Facebook Echo Chambers

March 6th, 2011  |  Published in web design

I’m implementing the new Facebook comment box on a test site this weekend, and I wanted to check out how moderation worked. I looked at a test comment and clicked the moderation menu and got two options:

  1. Hide Comment

  2. Ban User

I was a little surprised there was no number 3: “Delete Comment,” but this is Facebook: You can’t dislike things, nobody’s ever told you unfriended them, and if unfriending someone who might not even notice is too painful a thought to bear, you can always mute them, thus preserving the “friendship” while Facebook allows you to ignore them. Doing something as confrontational as deleting a comment would be un-Facebook-like.

It seemed as if “Hide Comment” was the closest I was going to get to deleting a comment on my test site, so I clicked that option for one of the comments and that updated the comment to show this message:

“This comment is only visible to Joe’s friends.”

This takes me back to when I was running a site with an active commenter community. Sometimes a member (or random troll) would lose his or her mind a little and need to be put in timeout, the better to contemplate why it might be bad to threaten other readers or call everyone else on the thread “Redmond asslickers,” or whatever. Then they’d notice their comment had been deleted, and sometimes they’d go berserk, posting angry comments on other threads and it was just a big mess.

Facebook has effectively engineered two troll control solutions:

  1. It gives the site moderator the power to make sure nobody ever feeds a troll ever again unless they’re already friends with that troll.

  2. It sidesteps the whole issue of angering the troll, because the troll has no idea it’s been effectively muted. It’s posting its trolly troll talk, and everyone else is having a nice conversation. Classic Facebook. Why make an enemy when you can just stick your fingers in your ears and yell “la la la” without being seen to do so?

And maybe Facebook has engineered a third thing:

By allowing the troll to think its trolling is there for everybody to see, but by depriving everybody of the opportunity to see the troll’s comments and respond to them, the troll is deprived of nourishment in the form of feedback. And if the troll’s Facebook buddies see said troll socking it to whoever on some other site and come running to the troll’s aid, they can all be put in the same little bubble, grar’ing and yelling and running around pooping all over everything and high-fiving each other for their quality trolling while everybody else is having a nice conversation. Eventually, perhaps, the trolls will come to notice that nobody’s feeding them no matter how hard they troll, and over time that will gentle the trolls as they fail to be rewarded for all that trolling.

Of course, it works on more than trolls: Use it to seal Republicans, Democrats, environmentalists, vegetarians, obnoxious “bacon nom nom nom” foodies, hipsters and other less desirable types into their own little bubbles, too, to make it the Web you always wanted but could never force others to live out.

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© Michael Hall, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.