Transparency even more relevant with Facebook’s commenting announcement

February 7, 2011

I make a lot of predictions about the future of public relations and the media on this blog, sometimes taking heat. Nothing felt the burn more in 2010 than a post I wrote in July calling for increased transparency in online commenting and improving the authenticity of digital communications.

At the time, I suggested that by validating and authenticating online commenting, we could open a new frontier in public relations by offering valid, transparent commenting that would provide our clients an even greater ability to share their message.

A couple of my readers shouted me down, contending that such a system already exists because commentators can choose to give their name. While this is true, I contended that because the vast majority of comments are anonymous, freewheeling, and often downright nasty, it prevents more level-headed commentators from taking time to offer their thoughts.

My contention was that increased transparency would open an entirely new media segment for both the public relations industry and the general public. By reigning in commenting through transparency, we could create civil forums where rational opinions matter, and where issues, topics, and insights could be shared under a cleansing light.

At the same time, my July post suggested that greater transparency would provide better visibility into who potentially is casting stones against our clients, offering clearer insight into how to respond.

Well, Facebook must have been listening. Last week’s introduction of a new version of its social commenting plugin provides media and other heavily trafficked sites precisely what I suggested in my earlier post.

From the sound of it, the Facebook plugin identifies and assigns users a credibility score based on past comments and the number of Likes they have received from the online community. The score stays with the commentator over time as they post more remarks and opinions, and as the community votes on the value of their input.

The better your score, the higher your comments float to the top of the ladders in the hierarchy of comments, another innovation I recommended in my earlier post. Right now, most media post comments chronologically. So that stark raving maniac who’s up all night often gains greater visibility than a professor, professional, or expert with a day job.

I am always fascinated by how Facebook comments in general are more polite and positive than the comments on many media sites. The reason is simple. A Facebook commentator risks scorn from the community by posting offensive or outrageous comments.

The Facebook social commenting plugin is designed to extend civility to other sites, and could provide a new online digital channel for public relations professionals as well as smart, thoughtful citizens who have well-reasoned arguments and want to respectfully share them.

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