BuzzFeed published a pretty spirited takedown on Wednesday of a Dove video ad campaign. “Dove is at it again with a viral beauty video meant to have women question the way they see themselves: beautiful or average,” the post read. “Because life is apparently defined by these two labels and nothing else.” The post, however, appeared to run afoul of BuzzFeed’s own editorial standards and was pulled from the site. The page on Thursday morning was “updated” to read: “We pulled this post because it is not consistent with the tone of BuzzFeed Life.”
That explanation was insufficient for part-time BuzzFeed watchdog Gawker, which points out that Dove also happens to advertise on BuzzFeed. The story doesn’t go further than that, but points out BuzzFeed’s editorial policies have been a work in progress. Here’s Gawker’s J.K. Trotter:
This is a familiar story for the web giant. Last year, BuzzFeed deleted more than 4,000 older posts that “didn’t age well” or plagiarized other outlets. The site never restored those posts, but its editors later vowed to stop deleting posts that became inconvenient… As former BuzzFeed employee Mark “Copyranter” Duffy wrote in 2013, the site’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith “made me delete [a post critical of Unilever brand Axe] one month after it was posted, due to apparent pressure from Axe’s owner Unilever.” In a subsequent email to Gawker, Smith did not deny Duffy’s explanation for the post’s removal.
The deletion of Sicardi’s post—again, due to a “tone” inconsistent with other BuzzFeed content—is particularly baffling given the editorial flexibility and daring that supposedly defines BuzzFeed. In a July 2014 memo addressing the firing of Viral Politics Editor Benny Johnson, Smith wrote: “We will always have a more forgiving attitude toward bold failures, innocent errors, and misfired jokes than more skittish old media organizations.”
BuzzFeed clarified the reasoning behind the decision to remove the post with an externalized internal memo:
While this is surely a sufficient explanation for why BuzzFeed editors didn’t particularly love the post tone-wise, it still seems slightly over-the-top to remove a largely innocuous post that would have a several-day Internet shelf life, tops.
BuzzFeed has gone to great lengths to burnish its journalism bonafides and, in many instances, has succeeded. As Trotter points out, the site published its “Editorial Standards And Ethics Guide,” which specifically addresses the problem of the Dove post. “Editorial posts should never be deleted for reasons related to their content, or because a subject or stakeholder has asked you to do so,” the Guide reads. “If some information in a post is incorrect or obsolete, it is acceptable to delete that information and add a brief correction or update note explaining what was removed.” A post that was perhaps slightly hotter, or more snarky, than BuzzFeed aspires to seems like a strange time to blow up the publication’s editorial code.