Moderating online comments a grey area of modern journalism, experts say

Banning anonymous commenting on online stories? Two Edmonton media professionals say it’s not a perfect idea, but it’s a start.

Two Edmonton media professionals debate the grey areas of moderating comments on online news stories

It's yet to be determined whether banning fake names will prevent sexist, libelous, racist and homophobic comments, two Edmonton media professionals say. (CBC)

Banning anonymous commenting on online stories? Two Edmonton media professionals say it's not a perfect idea, but it's a start.

Last week, CBC announced a ban on the use of pseudonyms for readers commenting on stories on the CBC.ca website. Commenters will now have to use their real names, a move that came after a review of the commenting policy that showed audience members expressing concerns about the content of comments appearing online.

Comments can be beneficial to news stories, former Edmonton Journal online editor Karen Unland told Radio Active, but said some people hold the view that comments degenerate when people hide behind an online pseudonym.

"I've seen the whole gamut. If you have a very good comment section and a good community of people who are contributing, it makes the story better it makes the story more interesting," Unland said. "Also I've seen complete degeneration to racism, homophobia and threats of violence."

People who actually want to share their comments, intelligent comments, they'll find another way.- Linda Hoang, blogger

Unland said when the Edmonton Journal began publishing stories online in 2007, it became a full time job and a "tremendous" amount of work for staff to moderate the comment section. Moderating  Unland said a model that could work is if the reporter participates directly in the comments section — but this would require time away from producing more stories.

"It's hard on the soul to have to go through the worst things people can think of to say," Unland said. "I think the key (is that) are you in there participating in the conversation as well so people behave themselves."

Some media organizations banning comments altogether

Blogger, social media commentator and former CTV digital reporter Linda Hoang said she chooses to moderate all comments that go through her blog, eliminating those that are sexist, hateful or racist. Hoang said it's a model that works for her, but may not work in shrinking newsrooms.

Some media organizations, like the Toronto Star, no longer allow any comments on their news stories. Hoang said this doesn't necessarily extinguish discussion.

"People who actually want to share their comments, intelligent comments, they'll find another way. They'll tweet you, they'll go on your Facebook page, they'll email in, so it's not necessary that you need to have that comment spot if you still want an engaged community," she said.

CBC English Services spokeswoman Emma 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.

Both Hoang and Unland said they're curious how this verification will be done, and whether that might mean some commenters bypass the rules by using fake email addresses.

Unland said news organizations should be focusing on what purpose comments serve to their readers.

"If they want (comments) to add to the value of the journalism, then they have to treat it as part of the whole story process, staff accordingly and set time aside," she said. "If they want to just open it up and say come into our house and do whatever you want, then they're going to reap the rewards or not the rewards of that."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

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