Is there something funny going on at Patheos?

I was contacted by someone who said there are simmering complaints in the comments sections at Patheos — some are seeing heavy-handed filtering, in particular, that comments discussing Beliefnet or Patheos itself are getting blocked. You can see some of those concerns expressed in comments to this post by Ed Brayton. I don’t comment on that network, so I haven’t seen it myself.

Interestingly, there is a precursor to this concern from 2017. Several Patheos bloggers jumped ship back then, concerned that the religious conservatives who owned the network were meddling with the content.

Yvonne Aburrow, one of the writers who left Patheos, summed up the feelings of some of the writers: “If there are to be blog aggregators or multi-blog hosting sites, they need to be independently-owned, collective, and egalitarian. I (and many others) are just not comfortable with the corporate world being able to control our content, especially if that corporate world is too closely linked with the evangelical Christian right.”

Huh. Interesting. We recently killed the advertising on Freethoughtblogs (which was managed by Patheos!) because it was pathologically annoying and getting in the way of our ability to just write, at the expense of all of our revenue…yeah, we’re writing for you for free right now. I guess we’re living the dream of Ms Aburrow, but it also means we put a damper on any expansion plans for a while.


  1. hemantmehta says

    It has nothing to do with ownership — censorship is a big dealbreaker for all of us. The comment filter was about limiting spam and abusive comments (you can tell by the list of words filtered out), but it went too far in banning words that many of us need to use when talking about the Catholic Church, purity culture, etc. For example, “job” was banned because of the word that often precedes it.

    We worked with them and made it better. Doesn’t seem like much of a problem now on my site, anyway. Anytime a system changes, there are glitches, and I think you’re hearing about the glitches, but they’ll get fixed.

    As for criticism of the site itself getting blocked, that’s just not true. There’s a URL for the main site that’s included in the filter — again, to prevent spam — but that’s it.

  2. vucodlak says

    Among the banned terms are:
    1.) Religious: Muslim, Islam, Muhammad (and variant spellings thereof), hell, damn, damned, Sodom, bullshit, flying spaghetti monster
    2.) Sexuality: gay, lesbian, queer
    3.) Anatomical: penis, vulva, vagina, nipple, testicle, ovum, ovary, anus, womb, sex, breast, hymen, menstruation, and most slang for any of the preceding terms
    4.) Far-right hate groups: Nazis, Nazism, KKK
    5.) The outright baffling: jobs, beliefnet, promotion, revue, carpet, napalm
    6.) Naughty words, including ones that even kindergarteners say without fear of punishment

    Keep in mind that this a blog network than that’s supposed to span the religious (and nonreligious) spectrum, so the first group is particularly baffling, not to mention racist.

  3. Ichthyic says

    never ever did like patheos.

    watching bloggers go work there is like watching scientists take money from the Templeton foundation.

    a big fuck you to Ed Brayton for jumping ship to there.

    have not read his blog since.

  4. Onamission5 says

    Adding on to Vucodlack’s list: Mention of tampons or bras is also tripping the “new and improved” filter, as well as the word crap and the contraction he’ll.

  5. hemantmehta says

    #2) Yep. And then the whole list was modified after we said it was too far-reaching. So those words aren’t problems now on most of our sites. They work on mine, anyway.

  6. says

    I haven’t ran into the comment filter because I only comment a couple of times a week there. However, it’s been super annoying that they give you a pop-up every time you open the page begging you to turn your ad-blocker off. I would be okay doing that if my current ad-blocker didn’t show that it was currently blocking over a dozen annoying ads.

  7. vucodlak says

    @ hemantmehta, #5

    They still trigger the filter on Slacktivist at last check and, given that Fred Clark’s father just died, it’s not really reasonable for us to bug him to fix it (which I’m sure he will, when he feels able).

  8. anat says

    Ouabache @6: Try reloading the page. On one of my computers I get that pop-up, reloading the page makes it go away while the ad-blocker stays put.

  9. raven says

    Yeah, the filter on Patheos is really cuckoo.
    A lot of common, innocuous words are caught by the filter and deepsix the whole post.
    They include bang, job, pill, hemp, link, monster, banned, organ gay, drunk, gambling, uterus, and a long list of other words.

    People have taken to putting the nonjoining character &# 8204; in the middle of words just to post a comment more than a sentence long.

  10. raven says

    Patheos has to be aware of just how cuckoo and self harming their word filter is by now.
    They say it has to do with keeping their advertisers happy.
    But what it is doing is driving their viewership away instead.

    No one knows the real reason or even if there is a real reason other than a wish for self destruction.
    It reminds me vaguely of when PZ Myer’s and Dispatch’s old site, Sciblogs self destructed.

  11. PaulBC says

    “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.”

    Oops, I’ll just call him Joey to get through the censors.

  12. flex says

    Something even weirder is going on at Ed’s blog. I’ve had a few comments get published, and I know people have seen them because they get some thumbs up, but then a few hours later they vanish. No explanation, just gone.

    The first time I thought it was a fluke, but after the third time I’ve become wary of commenting at all. And it’s not like the comments were incendiary. The last one which vanished was an explanation as to why automotive OEMs would be against relaxing the CAFE standards. There are some good business reasons why the automotive OEMs would like to keep the goals where they are, beyond any environmental reasons. I went through some of those reasons in some detail, got a few thumbs up, and six hours later the comment was gone.

    Methinks something is rotten in Denmark.

  13. says

    I read the 2017 article, and I have to say, sounds really bad!

    This was not a contract renewal; it was Patheos unilaterally changing the terms of the existing contracts. The contract was due by February 1st, less than 48 hours later, giving writers little time to consider the contract or consult legal counsel.

    The most problematic part of the contact had to do with new editorial controls. The new contract allowed Patheos to edit any of posts “without limitation.” Writers were explicitly prohibited from using profanity (with some exceptions). The contract required that the “tone” (a very subjective term) resemble that of other online media with which Patheos compared itself, like Slate and Huffington Post. The contract also prohibited advertising or “self-promotion” (another vague term). And Patheos could delete any post it deemed, in its sole discretion, to be “offensive” (yet another ambiguous term).

    The contract also prohibited “disparaging” of Patheos or any “related” company.

    That’s completely unacceptable. I would not write for a site for that, and I would refuse to read it. What keeps bloggers on board at this point? Is it the money? The audience? The server support?

  14. says

    I’ll second Hemant here. My understanding is that this was a ham-handed effort to filter comments that are hateful, spammy or abusive, because too many such comments lower the overall quality of the site and hurt us with search engines and social media. But the way they went about it resulted in lots of innocuous words being filtered. (I think at least some cases can be explained by someone adding, say, “blow job” to the list, not realizing that “blow” and “job” would be treated as separate filter terms.)

    We Patheos bloggers complained about some of the terms on the filter list, and we’ve been promised that this is being fixed. In any case, nothing is being automatically blocked. Comments that contain words on the restricted list get sent to the moderation queue, where we can decide to approve or delete them.

    In general, the comment sections on our blogs are managed by the bloggers themselves, plus whoever we want to appoint as volunteer moderators. I haven’t heard anything about comments that are critical of Beliefnet or Patheos being censored across the board, and I wouldn’t tolerate it if that was happening.

  15. John Morales says


    Is it the money?

    Yup, if not always. I think I remember both Dan Fincke and Libby Anne being explicit about it, both blogged here but were poor.

  16. Onamission5 says

    @Adam Lee #14: it’s not that comments critical are being censored (as in, deleted or muddled with individually and directly by the patheos team) so much as using the word Beliefnet itself triggers moderation. Don’t you find that at least a little strange that they decided to add the name of the corporation which owns them to their site wide filter?

  17. DrVanNostrand says

    Hemant has done a good job of fixing it on his blog, but it definitely hasn’t been solved by Patheos as a whole. The filter is still in full force on Ed Brayton’s blog. It seems that it requires some active participation by each individual blogger to fix it. In any case, it’s a really stupid filter, and I can’t even imagine the type of ridiculous human being that put such a list together. As others have mentioned, the filter list is bigoted in a variety of ways.

  18. says

    As far as Dispatches goes a fix there may be a while coming. For those who don’t know Ed Brayton’s health has deteriorated badly of late, so he’s got a lot distracting him.

  19. says

    TPTB put in a stupid filter that way overreaches on the language. Can’t discuss LGBT issues, women’s issues, anatomy, WWII history (Nazi is banned), and we at Roll To Disbelieve are extremely unhappy with it.

  20. says

    Sure, it’s about money. It’s always about money. Or it is?

    The filter is extremely troubling, not only because of what it blocks but because a filter explicitly banning ALL terms referring to LGBTQ+ people was dropped AT THE START OF PRIDE MONTH. And we suddenly can’t discuss the parallels between Hitler and Trump right as Trump is leading us down the same path. Can’t discuss Nazis, even as they’re crashing Pride parades. With a police escort, to boot. And we can’t discuss issues that affect women and AFAB folks, even using anatomically correct terms!

    The filter is a blatant attack on minorities, full stop.

  21. says

    I’ll just say that if any blog network told me that they would set up a global filter for all of the blogs, that would be a deal-breaker for me. FtB has no global filter at all. Individual blogs are free to set up any filtering scheme they want, or to ban any commenters they want, but there is no central authority to dictate taste.

  22. blf says

    Tangentially related, Jordan Peterson launches anti-censorship [sic] site Thinkspot:

    Rightwing academic enlists failed Ukip MEP candidate Carl Benjamin to test subscription-only platform

    Jordan Peterson […] has launched a new anti-censorship website that will only take down offensive content if specifically ordered to by a US court.

    The psychology professor from Toronto said that Carl Benjamin [Sargon of Akkad], the failed [NKofE†] Ukip MEP candidate who speculated about raping the Labour MP Jess Phillips, had agreed to test the subscription-only site, named Thinkspot.


    Peterson said he hoped the site would be a censorship-free alternative to Patreon, an online membership service that at one stage made the Canadian $80,000 per month.

    He said: It’ll be a subscription service. And so that’s partly what makes it a replacement for Patreon to some degree, because we want to be able to monetise creators.

    The terms of service for the new site take an extreme position on free speech. Peterson said: Once you’re on our platform, we won’t take you down, unless we’re ordered to by a US court of law. That’s basically the idea. So we’re trying to make an anti-censorship platform.

    Note that he appears to be talking about the bloggers, such as Sargon of Akkad, rather than any commentators (readers). It is fairly easy to guess readers will be censored in the usual freezing peaches style. Which, in fact, he then all-but-confirms later in the article:

    Comments on the site would be voted on by users on a thumbs up or down basis. If your ratio of down votes to up votes, falls below 50/50, then your comments will be hidden, Peterson said.

    Presumably — absurdly — he isn’t lying, that 50/50 rule turns it into an automated echo chamber. His final quote (in the article) tends to confirm, It would be nice to have a censorship-free platform if we could figure out how to do that.

    In the far more likely case he is lying, it will still be an echo-chamber. The article isn’t clear (he probably isn’t either), but I presume the readership must pay a fee to hear others reinforce their fascism.

      † NKofE: North Korea of Europe, formerly know as the UK. Both the N.Korea in Asia and teh NKofE are nuclear-armed authoritarian failed states “governed” by a small paranoid cabal.

  23. says

    @Adam Lee #14: it’s not that comments critical are being censored (as in, deleted or muddled with individually and directly by the patheos team) so much as using the word Beliefnet itself triggers moderation. Don’t you find that at least a little strange that they decided to add the name of the corporation which owns them to their site wide filter?

    It’s a common spammer tactic to reference or link to the site they’re posting on.

    Again, even if you use the term “Beliefnet” in your comment, all that’ll happen is that it goes to me for approval. If the Patheos/BN overlords had some nefarious plan to squelch mention of themselves, they didn’t copy me on the memo.

  24. KG says

    However, it’s been super annoying that they give you a pop-up every time you open the page begging you to turn your ad-blocker off. – Ouabache@6

    Ha! My ad blocker blocks that pop-up!

  25. Akira MacKenzie says

    I just discovered that I got banned from the Friendly Atheist” site (under one of my pseudonyms “Michael Crammer”) because… they never mentioned the reason why. Therefore, I REALLY doubt Hement’s excuses @ 1.

    Right now, I’m really mother-fucking angry at him.