Comments are a blessing and a curse for websites.They increase reader engagement but they can quickly devolve into hate-filled speech, personal attacks, and worse when unmoderated.
Facebook has a solution: Publishers should use its commenting system, which requires a Facebook login.
The logic is simple. If online posters are tied to their real life identities, they will be more responsible with their comments.
So far more than 300,000 sites have decided to take them up on the offer, and the majority of publishers report an increase in the quality of comments. (In general, sites that offer Facebook comments report a decrease in the raw numbers but an increase in the quality.)
Additionally, because it’s so simple to post your comment on Facebook, publications see an increase in referral traffic from the social network.
The LA Times rolled out the social network’s commenting system across its site after a trial run, and it saw a 450% jump in traffic from Facebook.
One obvious problem with the system is that not everyone has, or wants, an account.
Facebook has a relatively simple solution. Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s journalist program manager tells us, “That is actually the publisher’s choice. The product is designed so you can implement logins through other providers.”
That said, publishers find that the vast majority of users sign in with their Facebook accounts, which decreases the likelihood that other systems will be allowed. Also, other systems can allow anonymous or fake profiles, which defeats the entire purpose of requiring people to verify their identities. (The Facebook plugin does allow users to sign in via AOL, Yahoo, or Hotmail as well.)
“I think that in general a sense of identity is going to result in quality discourse and civil conversation,” Lavrusik said. “That’s another reason why most folks default to only allowing people to log in with Facebook because they’ve had these issues of really hateful comment threads.”
There are also the privacy issues that go with being on Facebook in general, but the commenting system does not allow anything than what is already in the terms of service. (Publishers do have access to the commenting data and can use the API to obtain it and use it for SEO purposes.)
Sometimes, however, it can be important for a person to be able to comment anonymously. With controversial issues, a commentor want to make their opinion known but not have his or her name attached to the thought. That is impossible in a system that only allows Facebook commentors.
So yes, in many cases the Facebook commenting system is a huge improvement on an unmoderated, anonymous one. But it’s not perfect.
Still, it will continue to grow. In the future, Lavrusik sees more publications and sites around the world adopting the commenting system. (He said he received five emails from Sweden on Wednesday alone.) An increasing number of sites in the United States will also adopt the platform.
In other words, Facebook will just keep winning.