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CBC turns off comments to reduce “harm”

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Canada’s public broadcaster CBC has announced that it is experimenting with turning off Facebook comments. CBC’s audiences will not be able to share their thoughts on the outlet’s pages for a month.

Comments will be disabled on all CBC Facebook pages for its journalistic division – News, Current Affairs and Local – and the decision will affect all news links and video posts, the media organization announced in a blog post on its website.

The reason given for the move is: the mental fragility of its journalists, but also of Canada’s general population, which, as a public broadcaster, CBC said it has the obligation to protect by preventing “the harm from comments” that might be inflicted on its audience, employees, and those they report about.

A year and a half of lockdowns and other negative consequences of the Covid pandemic is cited as one cause of the allegedly poor mental health among many Canadians, and CBC reporters – but another is what the blog post says are “vitriol and harassment” they encounter both on social media and in the field where they sometimes face physical attacks.

Women and journalists of color are said to be particularly at risk of being “abused” on social media, CBC/Radio-Canada President Catherine Tait is quoted as saying, and qualifying this as a threat to free speech and democracy.

Although Twitter is also mentioned as often being a “cesspool of hatred” for journalists, at least for now, only comments on Facebook will be temporarily turned off, apparently as a healthcare measure prescribed by the broadcaster, to itself.

Related: ? They don’t want you to read the comments

The post also mentions that social networks are providing CBC with audiences that go into millions – putting it down to content the broadcaster provides, without acknowledging that engagement with that audience, such as their ability to comment and discuss is an essential feature on these platforms.

CBC will keep comments open on its own website, though – and that is sure to divert some clicks from Facebook – another motive behind the decision, in addition to “harm reduction”? In any case, CBC says the goal is to see how the Facebook test goes and then decide whether to do the same on Twitter and YouTube.

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