How BuzzFeed's community section works
This week contributors to BuzzFeed's community section caused two separate dustups: The site took down, then reposted, a post by contributor Joe Veix that made fun of BuzzFeed, and it also removed a post by contributor Julian Shenoy, who posted a comic by Matt Bors that Bors created for CNN.
Bors billed BuzzFeed for the unauthorized use, which BuzzFeed Editorial Director Jack Shepherd told Poynter in an phone call the site took down as soon as they learned about it. (BuzzFeed spokesperson Ashley McCollum told Poynter in an email that BuzzFeed will not pay Bors' bill.)
So what is BuzzFeed's community section anyway?
It goes back to the beginnings of the site, which launched in 2008 and relaunched recently, Shepherd said. "There are a lot of dedicated users who’ve been around for a long time." They can post content that looks like standard BuzzFeed fare and flag it for the site's community moderators to consider; they in turn may choose to feature such content on the main community page or on BuzzFeed's homepage.
BuzzFeed considers community a vertical, like sports or animals. "You could write the same thing on your blog, but if it's on BuzzFeed and it's really good," Shepherd said, "it could be seen by millions of people."
That capability can have unexpected dimensions, as this week's events showed. BuzzFeed community members agree that what they provide "is accurate, complete, up-to-date, and in compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations." The "no haters" rule Veix violated "is an internal mantra we use a lot," McCollum said. "You will see it on all of our job listings."
The community section has about 500,000 registered members and produces about 100 pieces of content per day, Shepherd said. There are two moderators on the community team currently -- more are probably coming -- and their duties include monitoring comments as well as looking at user posts.
"They do look at everything," Shepherd said. "People get banned a lot." BuzzFeed didn't ban Julian Shenoy, who posted Bors' comic. "I don't think the kid that posted that had malicious intent," Shepherd said.
When a takedown notice arrives, BuzzFeed will usually remove the content (if necessary) first, then contact the user who posted it. "I would always prefer not to have to kick someone off," Shepherd said.
Lots of BuzzFeed staffers started out as community contributors, McCollum told Poynter in a phone call, including Samir Mezrahi, Ellie Hall and Dorsey Shaw. Community Editor Cates Holderness came in through community, too. Shepherd said he'd recently contracted with a community member to contribute to the site's animals section, which he edits (his official title there is Beastmaster).
"It’s a path into journalism but also kind of into this new world of online journalism and writing for the Internet, where it’s difficult to define the skill set except you know it when you see it," Shepherd said.
In a memo to staffers announcing BuzzFeed would repost Joe Veix's piece, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith said "the definition of community is itself in flux...as the power of communities on places like Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest overshadows the older website communities. BuzzFeed's place in that ecosystem — in being the place you go to make content that can spread in those other communities — is a big project for us this year."
Shepherd said that some of the best performing pieces to come out of the community section deal with identity, like Lucy Hebb's "67 Telltale Signs That You Went To Boarding School" or Max Brawer's "Things Millennial Girls Love."
Those pieces, like everything on BuzzFeed's community pages, look like content created by BuzzFeed's staff -- with a banner identifying the author as a "community contributor." McCollum said the site devotes editorial help to the community section's best users so their posts do better. Shepherd said the visual cues are "something that we have had to look at really closely. ... We want community members to have this great experience and not feel like they’re ghettoized, but also want to make it as clear as possible this is not a paid staffer."