Facebook Comments Expose a Flaw in Zuckerberg’s Vision

By  |  Monday, March 7, 2011 at 9:43 am

You have one identity. The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly … Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.

-Mark Zuckerberg, as quoted in The Facebook Effect

It is with Zuckerberg’s remarks in mind that I read a couple of conversations over the weekend about Facebook’s new comment system for blogs and other websites. Although many websites — including this one — allow commenters to sign in with Facebook, some high-profile sites, such as TechCrunch, have switched over the new system, which is run entirely by the social network. This requires commenters to write under their real names, provided they aren’t using an alias on Facebook, and by default displays the comment on the user’s wall and friends’ news feeds.

Not surprisingly, the switch had a chilling effect on TechCrunch, according to MG Siegler. Although the venomous remarks that once dominated the site’s peanut gallery are gone, in their place are “comments that gush about the subject of the article in an overly sycophantic way,” Siegler writes. There are also fewer comments overall.

The calming of TechCrunch’s comment section may seem like a net positive, but entrepreneur Steve Cheney sees it as troublesome. Facebook comments are a threat to authenticity, he argues, because people bottle up when their real-world connections are watching. “The problem with tying internet-wide identity to a broadcast network like Facebook is that people don’t want one normalized identity, either in real life, or virtually,” Cheney writes.

The proof is in TechCrunch’s comment section after the switch. It may be more hospitable, but it’s also less interesting. And the folks who aren’t commenting at all are probably the ones who refuse to open their Facebook identities to the world. They’ve been shut out.

All of this puts a dent in Zuckerberg’s vision of having a single identity for every aspect of your life. Maybe it’s something the world will eventually embrace, but with mixed results on a leading tech blog — which should be at the vanguard of Internet trends — I’m not holding my breath.

(And just to be clear, my intent isn’t to slag on TechCrunch or extol some other system. I have no say in how Technologizer handles its comments.)


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31 Comments For This Post

  1. Paul Turnbull Says:

    Personally I always comment and post under my own name but I'm not interested in broadcasting all my comments to my friends and family on FaceBook. I comment a lot on the net and I don't think I need to spam FB with all my ramblings.

  2. JaredNewman Says:

    I think you've articulated what Cheney is getting at when he talks about "authenticity." The issue isn't really anonymity. It's that you want the Paul who comments on blogs and the Paul who converses with friends and family to remain separate. Facebook is trying to push people the other way — by default the new comment system broadcasts your remarks to news feeds and your wall unless you specify otherwise.

  3. @davidnield Says:

    I agree – I don't want to be anonymous but I'd rather not have the Dave who comments on blogs being the same as the Dave who interacts with friends and family.

  4. Tony Annechino Says:

    I think I agree with Paul. Additionally, anonymity is a preemptive strike, an offensive line in the sand against tyranny, bullying, and coercion. There are enough tools to go after people who abuse others through technology. Zuckerberg's vision would all having us quack up advertiser-supported status updates and think within the confines of the world that bows to him.

  5. sittininlab Says:

    Forgive me if I don’t understand, but do you need a facebook account to comment on TechCrunch? If you do, do they leave on option for uncoupling the two? If you don’t need a facebook account, how do you comment on TechCrunch now?

  6. direwolff Says:

    Yes, you need a Facebook account to comment on Facebook now. You cannot uncouple the two because Facebook doesn't provide that option, so all of your comments show up in your News feed.

  7. Fred Says:

    It's possible to comment on TechCrunch via a Yahoo! login, if you prefer. A big downside to the TC system – if you go there from a network that blocks FB, you can't even read the comments.

  8. ahow628 Says:

    When I visit TC now, the bottom of the post is a big ACCESS DENIED banner. Thanks work!

  9. direwolff Says:

    Comments are also blocked if you use the Facebook Blocker add-on on Firefox or the Facebook Disconnect extension on Chrome. These are meant to avoid being tracked by Facebook when you're logged in then happen to visit another site that has Facebook widgets. The collateral damage is that Facebook comments operate similarly to widgets so they too get zapped.

  10. Jeff Ente Says:

    People have said that most of their 'Friends' have little or no interest in comments that they make in their professional capacity. You could set up a Facebook Group of 'Friends' that do share your professional interest and Facebook could upgrade Comments to let you post your comment only on their news feeds.

    Is it just me or is all this stuff starting to sound like a lot of work?

  11. Michael Says:

    This is an extremely naive view from someone with very little experience as a professional or an adult. I'm sure he'll think differently when helicopters buzz his wedding, or people start tagging pictures of his first born. Everyone should be very afraid of the techie geek introvert with limited social skills that can lay bare all of the secrets of 500 million people at the flick of a switch.
    My comments:
    Facebook Wants You To Be Naked: http://bit.ly/fmE4nZ

  12. Jim Says:

    Your comment hits the nail right on the head. You doesn't need to spend much time worrying about what will happen when your boss reads your comments on the internet when you're the president and CEO of one of the most highly valued companies on the planet. Also, it's very hard to realize all the things you DON'T know about life when you're 26, even someone as successful as Zuckerburg. But you sure better take the time to find out, or hire someone you trust to tell you, if you want to stay on top or all the people who you depend on are going to leave your naive ass behind.

  13. quickbrownfox Says:

    Techdirt (www.techdirt.com), like Technologizer, does not require the use of Facebook to post comments. This has given rise to many commenters who use the pseudomyn Anonymous Coward. In fact, A.C. is the most frequent commenter on most issues. Check it out for yourself, and you'll see what I mean.

  14. direwolff Says:

    In the case of Techdirt, allowing anonymous comments does not seem to have affected the quality of the comments overall. Granted, the Anonymous Coward ones tend to be less interesting, but some times even those have useful info.

  15. Marie Cambry Says:

    I (like Paul Turnbull) always use my real name when commenting on a forum. But there is no reason for me to use my Facebook login to do so. I gain nothing at all from the practice.

    Like many people who left the world of high school/college and are now in the working world, the closed world of Facebook is far less useful to me. I, like most who’ve made this move, just use FB to keep in loose touch with about a dozen friends who’ve now scattered to all parts of the country.

    I’m in complete agreement with Steve Cheney’s position (which JaredNewman echoes above) that the Marie ‘identity’ I use here on Technologizer, and elsewhere on the web, is a different thing from the Marie ‘identity’ I use on FB.

    My reasoning is very simple. While Facebook/Zuckerberg/Scoble seem to think that a Facebook ‘identity’ is a full-featured analogue to the real concept of identity, we who live in the flesh-and-blood world know that is laughable. An FB ‘identity’ is a reed-thin association between a username/email address and a few statuses, comments, likes, and links to friends.

    As for TechCrunch’s move to FB-only comments, I’ve simply stopped commenting there, as have a number of other people I know. I have a feeling that TC will soon be reversing their decision.

  16. Jessica Michelle Martinez Says:

    Ok really though?
    As if we haven't had enough problems with false identities on the internet. People will open up to it FOR SURE. You have to look at who this is going to be a good thing for. Either the world, who won't have to deal with false identities as much, or the individual who is ignorant to the fact that Facebook is a big deal and eventually everyone will be using it. Why do people refuse to open their Facebook identities to the world anyways? Because they have something to hide… or they're writing something that they shouldn't be writing. This world is obviously out of control, good for Facebook for regulating and making a better experience on the internet for everyone. Who cares if there isn't as many comments… nobody wants to read ALL of them anyways.

  17. @didibus Says:

    Your facebook identity isn't open to the world. So maybe you could explain to me why I can not see more then your name and one profile picture of which, I can not even know which one out of the 5 person in it you are?

    You might want to rephrase all that and replace Facebook by real name.

    just sayin…

  18. I don't like FB Says:

    Jessica – you're really, really naive. People should be allowed to hide things. Not everything hidden is harmful – maybe you really like My Little Pony dolls but if all your friends knew you would be horribly ridiculed, so you go to mylittlepony.com under a pseudonym. There are as many examples as there are stars in the sky. Your life shouldn't automatically be put on display for everyone in your "network". The way that I talk to my daughter – in a chirpy, baby voice – is much different from the way I talk to my employees. And I don't need my employees to know the "Daddy" identity reserved for my daughter.

    At your young age, what you don't understand is that everything you've ever done online is now preserved FOREVER. YOU CAN NEVER TAKE IT BACK. Search for this comment 30 years from now, come back and read your own thoughts, and tell me if you still agree – if you can find me. I keep away from all this social garbage.

    Nothing good can come from the complete destruction of privacy. Zuckerberg is wildly lucky – he digitized the yearbook and is hailed as a genius. MySpace could have been Facebook if they had created the "wall" functionality sooner. Someone "lucky" – with absolutely no experience or accomplishments to stand on – shouldn't be the defacto authority for issues of privacy.

  19. @didibus Says:

    I don't really get it. To me, making a facebook account is a 1 minute process. Heck, I already own fake facebook accounts just for the sites that started using facebook comments or facebook logins. Registering for an intensedebate account, is also a 1 minute process. Now, the only difference is: facebook is a new commenting platform, so not a lot of troll have started to bother with it, and so have spammers. Give it a little time, and it'll be no different. This is just facebook wanting to steal away more market to itself, and businesses who like that uninformed people put up more and more private information about them online, so that they can peek at it and use it to become richer.

  20. Sten Says:

    I'd like to see Zuckerberg explain how people like Thomas Paine (Common Sense), Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, or John Jay (collectively, the Federalist) lacked integrity by writing under pseudonyms. Despite his brilliance, he betrays his ignorance, and that's not a good combination.

  21. kyjo Says:

    “You have one identity. The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly … Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.“

    It's true people only have one identity but nobody wants to broadcats every aspect of it to all people they know! It's natural people present themselves differently to different social groups in their lives.

  22. The_Heraclitus Says:

    This new policy WILL undermine Facebook. Many people don't want to mix their family with business associates pages/ID. Most people I know maintain one for bus/casual friends & one for family/close friends.

    I'm not too worried as I got off FB about a year ago after reading the code in FB API's that it was giving 3rd party developers. Scary privacy intrusion stuff in there.

  23. Mr. Anonymity Says:

    What about us who don't have facebooks anymore? where are we left in the world when we want anonymity. 4chan? ::shudder::

  24. Elron Says:

    What's interesting here is the suggestion that we only have one identity in real life. That seems to me quite false. Do most people REALLY act the same when they are out with their friends on the weekend as they do in the CEO's office for a salary review Monday morning? Do we act the same when we are out with the guys or girls as we do when at a dinner party with our wives or husbands?

    Humans have ALWAYS had several different faces to put on for the real world. We are one person to our children, another to our spouses, another again to our best friend from high school, and still another to our colleagues at work. That is normal, because each of those environments has different expectations and requirements. Online is no different … we put on the face of the community in which we are talking.

  25. AnonGeek Says:

    Chrome + Disconnect extension are my best friends these days.

    The Disconnect extension blocked 4x FB, 3x Google and 4x Twitter references on this page alone.

    I feel sorry for the non-geeks who don't know how to protect their privacy.

  26. nongeekguy Says:

    AnonGeek! please explain! what does this "disconnect" all mean!

    Thank you in advanced 🙂

  27. Doesn't like FB Says:

    I did not know about that extension – kudos mate.

  28. Mishera Says:

    Indeed there are a few sites that have such strong communities. I noticed that on anandtech, the commentors police themselves and while things occasionally get chippy, they for the most part stay tame.

    Of course Zuckerberg would have you have one online identity. Think about the amount of information they could acquire about you when EVERTHING you do run through facebook. Think advertisements tailored specifically toasted YOU. Kind of scary…

    I think authenticity is very valid, and while seriously impeded with facebook, isn't totally remedied with anonymity. Someone once said that money doesn't change you, but make you more of what you are. I think this applies to anonymity as well. Fact of the matter is thgetting are getting the real Jim a lot of times on forums, you just didn't know this side of him. In fact, many don't realize that there are incentives for those who interact online with their real identity to act a certain way especially with you boss and parents judging your every move. Think of the people who with good intentions who feel pressured to act a certain way or worse suppress their opinion because of conflicts with their identity. That takes away much of the freedoms that the Internet provided so many of us.

  29. dpbert Says:

    Zuckerberg's vision is a dystopian one. After reading this article I no longer question my decision to all but deactivate my facebook profile (it lists my networks and some basic contact information available to friends). And my identity is something human and much more personal then a web page.

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