Trinity Mirror's decision to require commenters across its newspaper websites to log-in via Facebook has been robustly defended by digital publishing director David Higgerson on his blog.
Instinctively I'm not a fan of the move. But seeing Higgerson's response, and that of other online experts who have defended it, I am left wondering whether I am being a bit of a luddite.
The argument seems to go that readers of free websites are getting something for nothing, so they shouldn't take umbrage at providing their Facebook log-in as the price of interacting with the content. It makes moderation a lot easier, deters trolls and other abusive commenters and has commercial benefits because you find out more about the readers and can tailor content and advertising to them accordingly.
According to Social Baker, 62 per cent of the UK’s online population are on Facebook – which suggests that the Trinity move might exclude 38 per cent of potential commentors.
Perhaps if people feel very strongly about commenting on a story they will set up a Facebook account in order to do so.
But that said, I know plenty of people who aren’t on Facebook and never will be because of concerns such as privacy and security. Or because they just don't like it.
There is another constituency of people who may have joined Facebook but never use it.
I tried out the new MEN commenting system at the Birmingham Mail. I was the first person to leave a comment on the current top piece in the opinion section here.
The log-in process was very simple, but I felt uncomfortable about giving the Birmingham Mail access to my Facebook account. Weirdly the word 'suck' is banned by the computer moderator (I wanted to say 'MPs should suck it up and take a pay freeze like everyone else in the public sector). But otherwise the system appears to work very well.
Nonetheless (other than in this instance) I won't be using Facebook to log-in to a news website again because:
- Facebook for me is a private and not a public thing. I purely use it to interact with friends, not the world at large.
- I use Twitter for any public social networking (I think most journalists operate on a similar basis).
- I’m uncomfortable about giving access to my Facebook account willy nilly and suspicious (even though this may be unfounded) that what I have read and what I have commented on will start appearing on my timeline.
- I don’t want my Facebook profile picture to be the public face I present to the world (see above).
I'd be more than happy to use Twitter as a log-in tool (but I guess that wouldn't help Trinity keep out the trolls), or provide them with my email (ditto). So perhaps there is no easy answer to this, but my instinct is that the Facebook move is a far from ideal solution.
I have no problem with handing over all sorts of private info to a news organisation in exchange for the hard work their journalists do in providing me with news. This could include my email address, telephone number, home address and work address. But giving them access to my Facebook account just feels, to me, too intrusive.