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CBC turns off Facebook comments, citing reporters' 'fragile' mental health

Editor-in-chief for the CBC, Brodie Felton, posted that the disabling of the comments feature was going to be an "experiment."

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY

The CBC will turn off Facebook comments for articles after "social media attacks" on journalists. Editor-in-chief for the CBC, Brodie Felton, posted that the disabling of the comments feature was going to be an "experiment."

Felton's reasoning is that the mental health of journalists is just too fragile to allow public commentary. He writes: "Compounding the stress and anxiety of journalists is the vitriol and harassment many of them face on social media platforms and, increasingly, in the field."

Jonathan Kay, Quillette editor, author and National Post columnist, shared his take on the "experiment," saying that among the "plenty of good reasons to turn of comments... journalistic anxiety isn't one of them."

Felton notes that "The president of CBC/Radio-Canada, Catherine Tait, has also written about the increased abuse of journalists on social media, especially women and journalists of colour, and the threat such attacks pose to free speech and democracy."

Tait wrote that journalists are "being targeted online, especially on social media. Some cite the right to free speech as a defence for online abuse, but the reality is that in intimidating and obstructing journalists, they are themselves suppressing free speech and subverting democracy.

"For journalists," Tait went on, "there is no more important issue than the ability to report without fear of reprisal. This is as true for reporters working in newsrooms as it is for those operating in conflict zones, other hostile environments or under repressive regimes."

Felton blames readers who comment for a decline in public discourse, saying that "the conversation on social media suggests we have a problem."

"It's one thing for our journalists to deal with toxicity on these platforms," he writes. "It's another for our audience members who try to engage with and discuss our journalism to encounter it on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where they are almost guaranteed to be confronted by hate, racism and abuse."

Felton cites an article by former Daily Beast reporter Olivia Messer, who said she had to quit her job because she was struggling with the constant stress, though she speaks about the support she received on Twitter, and not abuse.

Messer writes that she "interviewed a dozen local and national journalists. Many of them," she wrote, said "they do not feel supported by newsroom leaders; that they do not have the tools they need to handle the trauma they are absorbing; and that most of their bosses don't seem to care about how bad it has gotten. Some said they are still finding themselves sobbing after meetings, between meetings, on calls during work, or when the day ends."

Felton clearly doesn't want to be that kind of boss, so he's turning off comments to be more supportive. The comments will be disabled as of Wednesday, and readers will still be able to comment directly on the CBC website itself.

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