Why I Left The HCBN

I've been involved with Her Campus throughout the years, and when they launched their blogger network, it seemed like an obvious choice to join up. They afforded me a lot of opportunities and I made a lot of great friends.

However, it wasn't long before the costs outweighed the benefits. There were a lot of things that led to my leaving the network, but what I'm here to talk about are the ones that not just made the network a poor fit for me, but that actually grated on me personally and created a situation where I could not, in good conscience, continue working in the network. I might burn a bridge or two by posting this, but it's nothing I don't think they set torch to first. I'm posting this because I'm not going to let go of the way they treated some of their bloggers, myself included.

The biggest reason I left the network was the culture of silence. Conflicts tend to arise within a group of 500+ individual, free thinking people. These conflicts were almost never mediated by moderators and instead were shut down, and whomever seemed the "angriest" was deemed wrong. There was no trying to see both sides. There was just "the polite girls" and "the girls ganging up on her" for not immediately siding with the polite one.

There is a difference between being "polite" and being "good" or "right" which is something the network had a hard time understanding. There were misunderstandings for which no one was to blame, and there were conflicts that arose from passive-aggressiveness, or even straight up criminality where the girls who didn't speak sweetly were villified and the other girl painted as the damsel in distress. Instead of actually trying to resolve the conflict, most of the mods and community members resorted to pointing fingers at "the bitch" and declaring that she was "ruining the community."

Silence ruins communities. Making girls afraid to speak ruins communities. 

The HCBN criminalized anger and criticism. Girls who had every right to be angry were told that they were disturbing the peace, and that they should keep their opinions to themselves if they didn't match that of the rest of the community.

At one point, I called another blogger out for stealing content of other bloggers. She was stealing images, not linking back properly, and not getting permission. She was doing something illegal. Her counter basically amounted to "if no one catches me, and they haven't yet, I must not actually be doing anything wrong." I tried to impress upon her the gravity of the situation. I busted out blog posts and legal pages, citing how badly she had been mistaken. It was like saying shoplifting isn't illegal if you never get caught. Suddenly, girls were telling me to back off and leave her alone-- I made her upset. They were telling me I was bullying her-- for telling her not to steal from the rest of us. How on Earth did this happen? I was getting told by other bloggers to let a thief continue stealing, because I was "upsetting" her.

Meanwhile, over facebook message, I received a flood of messages from other bloggers in the network, thanking me for refusing to back down, and for protecting their rights. They told me I was doing the right thing-- yet none of them would come to my aid on the thread. No one else wanted to be labeled a "bitch" for siding with me. I was doing the right thing but it didn't matter-- I wasn't playing nice. I didn't gently suggest she respect other bloggers and the law while offering a smile and a lollipop, so I got put in the doghouse.

The moderators, for the most part, do not understand how to handle conflict. There are a few who do, but they aren't always online-- they can't be-- and it's appalling to me that the HCBN didn't train their moderators in how to mediate a disagreement and even a full-blown fight. The party line is just to pick the person whose voice is raised and say "you're ruining the community" as if conflict is in and of itself outlawed. People delete threads, rather than managing conflict, which leads to hearsay, ultimately leading to a select few people deciding who was most sympathetic, and by default, who was playing the villain. My attempts to mediate conflicts were met with derision, since I didn't default to defending the person who spoke most softly. My attempts to de-escalate situations were deemed as siding with the villain-- most everyone else was content to continue to antagonize her. That's what sounds like "ganging up on someone" to me.

The heads of the network describe the importance of "professionalism" within the network, which is code for "don't make trouble"-- but that's awfully hard when you ask 500+ bloggers to all act and think and feel the same. They have created an environment in which the most active members have no problem turning off their critical thinking skills and just labeling any dissenter as a "community-ruiner"-- It is an absolute tragedy. It's making intelligent women afraid to speak out when they feel like something is wrong.

It's Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

It's easy to make a community seem Stepford-perfect when you have scared anyone who might think differently from speaking out. It's easy to discredit perfectly valid claims if, instead of actually listening to someone, you decide they're not being "nice" enough to be listened to. Any sign of conflict leads to a witch-hunt, and as any one acquainted with Western history knows, it's awfully easy to find a witch when you want to.

I wrote a thoughtful email of resignation explaining why I quit to the heads of the HCBN, and in return I received a cookie-cutter, almost passive-aggressive reply. It was as though they did not hear a thing I said. From friends still in the network, I hear nothing has changed. Some girls claim nothing is wrong, and that's because they happen to naturally fall in line with the expectations set by the network-- for the rest of us, it's not as easy.

I want so much better from the network. It's full of amazing women. It's run by amazing women. It has so much potential, and yet I've seen the community fail time and time again, because even the women who want to mediate conflict get characterized as mean for not immediately siding with a damsel in distress. 

I quit the network because I refused to continue to partner with an organization that was stepping on the dignity of intelligent women, by fostering a community of silence. I had brought up my concerns time and time again, and yet nothing changed. I left because, despite having a small blog, I didn't want to grow it by aligning myself with what I considered to be dystopian thought-police, enforcing "niceness," punishing dissent, and ostracizing outliers.

I'm not going to be intimidated into not expressing my opinions regarding how poorly this was handled. I'm not going to be told to shut my mouth because the people at the top don't like what I have to say-- my experiences in the network were real, and my opinions are valid, and if they don't want to change it while I am in it, maybe I can put pressure on them from the outside to do better for their girls. I'm not of the opinion that I shouldn't say anything if I can't say something nice-- things were not nice for me, nor for the other girls in the network who refused to surrender their critical thought or their voices, despite not falling in line with the norms set by the group.

So that, dear friends, is why I left the HCBN, and I wasn't the only one who left. I've been encouraged by other bloggers, both in and out of the network, to write this post and explain why how the network is being run is not okay with me. I hope either the network changes, or at least some women will avoid joining if the way it is will make them unhappy and will not serve their interests.

Thanks for reading.

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40 comments:

  1. This is very well-written, Harper. And I definitely give you props for being so brave and so frank and posting this. As someone who is still in the group, I hope not to contribute to that culture of silence.

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  2. I love this post! As you may know, I have had several problems with Her Campus in the past and also left the network some time ago. They have a lot of improving to do and the group is not one I want to be associated with for many reasons. If I were still in the group, I would most definitely have backed you up. Stealing content is WRONG, plain and simple. And as sad as it sounds, when I see that Her Campus badge on someone's blog, it immediately gives me a bad impression of that blog/blogger. The association has a negative connotation in my opinion and it looks like I'm not the only one. Thanks for sharing your opinions!

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  3. Love this post, Harper! I wrote one myself which was inspired by the peer pressure many bloggers face to put on a fake smile. I am really happy I'm out of that group and wasn't surprised when a certain person e-mailed me pretty much wanting me to kiss her ass in order to stay in. That's not what empowerment is about. I'm really proud of you and other bloggers who speak up for themselves.

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  4. Did I back you up on the stealing content debate? I know I piped in on one of those discussions. Regardless, I was completely with you, and if I didn't say anything, it may have been because I'd already tried to make this blogger see reason before the incident, without success.


    As you know, I quit the network as well - I love the people I met there, but I have most of you added on other social media networks now, and being in Europe and not a college student, none of the opportunities applied to me. I never liked the website (the dating articles drove me crazy; there was—IS so much unchecked misogyny in them) or the way the moderators conducted themselves when they showed up in group discussions (always, ALWAYS to silence dissent), and it was infuriating to be told you're being disrespectful and attacking people when you haven't called a single person a name.


    Which is why in my email back to Lady Miss Quinn, I was like, screw this, and told her to work on her reading comprehension skills. Because you can't go through life thinking strongly worded disagreement is a personal attack. I mean, you can... but it's bullshit.


    All I got in reply was a "Please remove the Her Campus badge from your blog." I happily complied (I'd just forgotten).

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  5. Thanks, Megan! I feel like, as a businesswoman, their business model is so not sustainable because they'd rather focus on profits than people. I constantly felt like their loyalties were not with the bloggers. They're devaluating their brand and everyone associated with it. Thanks for commenting on this-- I'm so tired of girls being scared of the network and not voicing their honest opinions because of it.

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  6. You totally backed me up while you were online, but I think between the time difference and your schedule, you only got a few comments in edgewise.


    I'm so glad you quit the network. I know a lot of girls are afraid to leave the network because they don't want to miss out on sponsored opportunities, but there are so many other networks who do so much better, pay better, and don't step on their bloggers.


    I used to write for them all the time-- I was of the opinion that I could fix things from the inside. I wrote some great, feminist pieces for them. But they've gotten so big now that it's easy for them to dismiss criticism. It's infuriating.

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  7. I just read yours and loved it.


    I'm so happy there are bloggers like you who'd rather have their dignity and integrity than a pink sticker on their blog.

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  8. Thanks Kriselle. Communities work best when everyone makes it their job to do right by others. I'm so glad to have you as a friend and so proud that you have always moderated and contributed with integrity and compassion.

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  9. I really needed this today! When I first joined that network I tried to participant at lot but everyone seemed so cliquey, it was off putting. Now that I've graduated college I feel like I'm not their target audience anymore and a lot of their opps don't apply to me and the network itself is one long follow train. I originally joined to help my blog grow but almost every brand deal and sponsorship I've gotten for my blog has been on my own via networking and research. Thanks so much for sharing this Harper! I remember when some of the stuff you talking about was going down I would 'like' it so I could come back later and add my thoughts but the threads were always gone in the morning. I just removed my badge from my blog. I think I'm going to email them this weekend about resigning. I can't believe they have gotten away with this for so long. Why can't we have simple discussions without being called "bullies." Do people not understand what an actual bully is, because that's not it! I'm so happy other bloggers are standing up and not backing down. Your blog is a representation of you, so why represent a network that doesn't have your back. No amount of money or sponsorships is worth your dignity and morals! <3 <3 <3 (Sorry for the long comment but I LOVED this post)

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  10. Thanks Angie! My post was long, so thanks for reading it-- I love long, thoughtful comments :) Your blog has grown so much and I doubt very much of it at all has anything to do with HCBN-- you've done absolutely amazing things for yourself.


    I'm so disappointed with the way the network is run. And I'm also disappointed by a lot of the community members who think that someone disagreeing or arguing with them is the same as "bullying" and that any sign of different thought should be deleted. How are these women going to function in the real world if they think the world is divided into the good people who agree with them and the bad ones who don't?


    I totally support your quitting the network-- I'll be here for you long after the HCBN! Kudos for making choices that align with your values and integrity!

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  11. I really appreciate you writing this post, Harper! I've been debating about quitting the network for some time now and reading this post/the comments has finally convinced me to pull the plug. From the beginning, the HCBN reminded me of some sort of online sorority, but it did help my blog grow, so I tolerated it. But now with over 500 members, the whole thing is just more than I care to deal with! I've had a bad experience with my school's Her Campus chapter also, so I think the whole company has some work to do, not just with the blogger network! I also agree with Lix that some of the articles on their website just make me cringe. I see the topics and I just think "Really? Is that what we should be encouraging young women to spend their time reading?" Ok, I could rant on but I don't want this to be too long. Thanks again for speaking up!

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  12. Urg I totally agree. The company has some really good intentions but are going in totally the wrong direction. They seem to think the path to success is bolstering this click-baity, silly, "young and fun!" perspective, no matter how vapid or sexist it is. It's really frustrating to see them not learning from their mistakes, or considering that we as college women want to look and feel responsible, respectable, and the kind of classy that has nothing to do with clothes-- but then I guess those kinds of girls are harder to sell stuff to. The chapters run very independently, so I know some chapters are AMAZING and do a really great job, while others are absolutely terrible to work with. I've known writers who were literally told to dumb down their writing for the main site.


    I am so supportive of you leaving the network. I genuinely feel like it does a disservice to so many of its members. I can't remember the last time I even got offered to apply for a campaign! I certainly could not stand how ridiculously hive-mind-y it got. It was uncomfortable and it made a lot of girls feel unsafe, and honestly I hated how people would play the victim and instantly be "right"

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  13. I absolutely love that you stood your ground, go girl! I only stick around HC for the community as I'm no longer even in college

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  14. I'm not the most active member so posts often get deleted before I see them...With what you wrote here I understand tha the community may look "perfect" from the outside but it's not. Thanks for sharing!

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  15. Thanks for posting, Harper! I've been debating leaving, mostly because my blog doesn't fit in with the fashion, cliquish blog that HC seems to have worked the best for. So reading your post has definitely prompted me to pull the plug, so to speak. Besides, I've never gotten a sponsored post opportunity from them. Ever. They just don't work well with smaller bloggers.

    And stealing content is ALWAYS wrong. ALWAYS. I remember that debate, and it's just awful how they responded to it.

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  16. Anonymous out of fear of HNCBSeptember 28, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    I have found the moderation to be biased and inconsistent. When I first joined I wrote a post where i say hello to everyone and that i was looking forward to learning from others about blogging. There were others posts like this already up on the group so I thought I would say hi too… my post was deleted and I received a frosty and slightly aggressive private message telling me not to break the rules again or i'll be out of the group… lovely welcome.


    So my post was removed yet others were allowed to write the same thing? I was new to the group and to be so rudely treated by a mod was just down right bizarre.


    HCNB need to moderate their moderators as they're probably not aware that all of this goes on. Sneaky hostile private messages that aren't seen by anyone else do leave the moderator position open to abuse if they are given free reign. It seems odd that some of them act in a bully-ish manner when it is meant to be an open safe group.


    I believe they have lost control of it. SOME of the moderators USE THEIR POWER to INTIMIDATE and that IS WRONG.

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  17. Anonymous out of fear of HNCBSeptember 28, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    I have a lot of respect for you Lix as I have seen that you have remained true to yourself on the group. When I saw you had left, it made me realise that I should consider doing the same.

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  18. I sit firmly on the 'theft is theft' side of the fence. Feathers have been ruffled by this article!

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  19. Feathers have been ruffled...

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  20. I guarantee you, this is not about you. Literally at least 10 people in network can give you the name of who the theft part of this post is about, and that person does not have a name as long as yours. The person I'm talking about literally FOUGHT me about how everything she was doing was okay despite even going so far as to slice up another website's long-tutorial image and then just throwing a couple words in between a diced up image of the smoky eye tutorial and calling it "her own content"

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  21. I'm sorry to see you go, Lix. It seemed like whenever you commented on something, I always seemed to agree with you (you always seemed to say what you were thinking instead of the "cookie cutter" response). Enjoy Europe!

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  22. Thank for you for writing this post, Harper! I think you make a lot of valid points that people just don't talk about in the HCBN. I've been debating on leaving for some time now. They're getting and more strict--they want our blog analytics, and they've even started dictating some content and other aspects of our blogs (ex. we're not allowed to use foul language, which is so *me*). It's great to have content like yours online that can provide a different side.

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  23. We have some really good mods and we have some mods who clearly do not know what they're doing-- and that's not necessarily their fault. Someone needs to train them and someone needs to keep them in line. I've seen a couple mods who are willing to bend the rules for themselves and not for other members.

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  24. I definitely agree that it's hard to feel like part of the group if you're not a fashion or beauty blogger. I didn't really have a place in the group and I never fit in with the clique-- and that's usually okay with me, because that's how it's always been. But in real life, I'm almost always granted the dignity and the right to be where I am as who I am, and I didn't feel that in the network.


    I know, I have 0 respect for that blogger as a result. They were willfully stealing and calling it "content creation"

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  25. Thanks for reading, Em. I used to be extremely active until the incident above made me so absolutely disillusioned with the community. Even after, I'd check in every once in a while to weigh in on a question here and there, and still the same kind of thing would happen. It was really disappointing.

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  26. Thanks Shane! I feel very good about my decision to leave. Thanks for you support!

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  27. Thanks Sammi! I think a lot of people need to consider why stuff like this isn't talked about in the network-- is it because it's not interesting or relevant, or because they are scared? I think a lot of people are really scared, whether it's the threat of other girls thinking they are bad/mean/whatever, or the threat of being kicked out for having an idea that doesn't mesh with what the network currently is. I totally feel you on the bad language too, because sometimes bullshit is bullshit and to call it anything else would be to cover up something terrible. Even despite the fact I might swear a lot on the regular, sometimes I write about stuff as dark as rape culture, and I certainly feel justified in swearing through my outrage. We're not HC chapter, we're individual bloggers and I think it's messed up that they're trying to force unreasonable standards.

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  28. ... Did she really post that 3 times in a row?

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  29. This was super well written!! When everything happened, you inspired me to quit as well

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  30. I thought I might share my experience with HCBN amid all the criticism. I do agree that the network should be a safe space for all members (I'm not a terribly active member, so I cannot speak on any of the drama that has been mentioned here) and am not happy to hear claims of members being intimidated or silenced.

    However, all of my experiences in the network have been incredibly positive. It taught - and continues to teach - me a lot about growing my blog, and reaching more people than I ever thought possible.

    I consider myself a niche blogger (not a 'fashion clique-y' kind of blog by any stretch of the imagination). I blog about my life as a young woman with Crohn's disease and an ileostomy, which is an uncomfortable and often-stigmatized topic. Through HCBN, I've been able to reach out and educate other girls in my age group. I've always felt accepted by the group, even though my condition can often set me apart. Knowing that there's a sizable community of smart, like-minded ladies who support my blog has helped tremendously in my own acceptance of myself.

    I'm very sad to hear that others' experiences have not been as positive as mine. It's also unfortunate to hear that someone might see my blog in a negative light because it has an HCBN badge. But at the end of the day, I'm happy with the work I've done with that HCBN badge. Just thought I'd say my piece, and want to wish everyone best of luck, no matter what their network.

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  31. Thank you for writing this, Harper! I was just recently accepted into this group so I'm glad to have read your post early on. (It also prompted a quick Google search of other negative reviews just to be on the safe side.) Facebook is not a perfect place so I don't take it too seriously. I will, however, take your words into consideration if I ever run into trouble. I'm willing to give the group a shot and if it doesn't fit with me, hey, I can always back out!

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  32. This is such a great post! I'm not a very active member and I have seen some questionable things in the past, it really makes you think. Thanks for sharing!

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  33. Thanks for reading Emma! I'm glad your experience in the network has been a positive one. I've read your blog several times-- I have a friend with Crohn's and although she's not shy about it, I never like to ask about it unless it comes up, lest I make her uncomfortable, so reading about your experiences has helped me get a better idea of what her experiences are like, and I've always enjoyed reading your posts.


    I hope that your experiences with them continue to be positive, and that they work to make that the case for more bloggers. Before this post went up, they were content to deny that the culture of silence and the cult of agreeableness was a problem in the network, but I hope to prove that that's not the case so that the problems will be faced and fixed so that everyone can have a positive HCBN experience.

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  34. Hey Hannah, Thanks for reading! Facebook is sort of the main conduit for the "networking" part of the network. In a lot of ways its great because you can ask and answer questions about blogging, share leads, find guest writers for when you travel, collaborate, etc. etc. But on the other hand, that was definitely being ruined for me by this "cult of agreeableness" and the ridiculous level of silencing that occurred with any and every conflict. There was a lot of passive aggression in the network as a result. I've also noticed a huge drop in the number of campaign opportunities I received, so the business benefit faded out for me as well. I hope you have a better experience than I did, and I hope they change the things that made me so unhappy I left.

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  35. Thanks Raewyn! It was just too much nonsense, am I right?

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  36. Thanks Dahlia! I hope the HC and the mods and the entire HCBN community changes for the better, for everyone's sake. Personally I got tired of waiting for change while HC continued to sell my email for their profit.

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  37. So much! I knew I was feeling like I didn't belong, but I thought maybe it was just because I was out of college

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  38. I just decided to leave - largely because the hassle to submit blog history every so often and then being told they didn't get it. It grated on me to have to do that anyways. Somehow the expectation of blogging every week (even though it isn't mandated) stumps me on what to say (I don't do well being expected to do that). PLUS I just don't see the benefit. I don't get chosen for opportunities (I think because I'm out of the age range of college age anyways - I turn 28 this year). Not worth it and to hear the kind of things that happened to you sort of confirms it for me.

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  39. Thanks for reading-- I totally agree that it stopped making business sense to me a long time ago. But I stayed for the friends I'd made, but after connecting with them elsewhere, it seemed redundant.

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