The HuffPost is shutting down its controversial contributor blogging network as it faces a $23.5 million lawsuit for libel and negligent injury based on a since-deleted article published by a member of that system.
“The platform, which launched in May 2005, was a revolutionary idea at the time: give a megaphone to lots of people -- some famous, some completely unknown -- to tell their stories,” HuffPost Editor in Chief Lydia Polgreen wrote on Thursday.
Polgreen didn’t mention the eight-figure lawsuit in her explanation, instead blaming the rise of other outlets such as Twitter, Medium and LinkedIn that allow people to publicly express their opinions.
“The real achievement of the platform was giving a spotlight to a huge number of people who weren’t previously afforded one,” Polgreen wrote. “Open platforms that once seemed radically democratizing now threaten, with the tsunami of false information we all face daily, to undermine democracy. When everyone has a megaphone, no one can be heard.”
“HuffPost's recent change to its contributor platform was a purely editorial decision, long in the works, and was unrelated to this or any other legal challenge,” a HuffPost spokesperson told Fox News.
HuffPost’s model essentially allowed anyone to get approved as a “contributor” without a traditional background check that most employers issue. The liberal site was then able pass off un-vetted smears as journalism, which lived forever on the internet and in Google index.
The $23.5 million suit was filed with the Supreme Court of New York last month and alleges that contributor Christian Chiakulas defamed journalist Jordan Chariton by publishing a since-deleted story detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against him, according to the New York Post.
Chariton was fired by The Young Turks after the story was published by the HuffPost, according to the Post. The story has since been deleted from the HuffPost and Chariton settled with TYT, but his attorney took issue with the HuffPost placing the story under its “news” section, allowing it to be picked up by Google as “news.”
“It made an unverified hoax that did not follow proper journalistic protocol seem to the reader to be the product of a journalistic process,” attorney William Moran told Fox News.
Chiakulas has since published a bizarre post on Medium in which he admits to being an “extremely violent and unstable” person with a history of “domestic violence and abuse” while attempting to explain why he wrote the story that triggered the lawsuit.
“The reasons I wrote the story are hard to explain — the circumstances around which it were written are complicated,” Chiakulas wrote. “I rushed out that article and was thrust into the middle of this. In hindsight, it was a bad way to go about it.”
Moran explained that the situation involving his client is an example of exactly how dangerous the HuffPost’s system could have been if the wrong people used the platform.
“One could easily imagine the national security danger in this atmosphere of ‘fake news’ should a Russian troll farm or ISIS get their mitts on HuffPost's contributor platform allowing them to spread false propaganda and smears while appearing to the unwitting public as HuffPost journalists with their stories appearing as ‘news,’” Moran said.
The dependently liberal HuffPost bills itself as a “safe space” and a “welcoming space for all individuals, groups and their ideas.” However, the site also refused to cover then-candidate Donald Trump in its political section early in his campaign, keeping stories about the eventual 45th president in the entertainment section until it became clear he was a legitimate contender.
The HuffPost has legitimate reporters and has broken major stories in recent memory, such as Yashar Ali’s deep dive into how NBC News killed Ronan Farrow’s reporting on disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Allowing unvetted contributors to receive a byline on the website was dangerous and the decision to shut down the process is being applauded – even by the attorney who brought action against the site.
“I praise HuffPost for taking these necessary steps today,” Moran said.