The days of anonymous commenting on the Huffington Post are numbered. Founder Arianna Huffington said in Boston Wednesday that the online news site plans to require readers to use their real names to comment on stories, beginning next month.
“Freedom of expression is given to people who stand up for what they’re saying and not hiding behind anonymity,” she said.
Huffington was in Boston to deliver the keynote address at a technology marketing conference sponsored by HubSpot, where her talk focused on work-life balance for business leaders.
But while talking to reporters after her speech, she spilled the beans on the commenting announcement, which apparently had been planned for a future date.
“We’ve just made a decision — we’re going to announce it soon, but here you are — I’m announcing it now,” Huffington said. “We’re going to end anonymity in comments.”
She noted that the Huffington Post already has an advanced comment screening algorithm and 40 human monitors. And the site does not want to risk losing its robust culture of reader dialogue. Visitors have authored more than 260 million comments since the Huffington Post was launched in 2005.
On Wednesday, for example, a story on the site’s homepage about President Obama’s unchanged opposition to legalizing marijuana drew more than 1,700 comments. Using screen names, many readers talked openly about personal marijuana use, including its medicinal benefits.
The discourse was mostly civil and often well reasoned, but also was marred by coarse language that appeared to have slipped through the Huffington Post’s screening because of alternative spelling and punctuation — a popular trick employed by commenters.
Huffington added that “trolls have become more and more aggressive and uglier.”
The Globe’s websites, BostonGlobe.com and Boston.com, allow readers to post comments using screen names but require them to identify themselves to the newspaper through a registration process.
In the wide-ranging Q&A, Huffington also discussed the Globe’s pending sale to Red Sox owner John W. Henry. A key to the paper’s future success, she said, will be Henry’s ability to delegate authority to people who can lead it in a digital age. The incoming Globe owner has no experience in the newspaper industry; he made his fortune as a commodities trader.
Huffington said Henry is in a different position than Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, who is in the process of buying The Washington Post.
“Bezos, obviously, is somebody who knows a lot about technology,” she said. “He’s going to have a lot of ideas about the business model, about the platform, about every aspect. I presume [Henry] is going to be more a case of, who is he going to trust to make those decisions?”