After a NSW Supreme court judge ruled this week that Australian publishers are liable for defamatory comments on their Facebook sites, it’s clear that page owners need to get serious about social media management.
The ruling suggests that operators of commercial Facebook pages may need to hide all comments by default so that they can be checked for defamation before they are seen by the public.
The problem is that Facebook was not designed for users to pre-moderate comments. It was built to deliver us “frictionless”, immediate communication.
Judge Stephen Rothman’s contentious ruling relied on expert evidence that Facebook publishers can use a software hack to block comments from appearing. By adding common words like pronouns or “the” and “a” to their page moderation filter, owners can ostensibly hide then un-hide comments once they’ve been checked for illegal content.
This is obviously impractical. Hiding comments will stop many people from posting, because they won’t see their contributions appear as they do elsewhere on Facebook. It will also stymie conversations, unless companies hire 24/7 moderation services. The cost would be prohibitive for most businesses.
An appeal against the decision is likely. In the meantime, companies with a Facebook presence should be doing two things:
- hiring expert community managers
- lobbying platforms for better moderation tools.
Better moderation tools might include introducing moderation dashboards and audit trails, giving users the chance to pre-moderate all comments, the ability to edit and move comments, and easier means of managing suspended and banned users.
Why we need professionals
Community managers are a new and highly educated sector of the digital workforce. They build and facilitate online groups, as well as oversee moderation.
The results of the Australian Community Manager’s (ACM) network annual survey released this week show that this is a smart and highly feminised workforce. 82% have graduate qualifications and 72% are women.
Oddly, while most companies now use Facebook for customer engagement and promotion, many don’t yet employ senior professionals to oversee their community building.
Many employers and recruiters still see social media and online community manager roles as “junior and low skilled”. This is despite the fact that these professionals are often on the front line of client relations. They manage complex social infrastructure and handle tricky publishing decisions – such as what comments are legal, and which ones could lead to toxic conversations.Author provided
Only 22% of community professionals surveyed by the ACM said their role is understood and valued by the organisations they work with.
In light of the Rothman ruling, ACM founder and convenor Venessa Paech says:
…now more than ever companies need to recognise the value of having professionals manage their communities and social media sites, and planning ways to discourage the posting of harmful content.
Facebook’s platforms are popular
The ACM survey looked closely at the types of platforms managers businesses are using to host online groups. It found Facebook hosted the most used non-specialist applications for building community:
Facebook Groups, the platform’s initial venture into community software has increased in popularity from 20% to 23% since last year’s survey. Facebook Workplace, its move into enterprise online community, grew 10% in the same period.
The ACM revealed that the issues community managers most wanted to discuss with their platform hosts were better management and moderation tools.
Top issues community managers most want to discuss with their platform provider
Authors: Fiona R Martin, Senior Lecturer in Convergent and Online Media, University of Sydney