Why CBC is turning off Facebook comments on news posts for a month

We use this editor’s blog to explain our journalism and what’s happening at CBC News. You can find more blogs here. 

There is ample evidence the mental health of many Canadians is fragile and in need of attention after 16 months of pandemic lockdowns, school closures and economic uncertainty.

Journalists are no different. Some recent articles on the well-being of reporters tasked with covering a crisis they’re also living through have many of us looking in the mirror to take stock of our health.

Compounding the stress and anxiety of journalists is the vitriol and harassment many of them face on social media platforms and, increasingly, in the field. As André Picard wrote in a recent column, “For journalists, platforms like Twitter can be a great way to find sources and promote their work, but also a cesspool of hatred. Increasingly, reporters are also physically attacked.” 

The president of CBC/Radio-Canada, Catherine Tait, has also written about the increased abuse of journalists on social media, especially women and journalists of colour, and the threat such attacks pose to free speech and democracy. 

If public discourse is a litmus test of the health of a society, the conversation on social media suggests we have a problem. It’s one thing for our journalists to deal with toxicity on these platforms. It’s another for our audience members who try to engage with and discuss our journalism to encounter it on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where they are almost guaranteed to be confronted by hate, racism and abuse. 

That’s why beginning on Wednesday and for the next month, we will close comments on all news links and video posts to the Facebook pages belonging to the journalism division of the CBC (News, Current Affairs and Local). 

We have built significant audiences on social media platforms through our program and news accounts. These are vital ways to reach Canadians, and we believe in serving content to people there like we do on TV, radio, web and apps. In fact, some of our social channels boast record numbers, increasing reach and growing engagement with millions of Canadians.

But as the conversation has degraded on these platforms, we find ourselves limiting what we post there. We know certain stories will draw out obnoxious and hateful comments. The truth is we spend a considerable amount of attention and resources attempting to moderate our Facebook posts. It takes a mental toll on our staff, who must wade into the muck in an effort to keep the conversation healthy for others. 

It is not sustainable.

Comments remain open on CBCNews.ca

We want to see if we can use Facebook more selectively over the four-week test. Can we be more intentional? Can we reduce the harm and impact of the conversations?

Can we apply what we learn with Facebook to other third-party platforms where comments are an issue, such as Twitter or YouTube? 

As a responsible public broadcaster, we must make smart strategic decisions that weigh our mandate to inform, entertain and enlighten the people of Canada against the harm from comments to our audience, staff and story subjects. 

This experiment will give us the opportunity to post more stories to Facebook that cover a range of lived experiences, political thought and topics without worrying that they’ll be overwhelmed by negative comments and attacks.

The four-week test will also provide valuable data and other insight into how changing our use of Facebook comments may — or may not — impact how our stories reach you. 

We continue to welcome comments on our website, CBCNews.ca, where we have more moderating tools and can focus our attention better on offering a respectful dialogue about our stories.

As always, we’ll keep you updated on our efforts to improve the CBC experience for you and for our staff. 

Getting our stories and coverage to as many Canadians as possible on the platforms of their choice remains a promise of a public broadcaster like the CBC. Dealing with attacks on our people, and the subjects and principles of our stories, however, is something we take seriously. 

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