08 June 2016

CBC to require real names on comments

In 1990, American attorney and author Mike Godwin enunciated a law regarding online discussions which roughly stated that as a thread of posts grew longer, inevitably someone would call someone else a Nazi. According to Godwin, "I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust."

The CBC, it appears, also wants posters on its websites to think a bit harder. After June 13th, it will no longer publish comments from anyone using an obvious pseudonym. All comments will require real names.

Everyone who uses an email address to log in to a CBC site will be asked to re-register, effectively creating a new account that will require email verification. Those who sign-in using Facebook or Google+ will not be required to re-register their account, but the broadcaster will no longer publish comments from anyone using an obvious pseudonym. Posters will need to change their username from within the social media site they use to log on.

Newspapers and magazines have always required that letters-to-the-editor be properly signed if they are to be published. (They generally allow exceptions for letter writers who may suffer harm if identified—someone criticizing their employer, for example). Letter-writers are expected to have the courage and the conviction to stand behind their views, and a public broadcaster should set the same standard. After all, if we expect politicians to stand accountable for their words, why shouldn't we?

No doubt there will be timid souls who find accountability too overwhelming and will resort to false names. Requiring email verification of accounts may help to limit this to some degree where conscience won't, but there are always cheaters. Such is life.

Unfortunately, Godwin's law applies all too frequently. The Internet is notorious for ad hominem attacks, lazy thinking and bad grammar, all encouraged by anonymity. Plaudits to the CBC for making an attempt to raise the bar.