03/18/2016 14:11 EDT | Updated 03/19/2017 01:12 EDT

CBC ban on anonymous comments will be complicated, expensive, expert says

The CBC's new ban on anonymous comments on its websites will be complicated and expensive to put into effect, according to an expert on online media.

Tim Currie, who researches online media at the University of King's College in Halifax, says "it's fairly difficult" to verify names people claim are real when they're posting on the internet.

"It's going to cost CBC a fair bit of money to put more resources into this," he said.

"You sign up for a user name that may not appear to be fake on its face. They're going to have to track those and put more effort into evaluating whether somebody is who they say they are."

CBC announced Thursday that "in the interest of encouraging civil conversation," it will no longer allow online comments by people who use pseudonyms instead of their real names.

The move comes after a group of more than 120 prominent New Brunswick francophones complained that the CBC's provincial news site was being swamped with anti-French comments.

The corporation also plans to do more to moderate, or pre-screen, comments so that those considered to be hate speech are less likely to get through.

But the new approach will take time to implement, said CBC spokeswoman Emma Bedard. No timeline has been given.

"We have yet to complete our evaluation of all the technical, operational implications this will have," Bedard said.

"Yesterday was really announcing the intent of where we want to go, but all the details remain to be confirmed."

Logistical challenges

The two elements of the new approach will present two different logistical challenges.

Last week, Radio-Canada's director of digital news, Pierre Champoux, said it's "not possible to check" whether all seemingly real names are actually real. Radio-Canada has asked commenters for their real names since 2011.

Moderators will flag an obviously fake name when a user registers a new account for commenting, Champoux said.

But if the name isn't obviously fake, it's not easy to spot it and ask for verification, he said.

Currie says Postmedia's decision to use Facebook as its commenting platform, while not ideal, is a simpler solution.

Facebook doesn't allow fake accounts, and the social aspect of the site deters people from pretending they're someone else.

"But with online comments with news organizations, it's still fairly easy to set up another user name, use another email address, start one up, shut one down and move on," he said.

"It's this ability to be transient in simpler commenting systems that's going to pose a lot of challenges for a news organization. Many news organizations are finding it easier to let social media services take care of this. It's simply a better use of resources."

'Better filtering process'

The other challenge will be in the content of the comments.

Michel Doucet, the law professor who organized a letter of complaint to CBC, said the goal was not to stifle a legitimate public debate about bilingualism and other language issues.

Instead he said it was to stop comments that crossed the line and were hateful.

CBC admits some comments published online "violated [its] guidelines around hate speech."

CBC comments are moderated by a third-party contractor, ICUC, a private company based in Winnipeg.

Doucet says CBC has committed to "a better filtering process" so that moderators will catch comments that might not be clear outside New Brunswick.

One recent comment said the 1755 deportation of the Acadians did not go far enough, a reference that may have been lost on Winnipeg-based moderators.

"The people who are doing the filtering probably need to be better aware of the particularities of various regions in Canada," Doucet said on Friday.

He said CBC told him stories will be flagged by local editors as potentially sensitive, and that will trigger extra scrutiny from comment moderators.

Currie says that, too, will take more effort and more resources.

"Many news organizations have been deciding that online comments simply aren't worth the trouble," he said, pointing to the Toronto Star, Reuters, and the Chicago Sun-Times.