Huffington: ‘Virality has become fetishized’

HuffPost's founder spoke about her site's direction--and her newest book--at Tufts University on Wednesday

The Huffington Post’s South Korean edition—the site’s 11th international incarnation—launched in February with a reporting focus on burnout and technology addiction, two themes that HuffPost will also cover globally.

Arianna Huffington spoke about the importance of covering those topics at a journalism forum at Tufts University on Wednesday, where she also expressed some of her general opinions about digital journalism and introduced her latest book, Thrive (out last month).

In fact, Huffington’s international focus on burnout sounded a bit like a thinly veiled promotion of Thrive, her 14th book to date, which attempts to distinguish between being successful and being overworked. Huffington recounts a time when she collapsed from exhaustion and sleep deprivation, and emerged with a new philosophy on work/life balance. (That’s where all the “sleep your way to the top” buzz originated.)

While discussing technology addiction and obstacles that come along with the growth of the internet, Huffington also explained the rationale behind her controversial move to eliminate HuffPost’s anonymous comments late last year.

“Anonymity brings out the worst in people,” she said, explaining that while special protections may be offered for whistleblowers, all other commenters are required to identify themselves to post anything on the site.

An unexpected main point emerged from Huffington’s talk: “Virality has become fetishized,” she told attendees, pointing out that the content individuals tend to share is fundamentally different than what they tend to spend time reading. Topics like compassion and life hacks, she suggested, often earn a piece a lot of shares and likes. The founder of the site famous for SEO grabs like “What time is the Super Bowl?” referred to these measures as “empty calories,” and stated that often these indications of popularity are used independent of quality.

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Molly Mirhashem is a former CJR intern