Here’s another version of the comment bubbles:

When asked to explain these features, Facebook said: “We are always working to make Facebook a more visual and engaging place to have conversations. So we’re testing multiple design updates in News Feed, including a more conversational way to comment on posts.”

Comment threads are often ”bulletin boards of zingers” and plagued by trolls, says technology ethicist David Ryan Polgar. This makes them often inhospitable to meaningful dialogue. Thus Facebook’s drive to make comments more dynamic is neither surprising nor illogical.

Yet these new features reveal how, by trying to make digital dialogue more like “real” conversation, we often overlook the unique properties that constitute conversation, says Sherry Turkle, author of the New York Times Bestseller Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age.

Comments are not conversation, Turkle explains, because people use comments to add information—to digress and insert thoughts on the topics being discussed. ”This means that comments don’t have the empathic reactivity of conversation, and why it seems somehow odd to see them in ‘bubbles’ as though they were conversational elements,” she says. 

By turning comments into bubbles that appear like messages, people will likely begin making shorter, more immediately reactive comments like the kind we make when conversing in person—comments like “totally,” or “really?”

“But if this happens, they may lose something really valuable they had as comments,” says Turkle, ”They had their own integrity. They gave their own kind of space.” Ironically for Facebook, this space is what actually inspires conversation. Conversation requires agency and intention from both or many parties; it’s sparked when two people are interested in the same stimuli, and actively decide to discuss it. Comments can provide that, motivating people to reach out and converse with one another. By forcing these comments into a pop-up message instead, Facebook effectively takes conversational agency for us, which is off-putting at best.

More, conversation fosters closeness, a reality this feature also overlooks by implying that all commenters are deserving of conversational intimacy. Whether the visual of a pop-up message actually changes the privacy of the comment thread is somewhat irrelevant, says ethicist Polgar, because the visual appears to cross the line between intimate messaging and public comments. That’s enough to trigger many users’ discomfort.

More often than not, the dialogue we have on Facebook isn’t with other users, it’s with ourselves. Inherently self-presentational, Facebook allows us to curate our image, intellect, social circles, and frankly, our lives. Thus, if our aversion to these forced comment messages spurs any question, it’s this: We want to share, but do we really want to talk?

Until Facebook realizes the answer, its ”conversational” features may continue to fall flat.

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