Why I won't use Facebook to leave comments on news sites

Facebook is private, surely?

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.

Instinctively I'm not a fan of the move. But seeing Higgerson's response, and that of other online experts who have defended the move, 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:

  1. Facebook for me is a private and not a public thing. I  purely use it to interact with friends, not the world at large.
  2. I use Twitter for any public social networking (I think most journalists operate on a similar basis).
  3. 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.
  4. I don’t want my Facebook profile picture to be the public face I present to the world.

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.

This article first appeared on Press Gazette

I felt uncomfortable about giving the Birmingham Mail access to my Facebook account. Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era