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Huffington Post Goes Social With Facebook Tie-in

Online media mogul and liberal evangelist Arianna Huffington has hopped on the Facebook bandwagon in a big way.

This morning, her eponymous blog empire The Huffington Post launched HuffPost Social News, a feature that retrieves and shares the stories that people's Facebook friends have been reading.

"The explosive growth of online social networking has fundamentally changed our relationship with news," Huffington declared in a blog post announcing the service. "It's no longer something we passively take in. We now engage with news, react to news and share news."

The blogging maven, as one might imagine, sees the era of the static news story passing into the history books. Rising in its place is a more dynamic and interactive news environment, where stories develop and evolve through things like links and reader comments.

And part and parcel of that transformation is the sense of community many online news sites are trying to create. That's the nut of Huffington's latest effort.

In addition to sending out status updates about what articles people are reading to their friends' Facebook walls, HuffPost Social News allows readers to create profile pages on the site that will enable them to share stories, limiting the voluminous comments appended to each to those submitted by members of the person's social circle.

"Think of it as HuffPost's new digital water cooler," Huffington said.

More than 1.7 million comments were posted to stories on Huffington Post last month.

To many, Arianna Huffington stands as an apostle of how the news business will reinvent itself in the digital age. At a time when newspapers are bleeding red ink, her online endeavor, billed as the "The Internet Newspaper" on its home page, is thriving, with an ever-expanding network of volunteer bloggers, hefty traffic numbers and an advertising revenue stream that isn't eaten up by the overhead of printing presses, delivery trucks or the payroll required to sustain a large newsroom.

"Despite all the current hand-wringing about the dire state of newspapers, we are actually in the midst of a Golden Age for news consumers," she wrote in a post on the official Facebook blog, declaring that "the days of publishing pooh-bahs dictating to us what's important and what's not are over."

Of course, those publishing pooh-bahs take a different view of Huffington and her movement than her digital comrades.

At a hearing in May considering the future of journalism, Huffington sat beside Google's Marissa Mayer as the ambassadors of new media, who were cast in the role of trying to convince skeptical senators and newspaper executives that quality, original and even investigative journalism will thrive in the digital era, despite some compelling economic evidence to the contrary.

"It's important to remember that the future of journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers," she assured them.

In today's announcement, Huffington also took care to point out that the new feature will still enable readers to control what information is shared with whom on Facebook. That disclaimer has become a standard accompaniment, almost to the point of boilerplate, for companies like Facebook or Google when they products that facilitate automatic sharing of data as privacy watchdogs are pressing for stricter rules governing online data.

In Canada, Facebook is due to respond today to criticism from a government official who blasted the firm for "serious privacy gaps." If Jennifer Stoddart, Canada's privacy commissioner, is not satisfied with Facebook's response, she could end up suing the social network in the country's federal court.

Meantime, in the United States, Facebook and other firms that trade in online data are closely watching, and attempting to influence, House lawmakers' plans to draft an overhaul to the country's privacy laws.