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Like Oil & Water: BuzzFeed & Progressive Activism

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

At midnight on Oct. 28, Amy Leaman and Josh Stuart posted on, "10 Oil Spills That Look Like Justin Trudeau's Hair." By 5 p.m. it was gone.

At 6:02 p.m, Stuart received an e-mail from BuzzFeed Community Editor Cates Holderness that said the post "violated our community guidelines" with no other details.

They have tried to reach BuzzFeed for exact details, but have had no response despite sending half a dozen e-mails.

Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, had made headlines in the Canadian media the previous week for supporting the Keystone XL pipeline while at the Centre for American Progress Policy Conference in Washington D.C.

Trudeau's Chief of Staff, Cyrus Reporter was a lobbyist for oil companies BP, Nexen, and Syncrude.

But it's not just the Liberals who don't like anti-oil advocacy.

BuzzFeed is also known for its collaboration with Koch Industries. On May 14, they hosted an "Immigration Summit" with the Charles Koch Institute.

And of course the Koch brothers stand to make $100 Billion from Keystone XL.

BuzzFeed's Politics Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith and politics editor Ben Johnson have already been exposed by Yasha Levine of Las Vegas based NSFWCORP for their support of the Kochs and their ties to right-wing media.

Johnson had a meltdown on Twitter earlier this week once he realized that Democrats were the big winners in this week's elections in the US.

Johnson's week continued to be lousy after Rosie Gray wrote a hit-piece on former advisor to Bill & Hillary Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal for defending his son Max's new book to his friends in e-mails against nasty reviews.

Max Blumenthal's new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel has been either ignored in the mainstream media or savagely attacked by some pundits because it paints a bleak picture of Israeli racism and creeping fascism.

One correction has already been issued about a claim that Sidney Blumenthal was responsible for leaking a photo of Barack Obama in Muslim dress during the 2008 Democratic Primaries. The dress was not Muslim (it's Kenyan) and Blumenthal's leak of the picture is only an allegation which has never been proven.

This error was referred to as an "editing" one. Johnson of course, is the editor overseeing this article.

One smear that has not been corrected is the claim that Max believes that all non-indigenous residents of Israel-Palestine should be made to leave. Max vehemently denies ever making such statements and has refuted the original article that said he did. 

That's not all BuzzFeed did this week to defend reactionary interests.

Other posts this week include Johnson's smarmy "8 Lessons Obamacare that Can Learn From Blockbuster," and "Why Ken Cuccinelli's Loss In Virgina Doesn't Tell Us Anything About The Tea Party" which tries to claim that Cuccinelli's loss in Virginia's gubernatorial race was partially due to the fact that he tried to back away from his outrageous socially conservative statements instead of embracing them.

Smith also made waves this week for the following statement while speaking at Columbia University's School of Journalism. The comment starts at 57:56: 

ERIC HIPPEAU: What about the fine line between either investigative journalism, or journalism period, and advocacy?

BEN SMITH: Um, yeah, I hate advocacy. Partly because I think, you know, telling people to beoutraged about something is the least useful thing in the world.

This view seems to only extend to BuzzFeed's community, not their own journalists.

I sent several e-mails to BuzzFeed to ask why the listicle was taken down. I finally received a response Buzzfeed's Press Director, Catherine Bartosevich that simply said, "I'd point you to this," and contained a link to a story. The story was one from called "BuzzFeed puts in new policies for 'community' posts: an uneasy attempt at control." 

The article states how certain groups have been using the BuzzFeed community to make controversial posts promoting their political views. It mentions how BuzzFeed also attracted some unwanted attention when an anti-choice group made a listicle critical of Planned Parenthood.

Right wing think tank The Heritage Foundation also garnered controversy with their "That One Time I Was Really, Really Excited About Obamacare." post which goes on to slam the Affordable Care Act for things they believe will have a negative impact. The post is still up but now has a comment at the beginning of it saying that this is a post from a community member and does not reflect BuzzFeed's editorial line.

BuzzFeed now has a list of "community guidelines" that posters are supposed to follow. BuzzFeed now frowns on snark and promoting one's political views in an abrasive manner. One could argue that the Trudeau post violated these guidelines, but that is not an open and shut case.

Several issues still remain unresolved. BuzzFeed has not responded to my follow up question as to whether all community posts of a political nature are automatically taken down or if it is an editorial decision if it is felt a post violates community standards.

BuzzFeed has removed the anti-choice post, but it has not removed the Heritage Foundation's anti-ACA post, suggesting what constitutes a violation of community standards is open to interpretation.

If people think that that the post about Trudeau was snarky well, "10 Cardboard Boxes That Look Like David Cameron" is still up on BuzzFeed after three weeks. 

This should be a warning to those who wish to use social media as a way to promote their politics and activism. These sites are owned by profit seeking companies. They are not only looking out for their bottom line, so they have to keep other corporations happy who shell out money for advertising. Activists have been weary of government surveillance and excited about the potential the social media. The state isn't the only thing watching your online activism. It's time to remember that social media has its limits.

Luckily, there seems to be a Streisand effect going on with "10 Oil Spills That Look Like Justin Trudeau's Hair." It has been posted to under the tag line "check out the list that was censored by BuzzFeed." It has about 10,000 views so far.

Justin Trudeau's Press Office did not return any of my phone calls asking for a comment on "10 Oils Spills That Look Like Justin Trudeau's Hair."




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Gerard Di Trolio (Gerard Di Trolio)
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