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Jennifer McGuire

General Manager and Editor in Chief

A few Comments on Commenting

Categories: Canada, Journalism

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(iStock)

Imagine you're hosting the perfect party. You've spent days planning the food and drink. Your home has never looked better, and the lighting and music are just right. Best of all, you have a great mix of guests. You know that they hold a wide variety of opinions, and from time to time the discussions grow heated, but everyone seems to be getting along, or at the very least, agreeing to disagree. You know your party is a success when the guests tell you they not only enjoyed the finger food, but the stimulating conversations.

At CBC News, we try to host that perfect party every day on our Comments forums. We have the largest commenting community of any news provider in Canada, and receive more than 300,000 comments every month. When there's a big news story happening, we can get more than 1,000 comments an hour.

That isn't to say all of those comments appear on our website. We believe in free speech, but we also want our forums to be places where thoughtful people can have a good conversation. So we have some ground rules that help us walk that tightrope. In short, we ask those who are posting comments to be respectful and courteous to each other, as if they were guests at that party. We're constantly reviewing those guidelines, and last year we took a harder line on personal attacks than we had in the past. Again, we don't want to go overboard in censoring, but we don't want to publish a comment that would lead to someone getting a drink thrown in their face if they'd said it to someone else in person.

That said, between 75 and 80 per cent of the comments we receive are posted, but not before going through moderation. We set the guidelines, but in light of the volume, we have contracted the moderation to ICUC Moderation Services, an internationally recognized company that specializes in such work. There are numerous benefits to this, including increased staff flexibility to handle spikes in comments, more cost-effective 24-hour coverage, and industry expertise. Their pre-moderation is pretty quick. Any comment that meets our guidelines is usually posted within 15-30 minutes, unless there's an avalanche of comments to assess. And our contractor doesn't have the final word. If we get complaints, or we notice ourselves that a conversation is turning nasty, we'll remove comments after they've been posted.

Not all of our stories are open for commenting. If a story involves something that's before the courts, or will likely end up there (especially if there's a publication ban in effect), we likely won't allow any comments. There are other highly-charged stories that will likely generate more heat than light, and we'll take the same approach. But as you can see on our site, we do allow our community members to weigh in on the important issues of the day. For example, we had a long discussion about Idle No More, an issue that generated a great deal of politically-charged comments. Eventually we decided that the merits of allowing Canadians to voice their opinions outweighed the additional resources required to moderate the discussion. The same held true with the recent death of Dr. Henry Morgantaler. Nearly half of the comments we received (from both sides of the divide) were rejected, but the rest were posted to reflect the tenor of the debate.

One of the great debates about online commenting is whether "real" names have to be used, or whether pseudonyms are acceptable. There are those who believe that some comments would never be submitted if the poster was forced to use his or her name, but we've seen very little difference in tone between comments made under pseudonyms, and those that are made via Facebook or other social media sites that require identification. And even on sites which require real names, people who are determined to circumvent the system can often find a way. While we do require all those who post comments to register with us, we do allow the use of pseudonyms. There are all kinds of reasons why someone might not want to be identified by name. It could be the person is afraid of what an employer or client might think of what they said. Or it could be a whistleblower, or a member of a marginalized group, who would be shy about going public in that way. In all situations, we think our fairly stringent guidelines mentioned above, and our pre-moderation, prevent anyone from engaging in the type of inflammatory talk you might have seen on other sites.

Although CBC News has been allowing comments on its stories for some time now, we know we don't always have it right. Our guidelines and practices are constantly evolving. As an example, while comments are currently organized by default by popularity (the ones with the most "thumbs up" minus the "thumbs down" are currently at the top of the list, but we are considering changing that so they're listed in reverse chronological order.

Finally, while comments from CBC Community members don't have to adhere to our Journalistic Standards and Practices, they still improve our journalism. We often hear perspectives that our journalists might not have had time to pursue in their coverage, or might not have even considered. This adds to the richness, and in some cases, the balance of our coverage. Frequently, our staff chooses the "best of the best" comments and compiles them in blog posts, to make it easier for everyone to sift through what could be hundreds of comments on a single story. So what's written "below the fold", to borrow an old newspaper term, is often just as enlightening as the original story. Engaging Canadians in this way is core to our mission, and it's gratifying to us that so many take the time to share their views.

 

Tags: How We Work

Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

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Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.