CBC to require online commenters to use real names
Journalism professor agrees with idea, but says 'you have to have some kind of verification process'
CBC will ban the use of pseudonyms for readers commenting on stories on the CBC.ca website, the corporation announced Thursday.
All commenters will be required to use their real names, Emma Bedard, spokeswoman for CBC English Services, told CBC News.
The move is a "request for transparency on the part of [online] users," Bedard said.
The decision was a result of a review of CBC's commenting policy that began in January, she said, after audience members expressed concerns about the content of comments appearing online.
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Thursday's announcement was spurred by a complaint from a group of prominent New Brunswick francophones over what they considered hateful attacks on the province's French-speaking community.
"CBC has heard from a number of Canadians concerned about our commenting space, the use of pseudonyms, and some audience submissions that violated our guidelines around hate speech, particularly with respect to the francophone community in New Brunswick," said Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor in chief of CBC News, in an Editor's Blog published on the website Thursday afternoon.
Bedard said she does not know when the new policy will take effect, but that CBC will undertake a "due process" to inform users and work out the technological requirements.
"Now that we've announced this, we've committed to having this conversation in a transparent way," she said.
'A real minefield'
Chris Waddell, an associate professor of journalism at Carleton University, said he has never thought anonymous online commenting was appropriate. Requiring people to identify themselves "is a good idea," he said.
But for the policy to be effective, he said, "you have to have some kind of verification process" to make sure people are really using their own names.
"That's an expensive proposition," Waddell said.
In recent years, several newspaper websites in the U.S. have adopted a "letters to the editor" model for their comments sections, he said, noting that traditional newspapers used to call people who made submissions to verify their identities.
But given the sheer number of online comments, Waddell said, "that's going to be very difficult to do."
One option, he said, would be to select some of the comments and verify them, but that would likely lead to allegations that editors are favouring certain political positions.
"This is a real minefield," Waddell said. "I really wonder if it's more trouble than it's worth."
Waddell said he thought most news audiences would rather see the amount of money required to verify the authenticity of commenters spent on "putting reporters on the ground."
The Toronto Star turned off online comments completely in December, he noted.
When the Star announced the change, it said it would instead "be promoting and showcasing the comments our readers share across social media and in their letters and emails to our editors."
'Anonymity hard to prevent entirely'
When asked by CBC News if banning pseudonyms was the same as banning anonymous comments, Bedard said the goal is to "encourage our users to use their real names," but "anonymity is hard to prevent entirely."
Bedard said it is too early to say what kind of measures CBC might consider to try to ensure people are not using fake names.
She noted that banning the use of pseudonyms is "really just a first step" in fixing the issue of hateful comments online and that CBC will be looking at other measures, including the comment moderation process.
With files from CBC New Brunswick