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Larry Magid Headshot

Should Facebook Be the Web's Comment Police?

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2011-03-08-comment.jpg

Facebook allows web operators to put a comment box like the one depicted above on any site

Facebook is offering web developers a new commenting system that requires people to sign-in with their Facebook credentials before commenting on blogs and other sites that use the free service.

Any website operator can add the code to a site by copying a couple of lines of code that you can generate from their comments/plugin page.

With that code in place, visitors to the site see a comment box from Facebook that they can use to make a comment that will appear on that site and, at the user's discretion, on their Facebook profile as well.

Helps Ward Off the Trolls

For site owners, it means not having to manage your own commenting system because Facebook does it for you. It also means fewer really obnoxious or obscene comments because people who log on with their Facebook credentials are less likely to be anonymous and, therefore, more likely to post something that could embarrass them or cause them to lose their Facebook account. The reason I say "less" likely is because this system doesn't fully guarantee accountability. Facebook has what it calls "a real name culture" and considers it a terms of service violation to register under an assumed identity, but it's not all that hard to do so, especially if you start by creating a throw-away email address using a web-based service such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail or Hotmail.

As a site operator, I can relate to this. I've actually removed the ability to comment on my sites SafeKids.com and LarrysWorld.com because of the hassle involved in moderating comments. I love feedback and am accepting of critical comments, but I don't love having to deal with trolls, spammers and others who post comments that are inappropriate.

What Bothers Me About the Service

But there are a couple things that bother me about the new Facebook service. To begin with, it puts even more power in the hands of Facebook which not only has 600 million people visiting its own site, but now has its tentacles into perhaps millions of other websites. It also bothers me that site owners are turning over the storage and "ownership" of comments and their relationship with the commenters to Facebook instead of being able to manage it themselves.

I'm also bothered that it requires a Facebook membership for people to comment. It becomes one more reason people feel compelled to join Facebook and means that folks who don't have a Facebook account can't comment on some other sites.

On TechCrunch, MG Siegler wrote that "overall number of comments have fallen dramatically" after his company started requiring users to use the new Facebook commenting system. The system, he said, has "silenced the trolls" but it may have silenced others too.

As an experiment, I've added the Facebook commenting system to one post on my LarrysWorld.com site. I'd be curious about your reaction so -- in addition to commenting below on Huffington Post's well moderated commenting system, please click here to visit the page on my site and use Facebook's very own system to tell me what you think.

Disclosure: Facebook provides financial support to ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization where I serve as co-director.

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