A new Change.org petition is asking Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington to take personal responsibility for sexist headlines and article content on the site she founded.
The petition, started by Feel More Better (a fantastic site in its own right), states that because AOL (a HuffPost corporate parent) and Huffington herself have been decidedly progressive in past statements, they should be compelled to act out their ideals in their product. The petition sheds light on the tension felt between SEO (Search Engine Optimization) culture to promote smut in order to drive traffic versus being progressively-minded trying to "make it" online while forwarding their ideals.
Feel More Better urges Huffington "to stop objectifying and sexualizing women. Huffington Post's sexy, SEO-friendly headlines may drive traffic and revenue, but at what cost to girls and women's self-esteem and with what cultural effect and impact?"
Without having spoken to anyone at HuffPost about their thoughts on SEO versus their stated progressive leaning, I would hesitate to be too harsh with a criticism of headlining practices. I would like to assume that there is some sort of effort being made to strike a balance between driving traffic to the site increasing revenue using the more sexist articles and headlines and embodying the progressive ideals Huffington and AOL have in the articles coming out of HuffPost.
Back when HuffPost was bought by AOL there were questions ladled to Huffington and AOL about the politics of the site. And while Feel More Better points to a liberally leaning AOL, most still thought this was not the case and that not only was AOL more conservative than HuffPost, but that that conservatism would change the content of the site itself. Meanwhile, laments of HuffPost being too liberal aren't hard to find and the more you look the more it seems the adage is true that you can't please everyone.
As Bryan Goldberg notes in his article, the Daily Kos looks like a version of Huffington Post that sacrificed traffic in order to keep from succumbing to the necessity of celebrity gossip and articles entirely concerned with what you can and cannot see of certain celebrities breasts.
We live in an unfortunately sexist culture that embraces the trivial making it no wonder that SEO mirrors the offline world in this regard. SEO reflects what the majority of our culture is looking for. A quick look at trending terms from Google and it makes sense why major online news organizations are compelled to at the very least mark the passing of the Grammy Awards in order to promote their site.
HuffPost (with the AOL parent) then faces a tough decision: remain small and focused on a mission statement like Daily Kos or make more money and gain readership by covering more and sacrificing content. The Change.org petition urges HuffPost to not be moderate in this sense, to not "sell-out" to what our culture feeds on and to instead work harder to represent and create a culture free from sexism.
But here it's helpful to recall all of the quality content outside of the "Celebrity" and "Style" sections that is produced on HuffPost inside the "Politics" and "World" sections. And even the community that can be found and discussed in the "Parents," "Voices," and "Local" sections.
While calling for a world (and news site) free from sexism is not a radical idea, Feel More Better is asking for a radical step for HuffPost, one that they might not be in the position to take in light of its' conservative parent AOL. And though it takes more effort these days to find quality pieces at HuffPost, they are still there. Arianna Huffington herself should not be held completely responsible and denigrated for some of the sexist content produced.
Most essentially the argument boils down to whether or not one should be radical or moderate in their progressivism. In the end, both paths towards cultural change are legitimate and necessary. Without radicals, the impetus for change would not be felt so strongly and the idealistic goals of activist endeavors would be seen as impossible to accomplish. Without moderates, the small steps that must be taken for eventual cultural shifts to occur would not be so defined and reachable. There is room and need for all sorts of activists in this world in order to accomplish social change. And as long as we work towards the same goals (though sometimes arguing over the right way, timeline, or method to do so) we are headed in a good direction.
Critiques and discussions like the petition to Huffington should never cease (as they serve to forward change and define and redefine the very meaning of progressive). And though I will be signing the petition myself as I believe in the cause, we should take steps to understand those we take issue with in order to keep from aggressively addressing individuals like Arianna Huffington.
She may not be perfect in the eyes of those who want faster change, but she has accomplished so much for women in culture and journalism alongside the salacious SEO minded headlines to be completely lambasted as not progressive enough or as a sell-out.