While it’s great that Heron has found successful methods for managing her subscribers, the amount of time and effort she’s put in seem unreasonable. Though Facebook needs to improve its spam detection and comment moderation tools, the problems with Subscribe are more nuanced than they might appear. The comments I’m getting are coming from real people with a different sense of Facebook etiquette, not spambots or a few bad apples spewing porn. As Heron notes, the majority of the problematic comments she gets are “cheesy come-ons,” not outright offensive remarks.
Facebook has more than 800 million users, most of whom are outside the United States. Until Subscribe launched, everyone on Facebook stayed in their own insular communities—we connected with friends, or friends of friends, most of whom shared the same cultural norms. Subscribe, which opens Facebook’s doors to all comers, has revealed that American mores of interaction have not translated globally. Perhaps men who see that they can subscribe to me think it’s an invitation for them to hit on me. I don’t think the cheesy men are “spam,” but do I want them commenting on my posts? No.
Vadim Lavrusik, a program manager for Facebook, assured me that they take complaints of abuse seriously and they are working to improve their tools. In addition to better comment moderation tools, I’d love to see Facebook develop a “cheesy come-on” filter, to help limit not just the flagrantly horrible comments and the spambots, but the ones that are off-topic and annoying. As of now, many of the comments I find irksome aren’t in violation of Facebook’s community standards. A suggestion: Perhaps if someone has been blocked by more than three subscribers they should lose the ability to comment on all subscriber posts.
Until these issues are sorted out, it’s not just journalists who are left shell-shocked—it’s our Facebook friends, too. Since my subscribers started making their presence known on my page, at least 15 friends, co-workers and family members have asked me the same question: “Katherine, WHAT is going on with your Facebook page?” When you write online, you have to take nutty commenters, Internet haters, and creeps in stride as an occupational hazard. When those people are seamlessly mixed in next to your aunt and your friends from high school, it’s harder for everyone to take.
Ultimately, I’m still a Subscribe believer. With improvements, I think it can become a fantastic way for people worldwide to read the stories of American journalists, and for us to think about our audience as global and perhaps very different from us. But Facebook erred by dropping this cannonball of a feature into a pool of 800 million users without better targeting and filters. If the goal is volume over quality, Facebook’s recommendation engine is clearly effective at getting people to subscribe. The quantity, however, far outstrips the quality of thoughtful subscribers, and until that changes I have to shut the spigot off. For my own sanity, I’ve decided to limit who can comment on my posts to only my friends, and friends of friends.
Sorry, new subscribers. I love you and I care about you … but not in that way.