Facebook users will soon get more control over who can comment on their public posts, according to an announcement by the social media giant on Wednesday.
Facebook users will be able to select between three options for each of their news posts: Comments will be allowed by the entire public, comments will be allowed by just friends, or comments will be allowed by only profiles and pages mentioned in the post.
Theoretically, you can even designate a public post as something that no one can comment on if you tag a Facebook profile or page that you alone control.
Why is Facebook adding this functionality? Facebook will probably tell you that it gives users more control. (We don’t actually know, Facebook hasn’t responded to a request for comment early Wednesday.) But the reality might be a little more complicated.
The Australian Supreme Court, for instance, recently ruled that news organizations are legally responsible for the comments left by random users under their posts. That’s not a problem in the U.S. given the different legal precedents, but it could become a problem for dozens of other countries where Facebook operates.
As a small country roughly the population size of Texas, Australia has resorted to strange methods to push back on Big Tech. In response, Google threatened to pull its search engine from down under and Facebook temporarily turned off news entirely on its platform. And while it didn’t get everything it wanted, the Australian government got enough concessions to make it seem worthwhile, leading plenty of other countries interested in its style of tech business diplomacy.
Facebook is back operating like normal in Australia, but the company likely understands it needs to make special concessions if it doesn’t want to face tighter regulation in the future all around the world. And in the case of limiting comments, that will certainly limit engagement (the only metric Facebook actually cares about) but should also crack down on things like harassment.
We don’t know for sure that Facebook is adding this function in direct response to Australia’s recent moves, but it would make a lot of sense. Virtually every country is gunning for Big Tech’s monopoly on information here in the 21st century. And it would be wise for companies like Facebook to get ahead of regulators, even if it cuts into their bottom line.