The Facebook control you didn’t know you were missing

Facebook needs one simple button.

It seems that every few weeks now, we run across some article or other about the angst within the walls of Facebook, about how it can fix some problem or another.

I mean, when you blanket the globe, there are inevitably going to be kinks in the fabric you have to iron out. Smooth and pleasurable experiences keep people coming back for more, and the business model requires the site to be as sticky as possible. Everything from the tones and textures of the notifications, to the layout, to the names of the options you have — all are tested and re-tested to make the place as open and engaging as possible.

Even the algorithm.

Keep people coming back for more, and score it by the engagement. Every click, every like, every share, every comment — all of that gets dumped into the black box, and spits out the next guidance as to what keeps you around.

It used to be that you could leave a comment, and then be on your way. But that wasn’t enough. Later, we got the ability to have our comments become one-level deep threads of their own, and others can like those comments and send signals.

But it isn’t just liking those comments, there are at least six different “flavors” of reactions from which to choose, allowing you to differentiate what you really like from what amused you, what you loved, what made you angry or sad.

If you think about it, most of the signals Facebook now gets are tied to the comments. And that is why we won’t get the help we need.

Silence can be golden

I have run blogs for a very long time – long enough to remember when the social media glitterati were selling people on blogs, it was the invitation to Join The Conversation! And there was the discovery that the blogs that built traffic were the ones with robust communities around them.

And every so often, you would find that one topic area that was so sensitive, the blog owner would take the very rare step of turning off the comments. Even though they had the power to block and to ban and to moderate, you could occasionally publish something that had no engagement built in. This is what I am saying, and that is the end of it. Talk amongst yourselves, but not in my yard, not in my house.

This is the piece that Facebook desperately needs, yet never will adopt.

Turning off comments for a post takes so many vital signals from the algorithm. But for those of us with opinions to express, it takes away a key tool. It locks us into an always-on mentality that is chilling. There are certain things that I might not write about, for fear that people downstream might get nasty and personal. I can do it on this site, because comments don’t appear until I approve them. Or I can click a button and close the comments for good.

I can’t do that on Facebook. Because while I own my words there, I don’t own prior restraint. Yes, I can go behind you and delete comments and hide comments, and block individuals who are abusive. But if I don’t have the time for that — God forbid I have to spend a half-hour in the car driving somewhere — things can get nasty in a hurry.

The environment on Facebook can become toxic and intense. But when it comes time to decide between what it good for authors and communities versus what is good for the algorithm — that battle was won by the machine. The Deepest Blue.

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  1. Dixon Hayes says:

    I once had to block an anti-vaxxer from my Facebook page then go back and delete all her comments—and they were numerous—where she posted links to an anti-vaxxer page. Boy was that grueling. I thought blocking her would make those posts go away but it didn’t.

    • The worst is when things erupt when you aren’t looking, and now you have friends waiting for you to “pick sides” in their squabble.

  2. Yeah, that would be a nice little feature to have. Even on YouTube, you can turn off the comments on videos. Facebook would suck a little less if it had this.

    Too bad it never will. 🙁

    • YouTube has content that people come back for. The algorithm exists, but isn’t the lifeblood. After all, you’re there to watch videos, so the ads are already there. No need to make the experience more sticky to survive.

  3. I eventually turned off comments entirely on my own site. I found that a lot of the response I got was toxic — by my standards — and what was even worse is that the comments made it clear that many people weren’t reading any more than the headline (or maybe the Facebook introduction to the article). I think this happens because people are faced with a flood of information, so they skim enough to see a few keywords and then they launch into their prepared talking points on the matter, whether that has anything to do with the point you made or not.

    I have wished Facebook would allow us to turn off comments, but I agree that it will never happen. You’re right that the idea we were sold in the past was that everybody needed to “join the conversation,” but I think we would be far better off these days if more people were capable of simply reading people with interesting and nuanced thoughts — and keeping their mouths shut while they thought about what they read.

    But for many reasons, that’s not going to happen. Social media is now all about spouting opinions, not learning to think about the world in a different way. As you know, I’m quite pessimistic that it can change in a positive way.

    • Facebook might have even more things shared if people weren’t bracing for the blowback. The alternative is sycophant echo chambers, and we see the effects of that, too.

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