Disappearing Comments On Huffington Post

Many people who post on Huffington Post get frustrated because their comments disappear or seem excessively moderated. People often take this personally and complain that the moderators are being unfair and are picking on them. In reality, posts are rarely banned for the reasons people think. In most cases, your post disappears because of software errors or filtering software that is completely impersonal. In fact, you have a great deal of control over how much your posts are scrutinized and whether your posts are displayed.

I don’t work for HP, but I do have a lot of experience building web sites and writing computer software. With some experimenting, I’ve figured out how the HP’s software works and what things get your comments displayed and what things will get them blocked. Here are the details:

1. WORDS. There are certain words that will get your post automatically flagged for moderation. If the software detects any one of the words, the following message will be displayed at the top of your post:

“This comment is pending approval and won’t be displayed until it is approved.”

If you refresh the display, your comment will disappear and won’t be displayed until one of HP’s moderators has reviewed it. This may take one minute or several hours. When the post is finally approved, it does not go to the top of the comments. It is inserted into the comments in a slot that corresponds to the time you posted it. That means that your comment is usually dozens of pages back when it finally appears, so no one will see it.

The way to avoid getting the “comment-pending” message is to avoid words that will be flagged. For example, avoid using obviously obscene words and scatological words. Potentially insulting or threatening words will get you flagged. Remember, the software isn’t smart; it doesn’t know if you want the bill to “die” or want the person you are arguing with to “die.” As a result, you need to be careful with words like “kill,” “death,” “die,” “bury,” “stab” etc.

Insulting words, racist words, and even words referring to various religions can get your post flagged. Again, the software doesn’t know if you are being anti-semitic when you use the word “jew,” so to be safe, it automatically flags it no matter what your intentions were.

The tricky part is that some words that seem perfectly ordinary will get flagged. For example, the word “henry” is flagged because it an obscure sexual reference. (Note: there is a collection of potentially propblematic at the end of this article.)

2. CAMOUFLAGE. If you have to use one of the sensitive words, you can disguise it from the software using various tricks. For example, you can spell the word creatively so the software doesn’t recognize it:

Chit = shit

You can also substitute non-alphabetic character the a human would recognize but the computer would not:

he// = hell or h8te = hate

Finally, inserting punctuation in a word can make it unrecognizable to the software:

de.ath = death

This is probably the easiest to because you don’t have to think much: just insert a random period, dash or underscore in the questionable word and the software won’t be able to recognize the word and won’t trigger the censorship software.

Inserting a period works because it breaks the word into pieces and the software cannot recognize the pieces. For example, if you insert a period in the word “Lied” like this “Li.ed” the computer sees it as two separate words “Li” and “ed.”

Be careful where you put the period other wise you might not fix the problem. For example, if you the period here: “Lie.d”, the computer will see it as the two words “Lie” and “d,” so the computer still sees the offensive word “Lie” and will flag your post.

3. LOST POSTS. Sometimes your post will appear initially and then will disappear. It won’t be marked with the “pending” message; it will just disappear. Here is what happen with those posts:

When you press the “Post Comment” button, two things happen:

A. First, the software embedded in the web page displays your comment in your own browser. Since this software is running on your computer, the comment is displayed quickly without any need to talk to the Huffington Post Server.

B. Second, the same software sends a copy of your comment back to the Huffington Post server so it can be stored in a database and displayed anytime a particular page is displayed.

If anything goes wrong when the comment is sent back to the server, your comment will be lost and won’t get stored in the database. Even though it appeared in your browser, it will disappear as soon as you refresh the page.

There are several things that can cause your comment to be lost. First, if the server is very busy, it may missed the comment. A server can only handle so much traffic. When the maximum traffic is exceeded, the messages will simply get lost. You will normally see this problem when an article is getting lots of comments.

Another cause is refreshing the page before the message has been sent. For example, if you press the “Post A Comment” button and then immediately refresh the page, your browser may not have finished transmitting the comment to the server. Refreshing the page causes the browser to drop what it is doing, so the comment never gets sent.

It is best to wait a few seconds after you post a comment before refreshing the display. The same thing applies when you see the yellow box at the bottom of the page that says:

“New comments on this entry 340- Click to refresh.”

Clicking on it this yellow box causes the display to refresh, so you should also avoid clicking on it for a few seconds after you have posted a comment.

If you think your post has been lost, wait a couple minutes and refresh your browser. Sometimes the server is slow to put your post in the database and it will appear later. If it doesn’t reappear, just re-post the comment being careful not refresh the display for at least 15-seconds. That will usually solve the problem.

4. WRONG PAGE POSTS. If you go through your profile and navigate to one of your old comments, you might end up on the 100th page. If you then decide to post a new comment at the top of the page, your comment will initially go to the top of the 100th page. But if the page is refreshed, the comment will shift to the first page. If you are still on the 100th page, the post will seem to disappear.

5. SCROLLED POSTS. Posts can also disappear, not because they are lost, but because they are scrolled off the first page before you see them. The first page of comments usually has about 40 posts. If you post a comment and more than 40 comments come in, you post could be on the second, third or even fourth page before the browser refreshes the page.

When traffic is heavy, your post maybe on the first page for less than a minute. Since most people don’t look beyond the first page, your post may not be seen by more than a few people. To maximize the time your comment appears on the first page, wait for the “yellow box” to appear on the bottom of the window, click to refresh it and then post your comment immediately.

6. FULLY MODERATED ARTICLES. Some articles are “Fully Moderated.” That means every post will be held up until it is reviewed by the HP staff. There is nothing you can do about this and everybody is the same boat. It makes it hard to have a conversation with anyone, but Huffington is just being carefully with an especially controversial topic. If you are frustrated, go to a different article that isn’t fully moderated.

I’ve been gradually collecting words that will trigger your post being flagged. Some of them are pretty surprising:

Evil, Dick, Henry, Trans, Ugly, Kill, troll, Jew, Jewish, Vile, Moderators, McNutt, Rove, Nut, Rove, Blows