Facebook’s plan of connecting all the people in the world doesn’t seem to be going as well as the company would’ve liked.
Facebook is testing a new feature that lets users make their comments on public posts be visible only to their friends and the admins of the page on whose post they’re commenting on. Some users have reported seeing a changed interface while trying to comment on public posts, which allows them the option of making their comments visible only to their own friends and Page admins. While there’s also an option to make a comment public, crucially, the option to make your comment visible only to friends is the default setting.
While this update appears to have been rolled out only to a limited number of users, it could represent the biggest change in Facebook’s policy around how it looks to connect people. Mark Zuckerberg basically tells any audience he talks to that Facebook’s mission is to “connect people”; thus far, the best way for strangers to meet on Facebook was through the comment threads on public posts. These comments were visible to everyone on Facebook, and often led to long conversations and discussions among Facebook users who weren’t necessarily friends on the social network.
But Facebook appears to have realized that these comments were becoming increasing acerbic as users often locked horns on various topics, particularly those centering around politics. It’s not uncommon for political posts to have long comment threads with users, who’re otherwise perfect strangers, trading insults with one another. Facebook now seems to feel that users need to be given an option to have their own “safe space” where they can avoid getting into arguments with people they don’t know.
This is a move that’ll likely appeal to Facebook’s critics — Facebook has often been accused of polarizing political opinion, and with elections slated in many major countries in the coming year, including India, Facebook could be looking to turn into a more civil platform for discussions. But the move could also radically change users’ experience on Facebook — many Facebook users relished the conversations that they had on posts that were visible to everyone. If users are now presented with the default option to make their comments visible only to their friends, it’s likely that the number of comments that are visible to everyone will fall, thus curtailing many discussions that could’ve otherwise taken place.
And flame wars are as old as the internet itself — ever since the very first internet forums, to YouTube, to more open bastions of free speech such as Reddit and 4chan, people have been spending countless hours fighting with complete strangers through internet comments. Facebook’s looking to change all that and turn its social network into a more of a friends-focussed discussion platform. It’s a bold move, and flies directly in the face of Mark Zuckerberg’s stated goal to connect people — the internet is now more than 20 years old, and history has shown that nothing has connected people who didn’t previously know each other more than long-winded arguments on topics that don’t really matter.