WordPress.com Gives Conservative Treehouse the Boot, Citing TOS Violations

The Conservative Treehouse, a political publication hosted on WordPress.com for the past 10 years, is moving to a new host after receiving a notice from Automattic regarding violations of its Terms of Service. The site’s owner, previously identified as Florida resident Mark Bradman, claims to have a 500,000 – 1,000,000 unique readers per day. He has been ordered to find a new hosting provider and migrate the site away from WordPress.com by December 2, 2020.

Bradman followed up with Automattic to inquire about the specific infractions that put the site in violation of Automattic Ads Terms of Service. A representative from WordPress.com referred him to Section 5’s guidelines on “Prohibited Content,” and the prohibition against calls to violence in WordPress.com’s User Guidelines.

The Conservative Treehouse was characterized by The Daily Beast as “Patient Zero for a number of hoaxes that have percolated through [the] right-wing media ecosystem” after President Trump tweeted a conspiracy theory that originated on the site. Trump referenced an incident in Buffalo where police officers shoved an elderly protestor during the anti-police brutality protests that happened in June. The notion that the protester was an “ANTIFA provacateur” was originally seeded by an article on The Conservative Treehouse.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1270333484528214018?s=20

A cursory review of the past several months of posts on the anonymous blog shows it is home to a steady stream of misinformation. NewsGuard, an organization that assigns trust ratings based on transparent criteria, recommends readers proceed with caution because the website “severely violates basic journalistic standards.” The Conservative Treehouse gets a rating of 30/100 due to publishing false information and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories on numerous topics:

Because The Conservative Treehouse has published false and misleading claims, including about the COVID-19 pandemic, NewsGuard has determined that the website repeatedly publishes false content and does not gather and present information responsibly.

Bradman said he received the notification about the website being removed after publishing his post on what he calls “the COVID-19 agenda.” The conclusion of the article includes an image of a knife with the word “resist” written on it, followed by the words “whatever it takes.” The site’s comments are home to a “Rag Tag Bunch of Conservative Misfits,” as the tagline suggests, and there are more than 1,800 comments on the post announcing its upcoming move to a new host.

Despite the publication’s poor reputation, the site ranks #3,294 in the US, according to Alexa, with a largely American audience. Its owner claims to have more than 200,000 subscribers.

“We will take this challenge head-on and we will use this attack against our freedom as fuel to launch CTH 2.0, a new version of The Conservative Treehouse,” Bradman said.

29 responses to “WordPress.com Gives Conservative Treehouse the Boot, Citing TOS Violations”

  1. seems like a clear violation of the widely accepted standard of inciting violence or harm to others. also, sounds like it was part of a pattern and the straw that breaks the camel’s back situation for wp.com.

    • And in what way did they incite people to violence. Please don’t say by having a picture of a knife in the article.

  2. Interesting debate. As of now, Treehouse has more than 1,830 comments… The “pop corn” has been popped and the WP “Kool-Aid” is flowin’ over here. I’ll have to re-read Section 5 several times…at half-speed…just like in music, LOL. Happy Thanksgiving to the Tavern crew and…WordPress-4-Life!

  3. I don’t have a fully formed opinion about tech companies de-platforming, but I also can’t name a single liberal persona or website that’s been given the boot. I don’t like what I see on that website, but these reasons are flimsy as hell.

    Section 5 forbids websites covering the President of the United States, who has been sharing electoral conspiracy theories lately. CNN isn’t being kicked out, their logo is on the WP VIP home page.

    Sad that WordPress.com couldn’t link to examples of the calls to violence they claim they found “consistently.” We all know sharing a few links to infringing content with the site owner would be effortless.

  4. WordPress.com is owned by Automattic. It is NOT a public U.S. institution. So I don’t understand the censorship claim. There is nothing to stop Treehouse from finding hosting, download/install WP, and migrating to their new hosting account.

  5. It’s nice to see that they’re at least polite and helpful to sites pushed off their platform. And since it’s WordPress, they’ll have no difficulties in finding somewhere to migrate it to.

  6. This isn’t really de-platforming.

    First of all, we all agree to the TOS (Terms of Service) of every site we sign up for. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress.com, Parler, Gab, etc…we all agreed to the TOS. Even though we did not read the TOS.

    Platforms don’t have to even give you a warning if they don’t feel like it. The fact that WordPress.com gave them a warning, they are lucky.

    Also, free speech (US), freedom of expression (Canada) and whatever else for other countries, only applies to between you and the government. Not private entities.

    Don’t break the rules?

  7. This is a clear violation of the WordPress terms of service. It shouldn’t be news, but alas…here we are in 2020. Good on them for helping with the migration even while the views of the publisher are abhorrent.

    • it is not a clear violation at all.

      In fact, having read the TOS I think Automattic are interpretting the WordPress.com TOS to suit their political agenda.

  8. It is troubling to see this. It’s the kindling to a virtual book burning so to speak. It’s not at horrifying levels yet, but when “silence is violence” and everything that challenges the “accepted” view is labeled dangerous conspiracy theory, how long until full blown censorship becomes normal? When terms of service can be changed freely at will and rules are vague it doesn’t give a lot of confidence to the “don’t break the rules” narrative. Watching people cheer this on while still believing they are the good guys feels insane. If your views are so righteous and just why must you insist on silencing all those who oppose you? History has shown this doesn’t end well. It is your enemies today; tomorrow it could be you.

    • What is really troubling is the level of misinformation sites like this publish which results in a major amount of division and disunity across these “United” States.

      “American will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” — Abraham Lincoln

      • With all due respect, Mike, “misinformation” is not listed as a violation of the ToS. Whether the site does or does not engage in publishing “misinformation” is irrelevant.

      • Misinformation is an absurd claim when speaking of political beliefs. All this means is one side doesn’t like what the other thinks and labels it “wrong”. Then uses that to justify censoring them. Funny you use that quote while being seemingly okay with nearly half the country being labeled “misinformed” and being told they need to find somewhere else to be.

        As far as “incorrect news” goes, I would be shocked to find even one outlet that isn’t guilty of that in some way.

      • Having read the article, I could find plenty of opinions I disagreed with and plenty of non mainstream views.

        But nothing that was clearly factually wrong. As other commenters have said silencing views you disagree is a slippery slope

  9. So, having established that The Conservative Treehouse engages in speech and ideology with which some disagree, the article doesn’t actually establish any evidence that the site violated the wp.com TOS.

    The real irony here (note: I don’t think the Tavern is hosted on wp.com; I’m merely making a point) is that this post violates the wp.com TOS more, and more explicitly, than The Conservative Treehouse.

    ToS:

    Posting private information.
    Don’t share someone’s personal information without their consent.

    The article doxxes the owner of The Conservative Treehouse, who chooses to use a pseudonym and to remain anonymous. To my knowledge, Sundance has never confirmed his reported identity, nor consented to being referred to as the identified person.

    As for the alleged “call to violence” cited by the Automattic rep, the ToS in question:

    Calls to violence.
    We prohibit content that incites, encourages, threatens, or promotes acts of violence against individuals or groups of people…

    An image of a knife with the word “resist” on it does not represent an act of violence against any individual or group of people.

    We also remove content that glorifies acts of violence or its perpetrators…

    An image of a knife with the word “resist” on it does not glorify any particular act of violence or perpetrator.

    This does not mean that we will remove all hyperbolic or generally offensive language.

    At worst, an image of a knife with the word “resist” on it falls squarely under “hyperbolic or generally offensive”.

    There is no reasonable argument that this action is anything other than subjective, capricious, and in response to political speech with which wp.com disagrees.

    Yep; that is their right (though a very reasonable argument for breach of contract could be made), and I understand that site/data migration is in process as we speak.

    There is a difference between governmental protection or censorship of speech, and generally supporting freedom of speech. This is not a matter of censorship. It is, however, an exposure of rank hypocrisy in a community that espouses the principles behind free as in freedom and democratizing publishing.

    The most telling – and most disappointing – aspect of this occurrence is seeing both the action, and the community reaction, with respect to support of freedom – the very thing on which both WordPress and the WordPress community are ostensibly built upon.

    Apparently, it is a lie – or, at the very least, it appears to be. Here’s where the rubber meets the road, WordPress community. Do you support freedom of speech for all speech – even (and especially) speech with which you disagree? Or do you only support freedom of speech for speech with which you agree?

    Thankfully, there are some in the community still willing to speak up. I thank and appreciate you, and I hope your voice ultimately prevails.

    • I support companies being able to choose who they do business with, Chip.

      Why do you support limiting that freedom, Chip?

      • You should try re-reading my comment. I explicitly stated that severing business ties with The Conservative Treehouse was Automattic’s right.

        I have no problem with Automattic severing ties with The Conservative Treehouse; I have a problem with them doing so under false pretense. They should own up to their true justification.

  10. There is nothing troubling about this at all. WP.com is a paid service and they are choosing not to do business with this publisher. The WP ecosystem, of which WP.com is a very small part, is a robust market of ideas and it truly does, “democratize publishing.” Anyone who is claiming censorship, and de-platforming here is just revealing their ignorance.

    This is WordPress, the content is portable. Move it and move on. Automattic staff helps with migrations all the time, and they do good work there. There is no conspiracy here, just a business decision and an operational obstacle that is easily overcome.

    • I’m uncomfortable with some of the ideas expressed but I really can’t how an image of a knife violates the TOS.

      Automattic should admit the decision is political and that they are biased. There current stance though is based on a lie.

  11. I think the more organizations like WP.com “push” people off, the more polarized the nation will become. Say this was a blog promoting gay marriage in the era of Prop 8. I can’t recall anyone getting pushed off a network for having that conflicting view.

    There is such a cancel culture occurring which is only going to lead to extreme unrest and potentially civil war. Rather than providing such “mis-information sites” more fuel for their fire, how about becoming friends of the authors and persuading instead! Until we can learn to debate and reason CIVILY I don’t see great things in the future of all this unrest.

    We all need to remember we’re human beings first and foremost and it’s OKAY that we don’t all feel the same. Conflicting ideas breeds creativity and cooperation.

    Quite honestly I am disappointed in WP.com and WPTavern for taking this in a light that doesn’t match the free speech of which WordPress so readily claims. But alas, we make our own beds. 😦

    • how about becoming friends of the authors and persuading instead!

      Great, let us know how you get on.

  12. That is both a sad and disgusting moment for WordPress. The claims of false news and such were false news themselves. Oh, and Sarah, the website did not have a “poor reputation” among many folks who enjoy free speech and thought.

  13. It is quite funny to watch how USA now becomes the same as USSR once. We all know how that had ended…

  14. Consider removing the direct links to the misinfo articles. By linking you lend all WP Tavern’s domain authority to the misinfo site’s Google page rank. Instead, you could archive the article in the Wayback Machine and link to IA’s archived version. Or you could add a rel=”nofollow” to the anchor tags to prevent search engines from, essentially, recording your links as an endorsement of the site.
    https://firstdraftnews.org/latest/debunk-viral-fake-news-story-help-the-hoaxers-stop-it-facebook-megyn-kelly/

  15. You fight misinformation with the truth, not by censorship. Bad show wordpress. Never commented before but very disturbed by this. It goes against what I (incorrectly) thought were WordPress values.

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