Slusher: Our struggle to get Facebook to fix loss of commenting
One of the advantages of the digital age for newspapers is that we now are more capable than ever of engaging directly with readers and letting readers engage with each other about issues in the news. A central agent for that engagement has been the Facebook commenting feature at the end of our stories and editorials online.
Several weeks ago, we began to experience instability in the system. Today, we finally have seen indications that the problems may be resolved soon -- maybe even by the time you read this. But if you participate in online commenting, it may interest you to know what happened and some short- and long-term prospects.
Philippe Hall, our manager of digital technology, reports that we first identified the problem when we began seeing a variety of inconsistencies in commenting. Some people were barred from commenting altogether. Some could comment but no one could see what they wrote. Eventually, no one could comment on new articles at websites we manage -- including dailyherald.com, robertfeder.com and chicagosoundcheck.com. We quickly determined that the issue was not with our software or equipment but with Facebook. Its messaging system for several days couldn't even accept our attempts to report the bug. Finally, we were able to complete and file a complaint, and Facebook found that several other news organizations like us were having similar experiences.
The platform assigned an engineer to look into the problem, After several days passed, we grew increasingly doubtful that a solution would be found soon, but on Wednesday, we began seeing hopeful signs. Our team will be carefully watching the system and is committed to getting the function restored as soon as possible.
The commenting problem affected our websites, but not Facebook itself. So far as we know, it was not related to the well-publicized global issues Facebook experienced last week. Until commenting is reliably restored at our sites, we encourage readers to interact regarding our stories, pictures and other content at our Daily Herald Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DailyHeraldFans/
Even before the age of social media, engaging with readers always was an important goal of ours. The advent of online commenting gave this function an immediacy and reach it had never had before. Suddenly people could interact with fellow readers from across the suburbs in real time, and steadily whole communities of commenters grew up, providing not just avenues for dialogue and insight for them but also feedback, impressions and ideas for us.
The process is not without the complications that afflict all social media -- offensive or combative outbursts, misinformation, bullying and so on. We monitor the comments and commenters, though, and strive to minimize the negative impacts, because we see a real value -- for readers and for us -- in the process.
Even if Facebook commenting is restored, we'll keep looking for alternatives that can allow us to host commenting reliably and responsibly.
In the meantime, we're sorry if you've been inconvenienced. We hope the immediate problems are ending, and we look forward to welcoming you back, along with your energies, passions and ideas.