Journalists and publishers will be able to control who can comment on their Facebook posts, the social media firm has announced.
Facebook has this morning unveiled the new tool, which will allow news organisations to control comments for a given public post by choosing from a menu of options, which include effectively turning comments off altogether.
The options will range from allowing anyone who can see the post to comment to only the profiles and Pages they tag.
The development comes after the Rotherham Advertiser used its front page earlier this month, pictured below, to call for social media firms to close comments on court report stories after a trial it was covering collapsed.
In an accompanying editorial, Advertiser editor Andrew Mosley said it was now “impossible for newspapers to play their full part in the justice system” due to the effect platforms such as Facebook are having on the court reporting landscape.
The new Facebook policy will also extend to ordinary users of the platform.
In a blog post launching the initiative, Facebook said: “Today we’re introducing a new tool to give you more control over what you share to News Feed by managing who can comment on your public posts.
“Now, you can control your commenting audience for a given public post by choosing from a menu of options ranging from anyone who can see the post to only the people and Pages you tag.
“By adjusting your commenting audience, you can further control how you want to invite conversation onto your public posts and limit potentially unwanted interactions.
“And if you’re a public figure, creator, or brand, you too can choose to limit your commenting audience on your public posts to help you feel safe and engage in more meaningful conversations with your community.
“This new tool is the latest example of how we’re helping you control and curate your News Feed to best reflect who you are as your interests and priorities evolve.”
The new tool will enable publishers effectively to turn off comments on posts if they select the option to restrict comments to profiles mentioned in the post, and do not actually mention any.
The Advertiser’s call came after the trial of ex-Lord Rotherham, Nazir Ahmed, was halted because the presiding judge declared the way evidence had been disclosed to his defence team by the prosecution had effectively “sabotaged” the chance of a fair hearing.
Before the trial was halted, Imran Khan, defending, presented comments to the court which were published on the Advertiser’s Facebook page, which he said could prejudice the trial, leading the paper to have to agree to stop publishing reports on the social media site even though other media organisations continued to do so.
Speaking to HTFP, Andrew said: “It’s really good news that Facebook are reacting following calls from the media – including the Rotherham Advertiser in relation to the case involving the former Lord Rotherham that was featured on our front page recently – to help us protect our right to report on and publish court stories without risk of a judge halting a trial because members of the public have posted what may be considered to be prejudicial comments on the site.
“I can’t emphasise enough how frustrating it is for solicitors to use this tactic to stop trials and for judges to allow it and, basically, in the case of Nazir Ahmed, to blame us.
“It needs changing and if this means we can effectively stop people commenting on a story, not because we want to restrict their freedom to have an opinion, but because there will inevitably be some who we cannot trust to stay within the law, then it’s great news.
“It is a much needed move in the right direction and it’s a subject in general that I think the media would like to discuss with Facebook as it’s an increasing problem and it’s not one that is restricted to court stories.
“It can be any story that certain people will pick up on and post racist and abusive comments just because they can. Then we get a call from the police for publishing such material, when in reality it has been published by Facebook.
“We do, of course, monitor comments but can’t do so 24 hours a day and it only needs someone to grab a screenshot of certain comments, report them, or worse, share them on their own profiles, and we are in trouble.
“Our only real offence here is publishing the story in the first place and if we don’t do that then we are pandering to those who believe the freedom of the press and open justice should be restricted. That’s something we should never have to do.”