Twitter isn’t the only company learning from the experiments taking place on its twttr app; it would appear that Facebook is borrowing a page from this partially hidden playbook.
Late last week, Facebook announced that it would be ranking comments on Pages and profiles with a lot of followers, with the goal of making conversation more “meaningful.” By that, they likely mean less contentious and polarizing, if the details of the feature are to be believed.
Said Facebook Product Manager Justine Shen in the feature announcement, “ranking […] promotes meaningful conversations by showing people the posts and comments most relevant to them.” Some of the ranking factors are intuitive ones, like boosting comments that have a number of reactions, comments that the original poster has interacted with, or comments that come from friends of the original poster.
Additionally, Facebook will be pulling details from their recently deployed surveys to determine what sorts of comments people want to see.
But some factors seem a bit more vague. The most nebulous is “integrity signals,” an impressive yet vague sounding phrase on the same level as Twitter’s oft-pronounced “platform health,” that will allegedly filter out posts that violate Facebook’s terms and conditions as well as what Shen calls “engagement bait.” Though what engagement bait precisely entails goes unaddressed in the post, I would imagine the team will use a combination and machine learning to identify combative or abusive language. Further, Shen closes the post by saying, “We will continue to take other signals into account so we do not prominently show low-quality comments, even if they are from the person who made the original post or their friends.” I have to wonder what sorts of comments would fall into that category? For example, the relative who uses your posting as a cue to tell you something – however random – in a comment below. Would their remark be lost to the algorithm?
The feature is being deployed automatically for “Pages for public figures, organizations, and businesses,” as well as for select individual profiles that have a lot of followers. However, other users can opt in to use the feature in Settings. Curiously, the ability to rank comments on posts in Groups is unmentioned in this post – an interesting omission in light of the platform’s pivot toward these virtual gathering places. A likely reason? The sorts of contentious comments that are happening “in open air” like Pages or personal profiles, can be less common in Groups. So for now, product managers are focusing on the spaces most likely to breed contempt and aiming to quiet it.
After all, as Shen says early in the announcement, “We’re always working to ensure that people’s time on Facebook is well spent.” In their eyes, reducing the time and energy one spends wading through toxic or combative comments is an effective way to do that. Here’s hoping the feature’s beneficiaries come to agree.
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