Comments – is Facebook the answer?

Commenting on websites is a funny thing. Luckily for me, DavePress is sufficiently niche not to attract too many readers, so the problem of being inundated by moronic comments has never really been an issue for me.

For big, popular sites though, commenting can be a real issue. You just need to take a look through the comment threads on posts on Guido’s blog, for instance, to see how ugly things can get.

It’s not just the offensive, though, it’s the irrelevant that can be just as annoying. People leaving meaningless comments just to draw attention to themselves, or their own websites.

Part of the issue is the ease of anonymity with website comments. With a system like WordPress, all you need to do is enter an email address and your name, and you can submit any comment you like.

There are solutions, like Disqus and Intense Debate, which go a bit further to enable commenters to tie their contributions to existing online identities. This goes some way to improving the standard of comments, but it’s still relatively easy to subvert this and go anonymous. It’s part of the cost, I guess, of keeping barriers to entry low.

One new opportunity here though is using Facebook to power your comments – the page explaining it is here.

The technology blog TechCrunch has already implemented it as an experiment, and interestingly, with comments being tied to personal identities, the standard of commenting has risen:

In the past few hours, most of the anonymous trolls who have come to call TechCrunch comments a second home are gone. Of course, some people don’t want to comment with their real names for good reason (they want to speak freely without fear of reprisals), but for the most part in practice anonymity was abused. It was used mostly as a shield to hide behind and throw out invective…

The other main benefit is social virality. When you comment on TechCrunch, your comment also appears in your Facebook stream with a link back to the post (unless you opt out of that option in the comment box).

Seems good, but it isn’t perfect. Some of the issues:

  • Not everyone has a Facebook account, so won’t be able to comment
  • Facebook is banned in many workplaces, so people won’t be able to access or contribute to comments
  • There doesn’t seem to be a way at the moment to extract your site’s comment data out of Facebook
  • There probably are instances where anonymous commenting is a good thing, and Facebook comments makes it pretty hard to do

So, as always, the answer as to the best way of managing comments on websites is ‘it depends’. Having the Facebook option is a useful addition to the toolkit, though, and it will be interesting to see if any public service types use it in the future.

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Jeff Ribeira

I wouldn’t say the Facebook option is the end all be all, but I think it’s a great start, and has a great basic framework (eliminate anonymous posting and social media share facetor). I completely agree that anonymous commenting basically opens the flood gates to trolls and offensive content. On the other hand though, I know that there are plenty of people out there who are reluctant to use their true identity for whatever other reason- not malicious. At any rate though, I think it’s a worthy trade off for relevant and quality content.

Andrew Krzmarzick

I am firmly convinced that the reason GovLoop has such a high level of decorum as compared to other government-related news sites is because of the fact that members are all “embodied” – operating (with very few exceptions) as real people with clear identities. Other major sites where we see a quick devolution to trolls and trashing should take note of these results! AND social media policies for government sites should include some language about visitors operating as real people (unless privacy issues dictate that people remain anonymous) in order to elevate the level of conversation…and always have a mechanism for people to share their comments anonymously via a private channel if they wish to do so.

Completely agree with your caveats…

Allen Sheaprd


IMO – Facebook is not the answer for all the reasons you state.

Here is one more – its not specific enough. Can you imagine all the GovLoop comments on just one face book page?

@Andrew – sigh. Some people do need guidlines. I often post under another ID and have not been “flamed” nor banned. Using ones real name is not needed

Anna Abbey

I find it interesting that 3 out of 4 of the “issues” you cite, turn out to be benefits to facebook.

– Not everyone has a Facebook account, but will have to sign up with Facebook in order to comment. The more sites use this function, the faster Facebook grows.

– Facebook is banned in most workplaces, so if the sites people want to comment on are critical to their work- workplaces will have to release their bans on Facebook (thus increasing Facebook traffic).

– There doesn’t seem to be any way to extract your site’s comment data out of Facebook. Once Facebook gets it, Facebook keeps it (and probably has wide liberties in its use).

Mandy Vavrinak

Even on a WordPress base, comments don’t have to be left anonymous. One site run by a sitting city councilor I’m aware of has a comment policy stating that real first and last names and a valid email address are required before a comment will be posted and that all comments are held for moderation to verify that information. Basically, in the policy he says that disagreement and debate are part of public discourse and are healthy when they are handled respectfully, and that anonymous posting has no place in public debate. You wouldn’t stand up in a public meeting covered in a snuggie with a sack over your head and a voice-disguising microphone to ask you question, would you? So don’t do it online.

Yes, it takes a bit more work for him to look at the comments and approve the ones that are legit, but it keeps the debate a debate and not a troll fest.

Gregory Butera

No, not even Facebook is the answer. Posting on a computer is still less personal, so people can more easily post something that they’d never say to your face. I disagree somewhat with Andrew — I think Govloop works not because of authentication, but because it is a professional site, and the threat of shame in one’s professional life has greater impact than on a group of friends or when one posts on any other comment board.

And then there are the hackers, for which authentication seems to be no barrier. I’ve seen several instances where trolls hacked accounts and hijacked pages on Facebook just for fun. Here’s a story on how Facebook tried to fight back on that issue, but it has happened several times since. http://www.tgdaily.com/software-features/49166-facebook-takes-small-step-against-tribute-page-trolls So, even with the use of Facebook accounts, some people know how to manipulate the system and post some of the most outrageous and offensive materials to mock the well intentioned tribute to someone who recently died.

I think that professional pages like Govloop and LinkedIn are likely to be safer places to post thoughtful dialogue because of the threat that an ill intentioned comment may pose to one’s professional reputation. But other sites that permit comments like the NY Times, E! entertainment or OMG!, or other blogs, online magazine sites, Yahoo Answers, etc. need to have a moderator, or the spammers posting a new diet fad/get rich quick scheme and/or offensive trolls looking to incite an argument will be uncontrollable.

Daniel Daughtry-Weiss

Let me be radical and suggest that in some circumstances, anonymous commenting may be the way to go,

As an alternative, I would suggest having a clearly displayed policy about ground rules for posts, and make it EASY for visitors to report comments that violate the ground rules. This generates an email or other notification to an administrator who can easily remove the posts and the violating accounts. It may be a minor pain, but if you really want to encourage participation, it can BOTH to keep the barrier to participation low, but also, in some cases, allow for unvarnished discussion where there is the potential for reprisal.

For a time in Venice, citizens were REQUIRED to wear masks to debates because on those islands things got personal and I suppose people were afraid to speak their minds.