”News” Site Fark Accused By Customers Of Below-Board Practices. General Crankiness Ensues.

Ultra-popular web destination Fark has been accused of seeding their headlines with sponsored links without noting for readers which stories are sponsored and which are not.  The result is a potential blurring of the line between editorial and advertising, according to this rant by Jason Calacanis.  According to Calacanis — who was also a potential advertiser on Fark:

"I was shocked…all this time I’ve been reading Fark.com it turns out that some percentage of the stories are paid for…I feel like I can never trust Fark again.

The stupid part about all this is that Fark.com could easily just put ‘Advertisement’ by the stories and their readers would click them 2x as much just to support Fark. It is so dumb."

After the discussion continued in this followup, the story was picked up by Wired News and Drew Curtis of Fark finally comments on the situation, saying:

"Wired called me the other day and asked me a few questions about Calacanis’ comments regarding an ad representative selling links. I gave no descriptive comment because I’m not in the habit of airing difficulties that I have with individuals."

The feedback on the issue is polarized.  In reading through a number of the comments on both sites, some readers of Fark seem to feel that this issue is a tempest in a teapot — they don’t care if the links are sold, as long as they still find them entertaining.  Others seem to feel that their trust was betrayed, and they will stop visiting the service.  Additionally, one potential advertiser — read "customer" (Calacanis) — has gotten into a web-based shouting match with a company that he originally wanted to spend money with.

This is a case where the vendor (Fark) has chosen secrecy and a non-committal approach over transparency, and in the process has alienated a vocal group of readers and advertisers.  From where I’m sitting, Fark’s Curtis needs to come clean and explain what’s going on as to not erode his brand’s credibility any further.