Facebook’s comment-ranking system aimed at taming the dumpster fire

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Facebook is once again trying to address the dumpster fire that is public comments on its site.

As anyone who has moderated or even just browsed a Facebook page knows, the comments section on public posts is usually a cesspool of hatred, bigotry, spam, and irrelevance. Even by the (low) standards of the internet, Facebook comments are famously awful. And bad comments aren’t only unpleasant to read, they can also actually reduce the credibility of the content they are commenting on.

Now Facebook is introducing a new comment ranking system to attempt to tackle this problem. Comments on public posts made by Pages or people with many followers will be ranked, with the aim of showing the most relevant and highest quality comments at the top. To determine the quality of comments, Facebook will use data from four metrics:

  • Integrity signals, so comments which are against the Facebook community standards or which are click-baity or deliberately provocative will be ranked lower,
  • User surveys about comments, in which users can express opinions about what kind of content they do find useful in a comment,
  • Comment interactions, so comments that are liked, reacted to, and replied to are ranked higher, and
  • Poster controls, so the original poster of the content can hide or delete bad comments to rank them lower and engage with good comments to rank them higher.

This is far from the first time Facebook has tried to address the quality of comments. From new visual designs for comments to emoji comment reactions, the company has tried to improve the appearance of comment sections before. And an experiment with downvoting was an attempt to raise the quality of comments as well as their look.

But the problem with comments may run deeper than something a few cosmetic improvements or ranking algorithms can fix. Facebook has shown itself to be woefully inadequate to the task of moderating content on its platform, with hate speech being allowed to proliferate and fake news spreading like wildfire. The company has been hiring more human moderators but still tends to rely on A.I. for the majority of its moderation, and there are many types of negative content that A.I. can’t catch as it lacks understanding of social context.

The new comment ranking system may help to some extent, but until Facebook tackles the site-wide issues with its platform it will only be a band-aid over a deeper problem.

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