GUEST BLOGGED BY BRAD FRIEDMAN
(Originally posted on BradBlog.com 4-22-2011)
If you use an AOL email address, AOL is doing you the favor of making sure you
do not receive email containing any links to BradBlog.com
Not email from a BradBlog.com address, mind you, as if I were a
spammer or something (which, obviously, I'm not), but any email from
anybody that has a link to this site, or to one of our news stories.
I learned this swell news early this week when someone was kind enough to let
me know that their attempts at sending a link to this site to a friend bounced
back to them with an error message. That error message was "HVU:B2
What is that error?:
That's right, "substantial complaints" from someone, whatever that means,
will result in no links to stories at The BRAD
getting through to any
of AOL's millions of members. And they
will never know about it.
Again, these are not even emails from BradBlog.com. They are simply
emails from anybody to any AOL email address which has my domain linked
in the body of the email.
Neat, huh? I wonder what would happen if there were "substantial complaints
from AOL members" about, say, FoxNews.com? Or MSNBC.com? Or NYTimes.com? Would
that result in millions of members not being able to receive any
email that links to anything at those sites? Sounds like a great way
to ratfuck someone you don't care for politically, doesn't it?
So what did I do about this? What level of hell have I had to descend to over
this past week in trying to solve this problem?...
So far, I've spoken to at least 10 different AOL support people on the phone,
since clicking the "support
" URL they offer in the error message seen above actually takes you
to someplace on the "AOL Postmaster" that doesn't actually give you the form you
are to fill out to deal with this issue.
It took a day or two, and several more calls to more very nice AOL tech
support people who told me they couldn't help me in the slightest, but a friend
did some digging and finally figured out that this form
is the one
to fill out to deal with this particular problem. Or, at least, it's
After filling out that form, I was given a webpage with a message to the
effect of: "Thank you for filling out the form. We will send a confirmation
email to you with instructions on how to proceed."
That confirmation email never came, despite my having tried about 4 different
times, from several different email addresses throughout the week. My friend
tried as well. He also never received the promised "confirmation email."
Each time afterward I would call AOHell tech support again and was told by
the still almost-always very nice tech support person that they couldn't help at
all, that they couldn't escalate the call, that they couldn't allow me to speak
to a supervisor, that the one and only way to deal with this problem was to fill
out the form at the "AOL Postmaster" webpage --- the one that I told them each
and every time I called that I had already filled out, received a promise of a
"confirmation email," and then never received it.
They were very very sorry, but all that they could advise was that I fill out
that form again and wait for a confirmation email that would never come.
In the meantime, today I received dozens of automated emails from my own
mailing list program --- the one that I use to send out news alerts to media
folks --- informing me that dozens of AOL members on that list had been
automatically unsubscribed today because notes to them had bounced more than 3
times (that's one of the settings in my maillist program.)
After a few more calls to tech support today, asking nicely, then begging,
then pleading for a solution, begging to speak to a supervisor, someone,
anyone, who could help, I was again told there was nobody I could speak
to, the call could not be escalated, I could not speak to a supervisor, that I
should go fill out that form to solve this problem.
I asked for a corporate AOL phone number where there might be someone who
could help, and was --- finally, after much begging --- given one. It turned out
to be the 800# to the AOL billing department instead. You'll be shocked to learn
they couldn't help either --- but they did recommend that I fill out that form
at the "AOL Postmaster" page!
I finally looked up the AOL corporate website online, found the numbers for
the "Corporate Media Inquiries" department, figuring I'd either get help or get
an on the record comment about this mess and about the fact that AOL is
censoring members emails for them, and spoke to another very nice person
whom I told about the situation, explained that I was a journalist, not a
spammer (and besides the notes being rejected didn't even need to come from my
address to get rejected), mentioned the irony that I even write news for
Huffington Post from time to time, and explained that I'm at wits' end, and will
probably need to write a story on this at this point to let people know that
AOL is censoring their users emails!
He promised to report the situation to tech support for me, he promised to
elevate the matter, he promised to have someone who could fix the situation call
me back hopefully today (though it was late in the afternoon on Good Friday, so
he couldn't promise promise, but he promised to try.) It's several hours later, and I've received no call. But it is Good Friday,
when, as everyone knows, the Internet shuts down.
But I did receive a note from an AOL user I know, who I'd explained the
situation too (when they contacted me wondering why they had received a notice
that they were being automatically unsubscribed from my mailing list). They said
they'd asked a friend to send a note with BradBlog.com in it to them and, though
"it took a while," they said it made it through!
Great! The call to the "Corporate Media Inquiries" department did the trick,
I guess! Right? Not right.
I replied to my AOL friend (from a non-BradBlog.com) address, with the text
of their email quoted --- the one that contained www.bradblog.com
in it --- and the message
immediately bounced. Same error. Same hell.
In my second-to-last ditch effort today, nearly a full week into this
nightmare, nearly a full week since colleagues on my email alert list have
been receiving my emails, I once again filled out the same "AOL
for, perhaps, the 5th or 6th time. You know, the one that
tells me after I've completed it that I'll get a "confirmation email" that never
comes? This time, I got a different response after filling out the form:
Yes. A blank page. A blank page with nothing but their sidebar on it. No
message. No nothing. At least its more honest.
At that point, I figured I'd better write this article if, for no other
reason, some folks with AOL addresses may be wondering why they're not getting
their usual email news alerts from me. This is why.
But also because the world should know how easy it apparently is to keep AOL
users from getting links to "objectionable" websites if enough "substantial
complaints from AOL members" are made. Neat trick, huh? Let's keep that one in
our back-pocket, shall we?
Oh, and also I thought the world should know that AOL is censoring its
members' email and they know nothing about it! And if your own website gets
caught in that censorship there is almost nothing you can do about
I'm reminded of a similar incident that occurred with Comcast back in the
summer of 2005 --- which we covered
--- as they, the nation's largest email provider, were not
allowing emails to go to users if they contained "AfterDowningStreet.org
" in the body of
We eventually were able to learn from Comcast that the problem was due to
some automated anti-spam program that triggered a filter to block emails that
had URLs which had suddenly become very very popular on the Internet,
under the presumption that they must be spam. Or so Comcast claimed anyway. It
was a very politically charged summer, and the AfterDowningStreet.org site was
reporting on information which argued that Bush had determined to go to war in
Iraq whether there were WMD there or not.
The problem was eventually corrected and AfterDowningStreet.org was removed
from the filter. But a month or so later --- as Cindy Sheehan took up her famous
stand in Crawford, TX, urging Bush to meet with her to explain the "noble cause"
for which her son had been killed in Iraq --- emails containing "meetwithcindy.org
" were similarly filtered
out by Comcast and never reached their intended destination. We reported on that incident here
In many ways, the Comcast incident was arguably even worse than AOL's shame,
in that their system didn't even bounce an error message back to the sender. The
email was sent off, and nobody ever even knew that it didn't arrive.
Well. Sorry for the long explanation, but I feel better having gotten it out
of my system --- even though, as of now, it is likely that AOL members cannot
get emails which contain links to this news site in them.
If my contact at AOL cares to offer a response from the "Corporate Media
Inquiry" department, I will, of course, be happy to run it (as I offered him
originally --- but he chose to try and solve the problem, rather than give an
on-the-record comment for now, which I actually appreciate.)
But, sorry. This is all bullshit, and folks need to know.
* * *
AOL members who wish to complain, request they be allowed to receive emails
with BradBlog.com in them, or would prefer to switch to an email provider that
censor their mail without telling them first, can call:
, or they can be ignored via
the AOL feedback page here
That would explain why my AOL friend was able to receive an email with my
domain it from another AOL user, and why my reply to her, quoting the same
email, failed. Fail. Fail. AOL. Fail.
UPDATE 4/23/11, 5:11pm PT: Just a quick update for those who've
asked. Yes, emails containing links to any page at BradBlog.com are still
blocked when sent from any non-AOL address to an AOL user. This is more than 24
hours after I directly notified and spoke to their Corporate Media Inquiries
division, who promised they'd escalate the issue. And just about a full week
since I was initially notified about the problem in the first place, and began
my full week of of endless tech support calls and written complaints via the
form mentioned above at the "AOL Postmaster" site. Still censored.
Interestingly, someone pointed me towards an article posted in 2004 with the
exact same problem with AOL. The article sounds almost identical to mine, in
both the description of the problem, and the serious issues it presents about
how this AOL "feature" could be used nefariously. The article is no longer
available at its original
address, but the cached
version is at Archive.org is right here