semitism the same way there is a place at which criticism of President Obama becomes racism. Whether intentionally or not, the Huffington Post sometimes contributes to a negative image of Israel, which in turn leads to anti-Semitism in the talkback sections.

Here is the first example of this: On May 24th Palestinian militants from the Gaza strip detonated a bomb carried by a donkey near the border with Israel and then fired several mortar rounds across the fence. The next day Israel responded with airstrikes that wounded 15 people. The Huffington Post carried with story with the headline, "Israeli Warplanes Strike Gaza." To someone who only read the headline it gives the impression that Israel attacked the Gazans for no reason, and in fact many of the HP readership said exactly that. You can look at the comments in the thread if you do not believe me.

I do not know who writes the headlines. Maybe the HP staff simply copies it from the Associated Press. But as it stands the HP could have used a less one-sided headline such as, "Israel Responds to Mortar Attacks" or even "Renewed Violence in Gaza Strip." As it stands the headline (whether intentionally or not) promotes the myth of 'Israel as the aggressor,' which in turn leads to racist and anti-Semitic comments.

Let me reiterate: I am not asking you to ignore stories that make Israel look bad! You have an obligation to report the news to the best of your ability, no matter what the subject matter. What I am asking you to do is consider the effect that certain aspects of the Huffington Post subject matter will do to its readership before it goes up. Which in turn brings me to my next example: The Huffington Post blogger community.

The opinion section of the Huffington Post is broad and varied. It also holds quite a few bloggers who promote extreme anti-Israel and anti-Semitic points of view, which in turn gets passed on to the readership. Before I continue, let me provide you with a definition of anti-Semitism. Now here are some examples of real articles that have been published by the Huffington Post.

Would you consider it to be anti-Semitic to accuse Joseph Lieberman of being a double agent for Israel simply because he is Jewish? Because HP blogger Michael Carmichael did exactly that.

Would you consider a conspiracy theory that Jews control Washington through AIPAC to be anti-Semitic? Because that is practically all that HP blogger MJ Rosenberg writes about. Here is one example in which he tries to convince his audience that AIPAC gives "marching orders" to Congressmen and women.

Would you consider calling for the destruction of Israel, the Jewish state, and only Israel to be anti-Semitic? Because HP blogger Ahmed Moor has done that not once but twice. IN fact that is all he seems to write about, and he's not the only one by a long shot.

Would you consider comparing Israel's current actions with the slaughter of millions of people by the Nazis to be anti-Semitic? Because Uri Avnery did that just the other day as well as Kevin Coval a few months ago.

Would you consider denying Israel, and Israel alone, the right of self-defense to be anti-Semitic? HP blogger Jerome Slater covered that as well.

As if all of that weren't enough, the Huffington Post also has in their blogger stable Ali Abunimah and Adam Shapiro, both of whom lead radical organizations and are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. And for months the blogroll has shown a clear anti-Israel bias. Perhaps you do not agree with me that the above examples are anti-Semitic or are even close to anti-Semitic. And that is fine, you are of course entitled to your own opinion. If you do agree that these are anti-Semitic viewpoints being expressed, I would suggest that if you are serious about fighting anti-Semitism on the Huffington Post, that you take steps toward a more toned down discourse in the opinion section. The choice in the end is yours, as are the consequences of that choice.

To conclude, the Huffington Post has allowed itself to be a megaphone for anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) extremists. You cannot truly be surprised that anti-Semitic users are drawn to your website like moths to a flame. It is a welcoming environment for them, where their views are not shunned but encouraged and repeated. For anti-Semitism to be fought effectively there must be some manner of internal changes. The Huffington Post can show its users from the top down that radical anti-Semitic views are not acceptable. But as it currently stands, the message the HP is giving its users is that such views are not only acceptable but are quite mainstream and should be encouraged.

I thank you for your time and your consideration. I wish you good luck in this fight, and I hope you have a good day.

Sincerely,
Zach

11 comments:

  1. Superb. Please post any response (or lack thereof). By the way, has HP posted it's new comments guidelines? If so I can't find it and a link would be nice. Keep up the good work and lets see if they take your comments to heart/

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  2. Its going to be very difficult to police such a large and active site. Matt and Zach have only me to deal with. :) Multiply that by several hundred posters on HP and its a big problem to enforce TOS guidelines. But it has to be done if they want to keep any degree of credibility. There should be a zero tolerance policy towards ANY racist and anti-Semitic comment on their site. Its not too much to demand from them.

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  3. Notice you have not called om HP to police equallu anti-semitic comments against arabs.

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  4. Anonymous:

    I think the .001% of bigoted comments you are talking about are routinely condemned and deleted. When the 99.99% of them that are the main issue here have had the same treatment, it'll be ideal. Still, love the attempt to change the subject.

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  5. Anonymous is quite correct, and your figures are, at best, a complete guess, since you only look for antisemitic comments as they apply to Jews. What is your evidence that "the .001% of bigoted comments you are talking about are routinely condemned and deleted"? I see them left to stand, not being deleted.

    Your letter is also a fudge.

    Why do you not make it clear that you have an interest outside that of being "A Huffington Post reader"?

    Why do you not say, at any point, "I, and my brother have our own blog which seeks to highlight what we have self-defined as offensive comments, and which you can find at http://thebrothersofjudes.blogspot.com. My name on HP is "LonelyGod" and that of the partner in my blog is "StCuthbert"?

    Why do you not say "One of the aims of our blog is to guide people as to how to get people that we or, others who feel as we do, get people banned from your pages"?

    Why do you not say "You might be interested in taking a look at our achievements in getting people banned, and at our hate lists"?

    What are you afraid of?

    And "Anonymous", above, has not changed the subject. He is merely highlighting an aspect of the subject which you want to ignore because it is unsuited to your agenda.

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  6. Anonymous #1: You're right. I didn't, because I do not feel as if anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry is as significant of a problem on the HP as to warrant additional attention. If you would like to write to the HP to discuss that problem with them, I would applaud your decision to do so.

    Tony Andrews: I am not going to respond to your question because...
    1. I have a policy of not feeding the trolls.

    2. You made the comment "antisemitic comments as they apply to Jews." This means that you are lying about the correct definition of anti-Semitism for your own purposes. I know you have been reading this blog long enough to know that you are lying or being intentionally obtuse.

    I know you are smarter and more reasonable than most of the people (on both sides of the issue) on the HP, but if you act like a troll we're not going to give you what you want.

    Let me know when you are interested in having a real discussion about these issues.

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  7. Keep guessing, and making false connects.

    And answer the questions, as you often insist others must do.

    1. I am not trolling. I am asking reasonable questions.

    2. I was being ultra-specific because I know, as you do, that some people try to differentiate the term on the basis that Arabs are a semitic race. Being ultra-specific is not lying.

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  8. Tony Andrews:

    The only people who try and pretend that "anti-Semitism" means anything other than hatred of Jews are people like you, soldiers in the war on anti-Semitism. And people like that are not open to a a rational exchange of ideas.

    But if you *really* are going to push for an answer, here is one: Mind your own business, and stop trolling. It's funny how you continue to harass us about how "pathetic" our work on the blog is, but here *you* are trolling on it. Strikes me as a little bit hypocritical.

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  9. That'll be "I have no reasonable answers to give", then.

    And despite your belief, I am not Tony Andrews.

    Keep trying!

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  10. Actually it's more like, "I don't answer loaded questions."

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  11. Actually, it is much more like "I am unafraid to demonstrate how pathetic I am, and how unable I am to answer reasonable questiosn".

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