The extremely intelligent and generally insightful Steve Cheney recently posted the hyperbolically titled “How Facebook is Killing Your Authenticity“, in which he noted:
“…forcing people to comment – and more broadly speaking to log-on – with one identity puts a massive stranglehold on our very nature. I’m not too worried about FB Comments in isolation, but the writing is on the wall: all of this off-site encroachment of the Facebook graph portends where FB is really going in pushing one identity. And a uniform identity defies us.
Face it, authenticity goes way down when people know their 700 friends, grandma, and 5 ex-girlfriends are tuning in each time they post something on the web.”
To which I can only reply…uh, say what?
You see, I’m one of those guys who has 700 friends and a grandma on Facebook (although no ex-girlfriends; my “cut all contact, delete from FB, hit the gym” policy precludes it), and I’ve never had any problem with authenticity at all. The reason for that is because I approach Facebook as a “huge broadcast platform” (your quote), and use the tools provided to filter my broadcasts accordingly. I lock down unfriended access entirely, and set ratings groups with various levels of access among my friends, so that my business associates see my professional work, and my friends see my posts on controversial political issues, personal musings, and mobile uploads of the ongoing pub crawl. Much like any broadcast platform, it’s important to know how to correctly use it to deliver content to the appropriate audience.
Now, I understand your point about not wanting to have to use Facebook to participate in online conversation in non-Facebook locations. I get it. Sometimes, you say things you don’t necessarily want connected to your actual online identity. The problem with that is, the web audience at large has become very tired of having 900 separate user accounts for every site they’d like to read, comment, and contribute to, and Facebook has met that need by providing a unifying authentication portal that provides a single sign-on, which roughly 99.9% of the web audience already has an account for. In fact, given that ‘Connect with Facebook’ is so much simpler than creating a new account every time, I’d argue that Facebook is increasing authentic online conversation in that it is encouraging people to participate in niche and topical environments that they might not have joined at all without that one click functionality. That simple fact makes your comment regarding motivation:
“The carrot here for content sites is clear: even with a lower volume of comments…”
…all the more puzzling; perhaps TechCrunch had a lower volume of comments last week, that seemed “sterile and neutered” to you, but thousands of smaller niche content sites have had a higher volume of comments since adopting Facebook Connected commenting, a trade off I find much to like about. (Oh, and I’ve often found TechCrunch comments to be ‘sterile and neutered’, but then again, I hang out on Reddit).
Should we be free to comment in places anonymously or under alt names? Sure! Can you still comment under alt names or anonymously via Facebook connect? Sure! Create a new Facebook account named ‘Jimmy-Jo Kerplunkett’, upload a random photo from Google Images, and voila! You now have accessibility to sites which require Facebook Connect. Too much work? Go participate in 4-Chan, or any one of millions of forums which allow anonymous or alt commenting. Create a cool username on Reddit and participate in one of the largest and most diverse forums on the interwebz. Hell, start a new blog called ‘I don’t want to tell you’s blog’, and create your own social portal centered around your content, albeit anonymously!
Centralized, third party commenting systems have been mainstream since 2008, and anyone who’s motivated can drop dox connecting everything you’ve ever posted or done online (much to the chagrin of those who have been the recipient of Anonymous ire). The assumption that using Facebook as a third party commenting system is going to cause people to self censor doesn’t even take into account the sometimes uncomfortably personal, obscene, or just plain dumb comments and posts that people make on Facebook now, without any privacy controls or content filters in place whatsoever.
The fact is, Facebook commenting offers an easy way for content sites to encourage participation with a familiar interface, without the need for an additional account, and with an added bonus of automatically filtering the vast majority of spam-bot activity. This isn’t currently, nor will it kill online conversational authenticity, and it strikes me as needless hand-wringing to suggest otherwise.
P.S. Hey Steve, you haven’t responded to my friend request yet.