Yahoo and AP caught manipulating user comments

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It was like déjà vu all over again. I’d go from one Yahoo article to another and notice that regardless of the subject matter, the first user comment was always the same – at least on Associated Press (AP) articles covering the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The comment that kept reappearing was posted by “Robert” and it was a one liner. “Hamas is now in control of the Gaza Strip after winning an election there against Abbas Palestinian Authority.” That was it. Fair enough – I’ve got no quarrel with the messenger or the message. But somehow that one comment generated an incredible 184 responses and, last I checked, readers had given it 3212 thumbs up and 2525 thumbs down.

I got a little curious about why Robert’s one liner had generated so much controversy. I’ve written hundreds of articles and never got anywhere near that kind of attention. Frankly, I was full of envy. How did ‘Robert’ pull this off with one miserly line? Then I noticed the strangest thing – it was dated March 09, 2010. The comment was two months old and was the lead comment of 40,000 responses. That seemed a little high considering the fact that the AP article I was reading had only been posted for thirty minutes.

What were Yahoo and AP up to? The answer is simple – they were porting comments from one article to another and, in this particular case, they’ve been doing it for two months. It took a little research till I realized that the first few hundred comments were related to Biden’s ill-fated visit to Jerusalem. It was an ancient story and quite unrelated to the posting I was reading which was a slanted AP article white washing the murderous Israeli assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

So why is this important? Well, you see, the default setting on comments for Yahoo articles is that readers get to see the oldest comments first. To see the newest comments, you have to know enough to change the default to engage other readers. Otherwise, you have to wade through tens of thousands of comments to get to the ones relating to the story.

Just to make sure that I was seeing what I thought I was seeing, I decided to do a little forensic analysis. I put an audit trail in and now have documented proof that Yahoo was porting tens of thousands of comments from one article to another including thousands of outrageously racist and derogatory comments that violated Yahoo‘s terms of use. So I came up with an idea – I repeatedly responded to Robert’s one liner when I saw it appear on whatever AP article I happened to encounter. And sure enough, my comments were also ported from one article to another. Each of my comments specified the article I posted it from, the date, the title and the journalist who wrote it.

Now it’s time to name names. Among others, the AP journalists whose articles involved in this scam were Associated Press Writers Tia Goldenberg aboard the Israeli warship INS Kidon, Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Rob Gillies in Toronto and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations. Steven Gutkin and Amy Teibel also have their handprints on this scam. I haven’t come up with the names of the Yahoo participants yet but it’s unlikely that Yahoo management didn’t understand and approve the conduct of their news staff. If this article gets any traction, their names will hopefully be publicly disclosed.

Let there be no confusion, this was not a software glitch. Yahoo didn’t port comments to AFP or Reuters articles – only AP articles and as far as I can tell this practice was limited to selected content related to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Put aside that many of the ported comments were inane and blatantly racist. Some went so far as to incite violence and advocate genocide. But that’s not the issue here. We’re all believers in the First Amendment and, with the possible exception of comments that incite violence, Yahoo is entitled to propagate racist graffiti. After all, that’s one of the trademarks that distinguish the Yahoo brand name.

If this was merely a question of unethical behavior or slanted coverage, that’s par for the course. We’ve come to expect little more from Yahoo and AP or, for that matter, any other MSM outlet. But this is blatant fraud and it’s not just fraud against readers; it’s corporate fraud. Because the number of comments generated is one of the metrics Yahoo uses to cook the numbers to exaggerate user participation and it uses those numbers to defraud advertisers. The same goes for AP, which is obviously complicit in this racket.

What about the journalists involved in this scam, if you can call them journalists. Didn’t they notice that their articles were generating tens of thousands of comments the minute they appeared on Yahoo news? Is it possible that they didn’t keep reading Robert’s one liner over and over again?

Now, before the boys in Yahoo‘s boiler room try to scrub their boards, let me go on record and advise them that I have documented evidence and an audit trail. I’ve seen my own comments ported from one article to the next and I’ve taken the liberty of putting the evidence in a safe place.

There is something else that’s worth bringing up. This pattern of media manipulation could very well be an Israeli Hasbara project coordinated with Yahoo and the AP. It’s no secret that Israel has ratcheted up its use of media operatives in the last few months. Are the boys in Yahoo‘s boiler room working with AIPAC operatives and graduates of the Hasbara fellowship program? Have Yahoo and AP joined the ranks of the pro-Israeli activists that camp out on message boards to disseminate their canards and their venomous anti-Palestinian diatribes?

Just so we’re clear about this. I told the boys in Yahoo‘s backroom that I would be writing about this but they didn’t seem to care. I gave them fair warning in a number of messages that are still being ported from one AP article to another.

I guarantee you one thing – those AP journalist involved in this racket know exactly how to get to the bottom of this. If they have a shred of integrity left, they might want to publicly reveal how they got ensnared in this racket. Because a lot of parties have a lot of explaining to do.

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