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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A flaw in the Facebook comments plugin

Posted by Scott Tibbs at 4:00 AM (#)

While I think it was an unnecessary change, I generally approve of the switch to Facebook comments for Herald-Times Online. However, there is a bug in the design of Facebook comments that undermines the design and operation of comments, and I am not sure this was fully considered for either the guidelines themselves or the mechanism of enforcing those guidelines.

The bug is that people can post as Facebook pages. While users are (technically!) required to use their real names on Facebook, it is a simple matter to create a Facebook "fan page" and comment using that. So since one joker (who has been known to repeatedly violate HTO comment guidelines and has had many comments deleted) did exactly that I asked H-T editor the following question: Isn't the entire purpose of Facebook comments that people must use their real names, per the editorial announcing the new format?

He responded:

  • "Yes it is and we will delete them when they are brought to our attention, and ban the accounts."

I reported the instances where the troll is hiding his identity behind Facebook fan pages, but the problem is that those reports go to both HTO moderators and Facebook itself. There needs to be an option on the Facebook comments plugin to report comments that violate a website's comment policy to that website (in this case, Herald-Times Online) and not report them to Facebook.

The reason this is needed is that comments that violate HTO comment guidelines are not necessarily a violation of Facebook's Terms of Service. If I report a comment that violates HTO policy but not Facebook policy, I am wasting Facebook's time when the comment goes to both Facebook and HTO moderators. This is an incredibly inefficient system when the reports go to both HTO moderators and Facebook, since the two entities have different standards and Facebook is fielding reports they should technically never see.

Here is another reason this is important: There is a lot of raw sewage on Facebook, including horrific violence, brawls, and pornographic material. Some of this material is evidence of criminal activity. There is no reason that comment abuse reports need to go to Facebook and waste the time of people working there, when they should only be going to HTO staff charged with enforcing a different (and more strict) set of standards.

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