BuzzFeed has decided to update its community contributor post guidelines after facing anger last month for running the piece, "8 Outrageous Things Planned Parenthood Was Caught Doing," by the anti-abortion group Personhood USA. It has also pulled the piece in question, and searches on the website for the group returned nada — though the group had several published listicles as recently as last month.
When the Planned Parenthood listicle was first published, the feminist blogging community called into question what the website's guidelines were, and if Personhood USA's post qualified. ThinkProgress talked to a BuzzFeed Representative who told ThinkProgress the company was "in the process of figuring out where and whether we should draw lines about what’s appropriate on what we conceived as an open platform, like Facebook and Twitter."
It had already been pretty clear that BuzzFeed was having a hard time figuring out to do with Personhood USA's controversial account. As Mediate pointed out at the time, those who clicked on the account's postings could see a community note at the top of the post that read, "Community posts are made by members of the community, and are not vetted or endorsed by BuzzFeed."
That's all well and good and indicative of BuzzFeed's community guidelines. However, a cursory look at some of BuzzFeed's other community postings shows that typical posts feature such disclaimers more subtly, at the bottom of the page, demonstrating the site does indeed vet at least some of its community postings — not exactly fair or true to policy.
And now that policy is changing. Last week, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith confirmed a change in community contributor guidelines. The updated rules instruct users somewhat vaguely: "no haters," "no trolling" and "no personal attacks" are allowed.
The new guidelines go both ways. BuzzFeed, in addition to yanking the Personhood USA post, pulled a listicle entitled "5 Reasons Ken Cuccinelli Is Lying About Restricting Birth Control" by NARAL Pro-Choice America after ThinkProgress called BuzzFeed to ask whether it violated the new policy.
The Personhood USA listicle isn't the only time the site's community section has come under fire: Three weeks ago, Israel expanded its "public diplomacy" efforts to include the presence of its American embassy on BuzzFeed. It published a post entitled, "Threats Facing Israel, Explained In One (Sort of Terrifying) Map," which received more than 3,000 likes on Facebook, more than 400 shares on Twitter, and more than 23,000 on the website.
The problem? As the Atlantic describes, the "menacing perils on the country's borders" illustrated by the map blur reality — dramatically. If you were to take the post at face value, the magazine explains, you'd think Iran and Israel's Arab neighbors were just about to strike Israel with a torrent of rockets and nuclear weapons.
It's an issue for the site, because readers often confuse community-generated content with content published by the BuzzFeed staff. "Since when does Buzzfeed act as a propaganda outlet for Israel?" one reader commented on the map post.
And controversy surrounding the website isn't limited to its community section, either. BuzzFeed's sponsored content has also been criticized for looking, well, a little too similar to other parts of the site. And it's one thing when such sponsored content is from companies like Pillsbury, but when sponsors get a bit more political, BuzzFeed enters murkier water.
As nsfwcorp details, last spring BuzzFeed's entire Politics vertical was plastered with the name of Charles Koch, who runs the biggest private company in America. Plus, BuzzFeed had set up an entire customized page for the Charles Koch Institute. The page featured links educating readers about such topics as the danger of Big Government and "The Disgusting Consequences of Plastic-Bag Bans."
What's more is that BuzzFeed's immigration summit, moderated by Editor-in-Chief Smith, was not only sponsored by the Koch Brothers, but also included multiple extreme ring wing thinkers from Koch-funded corporate front groups, like the Heritage Foundation. (They're the ones who recently had to fire one of its immigration experts because he believes that Latinos have genetically lower IQs than white people.)
It's worth mentioning, by the way, that Smith originally came to BuzzFeed from Politico in order to help make it into a more credible go-to news source.