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

Photo: Getty Images
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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation