Yahoo and AP Caught Manipulating User Comments

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 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 Yahoos 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 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.

Ahmed Amr is the editor of NileMedia.com and the author of The Sheep and the Guardians: Diary of a SEC sanctioned swindle. He can be reached at: Montraj@aol.com. Read other articles by Ahmed.

20 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on June 3rd, 2010 at 8:54am #

    Well, folks, i’ll tell u this only a half a dozen of times: since we had been sorted into A, B, C, D, E, and F species of people, does one expect that A-B-[?C] class [or classes if u like] wld be honest-truthful with D, E, and F classses?

    Ca 40 0r 30 yrs ago i thought that the A-B class or specie was good people and DFE specie bad people.
    But once i realized that i’m in FE class, and being very selfish-envious i changed my mind.
    But being in ef class is not nearly as bad as being in ghi classes like cubans, n.koreans, vietnamese, pal’ns, iraqis, et al.
    So, i’d like to hear also from an iraqi legless h-class child about what it goes thru.

    Ab why and by whom we were sorted like cattle, i’l let u figure that out by selves.
    However, i did finish last in my class. So, i suggest, think and breathe deep for a few hrs before responding. Also spricht tovarish bozhidarevski! danke

  2. mary said on June 3rd, 2010 at 9:13am #

    Good work Ahmed. Gold star for you.

    Watch out all you trolls, we’re on to you!

  3. Robert said on June 3rd, 2010 at 11:48am #

    Hamas is now in control of the Gaza Strip after winning an election there against Abbas Palestinian Authority.

  4. hayate said on June 3rd, 2010 at 11:55am #

    Pretty slimy behaviour – very zionist, though.

    Reminds me of the posters at guardian talk. :D

  5. Ahmed Amr said on June 3rd, 2010 at 7:25pm #

    Folks, I want to point out that Dissident Voice has always been gracious in offering me a podium to air my views. In fact, people like me would never have their voices heard if it wasn’t for forums like Dissident Voice. There are now a whole bunch of tweets on this article and I think it’s a scoop for Dissident Voice. I just fell into this and being a forensic analyst – I just applied the same audit skills but anybody could have figured it out.

    Once again, I applaud Dissident Voice for giving me a forum to break this story.

  6. Ahmed Amr said on June 3rd, 2010 at 7:27pm #

    A question for Robert. Are you the same Robert who posted that first comment that has been ported around for the last two months. Is that the significance of your post. If you are, please contact me at moc.oohaynull@jartnom.

  7. Melissa said on June 3rd, 2010 at 8:29pm #

    Mr. Amr,

    Thank you for your excellent application of skill! May your efforts continue to open the public dialogue towards truth.

    Your article made it to Tragedy and Hope, where another whistleblower (corporate, SEC, back-door-data-eating software) works to educate and illuminate. Please check him out, Richard Grove, at the tragedyandhope site, or youtube video 20/20 Hindsight: Censorship on the Frontline.

    You have much to contribute.

    As always,
    Peace, Resistance, Hope,
    Melissa

  8. Ahmed Amr said on June 3rd, 2010 at 8:56pm #

    Thanks for the kind words. My book “The Sheep and the Guardians” actually deals with the SEC’s complicity in corporate fraud. It has Mary Shapiro’s picture on the cover. Talk about putting the fox in charge of the hen house. If Americans knew the half of it – they’d yank all their money out of the stock market.

    So, I’ll definitely check out the site you recommended.

  9. M Richards said on June 4th, 2010 at 12:58am #

    THANK you.
    I’ve always suspected that AP is a useless fraud. Now I know.
    Yahoo; well, that’s a given.
    Tools. Feh

  10. technologicalexplanation said on June 4th, 2010 at 2:59pm #

    This is a technological problem, not some conspiracy theory as you are ascribing to it:
    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100603/1653109680.shtml

  11. Mike001 said on June 5th, 2010 at 3:16am #

    I don’t buy the “technologicalexplanation” version. First of all, Mr. Amr wrote that he, ” told the boys in Yahoo’s backroom that I would be writing about this but they didn’t seem to care”. Now if it is true that, “the display of AP stories and the curating of comments are entirely up to Yahoo!” as is asserted in the article linked above by “technologicalexplanation” (entitled, “Are Yahoo & The AP Manipulating Comments? Or Are They Just Really Bad At The Internet?”), then isn’t it a little odd that Yahoo’s backroom wouldn’t want to correct, or at least show a little concern over such an important, broadly-impacting error? Also, I find it awfully suspicious that in the linked article, the author writes, “So while it’s easy and tempting to ascribe this to “manipulation” and suggest malice on the part of the AP or Yahoo or whoever else (Israeli operatives? Seriously?), it seems pretty clear that this is more due to technical incompetence on Yahoo’s part, somewhat driven by the AP’s ridiculous “delete this story after x days” licensing policies”. Nice try attempting to make Mr. Amr look like a lunatic for suggesting that something funny is going on and that it may be linked to Israeli interests. As if that’s something that couldn’t happen…Thanks Mr. Amr for all of the time you’ve invested in this.

  12. lol said on June 5th, 2010 at 3:57am #

    lol

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100603

    no wonder you never “got anywhere near that kind of attention” with your “forensic analysis”.

    unless of course there are “israeli operatives” behind the oil spill story as well. get a clue.

  13. mary said on June 5th, 2010 at 4:04am #

    lol Why don’t you lol off. Before you go could we have your comments on the murders committed on the high seas this week by the Israelis and the total flouting of all international law by that terror state.

  14. lol said on June 5th, 2010 at 4:12am #

    this is a story about israelis (and others) rigging the yahoo AP stories comments. which as proved by the linked article is ridiculous. now if you want to talk about the “murders” i suggest you ask the author to write another article.

  15. mary said on June 5th, 2010 at 4:24am #

    Keep up. He already has
    http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/06/israels-premeditated-murder-of-peace-activists-was-no-mistake/

    and another after this one.

    Just to remind you, kidnapping, piracy, murder of 9 people using a total of 30 bullets some fired at close range, …. Shall I go on? There are also 28 children now fatherless.

  16. lol said on June 5th, 2010 at 4:26am #

    like i said, this is not a story about that, so you can let go. its a story about conspiracies behind the comments. so whatever israel did or did not do doesnt prove the point of the story at hand (titled Yahoo and AP Caught Manipulating User Comments”) in case you didnt read it. here is another example of the same kind of “forensic journalism”

    http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=af07

  17. mary said on June 5th, 2010 at 4:47am #

    Like any Hasbara troll you are evasive when challenged. This article IS about Yahoo/AP fraud and manipulation of comments on reports concerning Israeli aggression but I am not allowing you to waste any more of my time. I am off to join the thousands and thousands in London who will be protesting against this week’s vile atrocities and the 62 years worth of atrocities behind them. Toodle pip.

  18. lol said on June 5th, 2010 at 4:58am #

    the likes of you dont challenge me, it takes at least half of a brain to do that. i suggest next time you donate some cold hard cash instead, words are cheap.

  19. Don Hawkins said on June 5th, 2010 at 5:55am #

    Why can’t we all just get along this is the twenty first century we have pill’s for almost anything you can think of when it comes to the mind, thought’s. Think of it as a parallel Universe to another World a happy World. Oh about ten minutes ago Grandpa and his Grandson came into my bait shop the black boy about seven years old I could tell was a talker so I asked him what he wanted to be when he grow’s up? Without a hesitation the seven year old said a fisherman.

  20. Ahmed Amr said on June 5th, 2010 at 6:59am #

    Mary: Here is another email to the AP press room.

    Gentlemen: Regarding the allegations of Yahoo’s manipulation of user comments on AP articles. I would like to submit the following questions. If you would be kind enough to forward me the answers, I would greatly appreciate it.

    1. How long has the porting of thousands of comments been going on?

    2. Why is it going on?

    3. Why does Yahoo only port comments on some AP articles? You don’t find this on articles from the AFP or Reuters or articles from any other source.

    4. What it is Yahoo’s criteria for porting up to 50,000 comments from one article to another and does AP news staff get involved in the process?

    5. Is this a policy approved by Yahoo’s and AP’s managers or is it a rogue operation by individuals in the Yahoo News department.

    6. Are there any kind of agreements between AP and Yahoo that promotes this kind of behaviour.

    7. Are the AP reporters named in the article aware of this practice and if not how could they have failed to notice?

    8. Is it possible to give me contact information for the journalists named in the article so I can get personal feedback from them.

    I look forward to hearing back from you.

    warm regards

    Ahmed Amr