Facebook Comments: The Death of Online Anonymity
Don't look now, but Facebook is spreading its kudzulike tendrils into yet another part of the Web: the comments field. Last week, the Uber Social Network introduced a free plug-in that replaces the software a site uses to manage its comments with one built by Facebook.
The implications of this are larger than they may appear. If widely adopted, Facebook Comments could kick online trolls to the curb while pounding yet another nail into the coffin of Web anonymity.
[ Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]
Log into a site that uses Facebook Comments and a few things happen. One is that you'll be able to use Facebook as a universal one-time log-in for any site that uses its plug-in -- no more logging in multiple times to different sites each day. Deux, your Facebook profile pic will appear alongside the comments -- in fact, the whole comments field will look like a chunk of Facebook has been plopped down at the end of each story. Trey, you'll see less spam, thanks to Facebook's built-in filters. Quatro, if you leave the "Post to Facebook" box checked, your pithy witticisms, incisive analysis, or (in my case) sophomoric jokes will also appear on your Facebook wall -- and any replies your friends make on your Facebook page will also appear under your comments on that third-party site.
In other words, your friends' Facebook mugshots could end up on sites they've never visited -- though they'd have a heck of a time proving that to the rest of the world. So be careful when responding to comments on AdultMenInDiapers.com, or you might have some 'splaining to do.
Let's put aside for a moment problems with the Facebookization of everything (do we really want to give that much power to a guy who barely got his drivers license?) or the blithe way Facebook lets you butter your friends' identities all over the Web without telling them that's happening.
The biggest thing Facebook Comments does is kill anonymous comment trolls by forcing people to use their real identities. TechCrunch, which implemented Facebook Comments as an experiment last week, reports that while the total volume of comments is down significantly, the comment nastiness quotient is approaching zero -- except, apparently, for nasty comments about their new commenting system.
In other words, people who might have left a trollish comment under the cloak of anonymity are choosing not to comment at all under the new system, turning TechCrunch into a 24/7 lovefest. (In a word: Ewwww.)
Not surprisingly, this notion doesn't sit well with some. Blogger Steve Cheney, author of the cleverly named Steve's Blog (and, presumably, no relation to Dick), says Facebook is "killing [our] authenticity" by making us attach actual identities to comments.