On June 15, CBC announced that it was taking away the opportunity for subscribers to comment on its Facebook posts. What led to this decision, what impact will it have and how many media outlets will decide to do the same?

In 2016, The Telegraph newspaper announced the closure of the comments section of its website. The Telegraph then imitated a series of other media outlets that had chosen to do the same. In most cases, the many inappropriate comments found at the bottom of their articles and their cumbersome management justified their decision.

Four years later, in April 2020, The Telegraph announced that the comments section on its websites would now be reserved for its subscribers. According to the site, this was a way to ensure more civilized exchanges.

In recent years, several news sites comment sections have gradually lost popularity. The lack of real exchanges and the many hateful comments that can be found in them may explain part of the phenomenon. The increased popularity of social media is also a contributing factor to this loss of appeal. However, this did not solve the problem of online hate and bullying.

Defamation, bullying and threats

In 2019, as part of defamation charges, an Australian judge ruled that the media were responsible for comments left on their Facebook page. For them, this ruling meant that in addition to handling inappropriate comments on their page, they would now be responsible for preventing them.

A few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge of hate and online threats to various politiciansjournalists and columnists. This phenomenon is obviously not limited to Canada.

Faced with this hatred that social media has been fighting against for years, Facebook decided last March to allow page administrators, including the media, to control who can comment on them. The opportunity to respond to a publication may be open to all, as it may be limited to the individuals and organizations mentioned in the publication.

The case of the CBC: the first of a long series?

A few months after the Facebook announcement, CBC announced that it was therefore withdrawing the opportunity for its subscribers to comment on its publications on the network. The broadcaster explains its decision by the cumbersome management of its Facebook page, but also the numerous attacks and threats against its journalists. The CBC page has almost 600,000 subscribers. The pilot project was announced for four weeks.

It remains to be seen whether CBC will continue in this direction after these four weeks of testing, and especially if other media outlets will follow suit.

At first glance, the media are freeing themselves of a great weight by eliminating the possibility left for Internet users to comment on their publications. However, this approach poses a risk. The Facebook algorithm favours publications that generate a high number of interactions. Disabling comments could have a negative impact on the scope of publications.

In addition, it will be necessary to see to what extent subscribers will lose interest in pages that will not allow them to express their point of view. To be continued.

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