CBC News, the largest news broadcaster in Canada, has decided to temporarily block all comments on indigenous-related stories until they can figure out a better system of moderation.
In a statement issued on Monday November 30 by Brodie Fenlon, CBC’s acting director of digital news, the network said it had observed a disproportionate amount of racist and ignorant hate speech targeted at First Nations people.
The decision to block all comments did not come swiftly. The organization said it values the option for commenting on all articles, as it provides the audience the opportunity to engage and debate freely on important issues.
However, debate is only useful to the degree that it remains respectful, and when it comes to aboriginal news, too many commenters are refusing to follow the CBC guidelines for respectful debate, which clearly state that hate speech and personal attacks are out of bounds.
CBC is not the first and will not be the last media organization to crack down on hateful comments, or at least to toy with the idea. Abusive comments have gone hand-in-hand with online news ever since its inception. Many media outlets struggle with whether dealing with the volume of hate speech is worth keeping the option of open dialogue.
According to research by the Washington Post, some publications that have chosen to shut down their comments section in the past or never allowed a comments section include the Chicago Sun-Times, Popular Science magazine and Vox.com. Other publications devote significant resources to comment moderation. The New York Times, for example, employs more than a dozen people, most of them full-time staffers, to screen comments for hate speech. Others, such as the Miami Herald, require commenters to register through Facebook in hopes that the lack of anonymity will breed better behavior.
The situation at CBC is particularly troubling as the hateful comments are largely and specifically directed toward First Nations people, shedding light on the undeniable prevalence of racism and intolerance faced by First Nations people in Canada.
The CBC did allow readers to comment on the article containing the press release announcing the comment disabling.
Some reactions are positive, thanking the CBC for recognizing that lines need to be drawn.
The comment with the most “likes” so far comes from User “leftie63,” who stated, “Thank you for addressing this issue. I can’t say I blame you for taking this action. Canada has a long way to go towards reconciliation, and it starts with understanding.”
Others are expressing concern. On Twitter, acclaimed Indigenous journalist Wab Kinew suggested that the root of the comments lies in the nature of CBC’s articles.
“Why does the CBC ban racism from the comments section but not from their news stories?” Kinew stated.
The CBC said that it hopes to reopen comments under indigenous-related articles “as soon as possible” and that it will happen once they are able to “put some structure around this.”