Sunday, December 1, 2013

Facebook commenting expands to USA Today Website

Scott Proietti

Facebook rears it's head again in the virtual world, this time dealing with readers commenting on stories on the USA Today online website. The decision was made by parent company Gannett to switch from a previous system that allowed anonymous comments to one that requires commenters to sign in through their Facebook accounts. The new approach, which applies to all of Gannett's newspaper and broadcast websites, went into effect this month. 

Many readers have been outraged by the current change in policy. Hundreds of readers posted their concerns on the website. Comments included: "Bye Bye USA," "This SUCKS," and "Boo Hiss." USA Today recently posted an FAQ on their website answering specific questions from concerned readers. One of the biggest concerns from readers is not being able to post under an anonymous identification. 

I completely understand their concern. In this day and age, the electronic world can allow anyone to access other people's personal information more easily than ever. For example, if someone posts a comment that might offend several people on their Facebook account, those people now have plenty of information to harass that person or try to take the conflict even further. 

Social media can also be used by prospective employers to find out information on potential employees.  You really do need to be careful with what you say online nowadays. Having all of your comments traced back to your Facebook account just makes it that much easier for anyone trying to dig up dirt on you to inquire information. 

"The decision to change our commenting tool was made to provide a welcoming environment that encourages high-quality and relevant contributions," a Gannett spokesperson said in an email. The company is the nation's largest newspaper chain and says that it had good results with a pilot project utilizing Facebook earlier this year and recently decided to embrace it for the entire company. 

I agree with the spokesperson that the Facebook commenting tool does encourage more high-quality contributions from readers and that the format is a lot more professional than the former commenting method on the website. 

Journalism professionals have also weighed in on the recent policy change. 

"If news organizations want to host conversations around content, they need to understand what it means to hand off interaction to a third party social media site like Facebook," says Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. "We see more and more journalism taking place on third party platforms, but the journalistic intent is not designed into these platforms." 

I agree with what Bell is saying concerning the situation as well. The USA Today website is turning to a third party to assist with covering conversation and reader comments on their website. If someone doesn't have a Facebook account or doesn't feel comfortable posting from their account, then the USA Today website is going to slowly lose its reader interaction. 

Facebook commenting has also been implemented by several other online websites, including The process is more "professional," so to say, and is more personal between readers. 

At the end of the day, readers have to be comfortable posting under their real name from their official Facebook account. It really is getting harder and harder to keep things private in this day and age.
Times have changed

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