Facebook (FB, Tech30) has been working with social scientists for the past few years to better understand conflicts among users, including bullying and antisocial behavior. Last year, the social network recently began offering tools for users to resolve those disputes.
Facebook has long offered users the option to report content that violates its terms of service -- things like pornography, threats and graphic violence. But when it comes to things like insults or embarrassing photos, the site's administrators won't step in.
Those are the kinds of situations Facebook developers say they want users to address among themselves. Instead of simply encouraging users to flag posts for review by Facebook, the site has deployed a series of new message templates through which people can explain to others why they find a particular post upsetting.
The company consulted academic research on compassionate communication as it experimented with different templates. Rather than facing a blank text box, users messaging their friends about questionable content are given options like "It's embarrassing," "It shows inappropriate behavior," or "It's a bad photo of me" to express their requests.
Facebook also asks users how the post in question makes them feel -- for example, "afraid," angry," "sad" or "embarrassed" -- and tailors the message templates further based on the intensity of the emotion expressed. There's also the option to un-friend, block or un-follow the person who made the post.
Facebook tracks the results of the interactions via optional follow-up surveys. The site says the changes, which it has been implementing since the start of 2013, have already borne fruit. "What we've seen is that by giving people better language to have these conversations, it actually turns out that the person who receives the message is actually much more likely to respond," Facebook product manager Jake Brill says.