Peter Rost was a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post who recently made public accusations about our Technology Manager, Andy Yaco-Mink. I considered responding immediately because Andy reports to me, but I decided to ignore Rost's accusations because they were trivial, uninteresting to most HuffPost readers, and not accurate. I only decided to respond once Rost decided to take on the HuffPost and Andy as a personal crusade - sending out press releases and mass emails, posting frenetically to his own blog, calling Arianna a liar, publicly posting personal emails and the home phone number of a HuffPost employee, and referring to himself as a whistle blower.
First of all, let me say that I am a big fan of Andy Yaco-Mink. He is a smart, young, thoughtful technologist who manages to balance his progressive ideals with a snarky cynicism. Rost picked an unlikely target when he labled Andy a "troll," a "mole," and suggested that Andy may have manipulated the comment rankings. Rost was best known as a critic of a giant pharmaceutical company, so it was surprising to see this former medical doctor and former corporate executive taking on a 25-year-old progressive geek.
In the course of his day, Andy spends considerable time moving content around the site, fixing problems, and helping our editors. That means he is very familiar with the writing of all the contributors at HuffPost. For whatever reason, Andy found Rost's writing incredibly annoying. On a few occasions, he would vent his frustration with Rost's writing by posting a sarcastic or critical comment. He always posted these comments under his own name - yacomink - and never attempted to post anonymously as Rost claimed. He was not a "troll" - just a reader expressing criticism of Rost's writing in the form of a sarcastic comment.
That being said, I contacted Andy to express concern the moment I heard he was commenting on Rost's posts. Critical comments are fine for a reader of HuffPost but the tech staff's primary responsibility is to support our contributors and critical comments send the wrong message. Before I could even express these thoughts to Andy, he offered a heartfelt apology. He realized that he was acting like a reader when he posted the comments, but as a HuffPost staffer he should have shown more restraint expressing his personal opinions in the comments.
This would have been a minor faux pas but Rost decided to publicly challenge Andy and the HuffPost instead of speaking to us directly about his concerns. He suggested Andy manipulated the comment ranking and even presented "facts" to support this claim. As someone who designed the comment voting system, I can tell you that Rost's claims do not explain why Andy's comment was promoted. Andy did not manipulate the comments and the fact that Rost is demanding an investigation or a denial is offensive. Why would a contributor writing for the site assume that there is a "mole" trying to sabotage him? Isn't the most logical conclusion that a few HuffPost readers appreciated Andy's sarcastic response and voted his comment up?
In the end, I think it is clear that a site like the Huffington Post needs mutual respect and trust between the contributors and the staff that works to make sure our bloggers are heard by as wide an audience as possible. When the reciprocity breaks down, for whatever reason, there is really no point in continuing. I assume Rost does not want to continue posting here when he thinks Andy is a "mole," Arianna is a "lying liar," and he is a "whistleblower." But I think everyone can agree that it is clearly a good time for the HuffPost and Rost to go our separate ways.
Update: Several readers have commented that they don't care about the Rost issue, but they would like to see improvements in the HuffPost commenting technology. I agree and will address this issue in another post in the near future. From a technical standpoint, it is challenging to process literally thousands of comments a day in a way that features the best comments and eliminates postings from spammers and trolls. More soon.