Over the summer of 2021, CBC News took a bold step and banned comments on any stories it published on Facebook. Initially, it was a one-month experiment, but it has expanded into a four-month exercise, set to expire on Oct. 31. The reason for the ban was to prevent abuse toward CBC journalists.
The CBC explained that, "As a responsible public broadcaster, we must weigh the balance of our mandate to inform, entertain and enlighten the people of Canada against the harm from comments to our audience, staff and story subjects."
They are using the data from the four-month experiment to make decisions about how to better serve the public, to reduce harm to audience and staff, and to gauge the value of spending time moderating material on third-party platforms.
The pandemic has already taken a toll on everyone's mental health, and journalists are no different. They often have to delve into social media to get information, and must expose themselves to abuse and toxicity to tell the stories the public needs to make informed decisions.
When the ban was instated in June, internet comments were typically abusive toward the CBC and its reporters, saying that the CBC was quashing freedom of expression, but comments are still open on all other platforms where the CBC operates.
Having immediate access to comment on stories or to journalists is a relative new phenomenon though, mostly due to the rise of social media. In the past, you had to write a letter to the editor or phone the radio or TV station for comment.
Every journalist has a tale of abusive comments from their audience. Myself, I have been called a "crosseyed fatass," a "balding idiot" and a "commie" on online platforms, and that's just three of many insults tossed in my direction.
While this is part of the job, enduring insults just for doing part of the job is something that no one, journalist or otherwise, should have to go through.
CBC's actual website has been closed to comments on Indigenous stories due to abuse and virulent racist comments since 2015.
Steve Marlow is the program co-ordinator at CFBX, an independent radio station in Kamloops. Tune in at 92.5 FM on the dial or go online to thex.ca.