For the last two days, we have been struggling with a way to adequately address huge concerns over the announcement that a real name policy will be implemented on CBC Canada’s news site. We’ve also been struggling with where this open letter should be written. We strongly urge you to abandon your real name policy before it’s too late; before you further silence marginalized voices while giving a bigger platform to trolls.
From this point forward, this open letter will be written in a more personal tone. I am going to take a huge risk. You see, for the past seven years, there has been a concentrated effort by groups to silence and hurt me, by some to even kill me. I am one of those marginalized voices. The attacks are so consistent and so harmful, that I cannot even do business with my real name attached to this business website. If my real name were included on this website, I wouldn’t have a business.
I struggled between writing this open letter on my personal site and writing this letter on my business site. I have decided to write it here because it is very much related to the work that Skookum Monkey does as a business, even if doing so has the potential of putting this business at risk.
Creating safe social media experiences, which includes comment sections, is my jam. It is something of which I’m quite passionate, not only because of my first-hand experience with this issue, but also because of how, on a daily basis, I see marginalized voices silenced on social media. I applaud you, CBC, for wanting to clean up your commenting section and eliminating hate speech. However, how you’re going about it is all wrong.
I want to address the article posted today on CBC News about how you plan to implement your real name policy and the so-called experts who think using Facebook comments is a good idea.
First, I want to address the idea that you won’t be implementing a third-party commenting system. Instead, you’ll rely on people creating accounts that look like real names. Accounts that don’t pass some magical “real name” test will be removed. I want to ask you some question:
- What will you do when someone impersonates someone else in order to smear them? I’ve had this happen to me. I have an uncommon name. There was a long period of time where a group of people created accounts using my uncommon name to make horrible comments on my behalf. They even used my uncommon name to create email addresses in order to commit fraud. Identity theft is one thing you will need to contend with.
- What will you do when one of your white privilege moderators bans a user with an ethnic name that is very much real. Names not passing the white privilege test will be sacrificed. Don’t think so? Read this article about how one of Google’s own employees was banned from their social media platform because the name didn’t pass the real name test.
- What will you do when your entire comment section is named “John Smith”?
Those are just three small examples of the dangers of a real name policy where you leave it up to the user to pick any name that sounds real.
Second, so you decide to use Facebook comments instead. Well, that is even worse. Study after study has shown Facebook comments does not stop trolling and does not stop hate speech. In a 30 minute period alone, I saw 15 examples of people using their real names to make transphobic comments on Facebook. I’d link you to examples but I don’t want to trigger anyone who may be reading this. The link provided in point #2 above has a couple of really good examples.
Here are more things to think about when implementing third-party commenting system:
- What are you going to do when people read a CBC comment to which they disagree and report that profile to Facebook, simply out of hate, and that person gets banned? Then the person who was reported, as a result of that hate, has to jump through hoops to regain access? This happens all the time.
- How are you going to stop people from creating fake Facebook account that pass Facebook’s “sound like a real name” test simply to post hate speech in the comments?
- How are you going to hear the millions of voices of people who belong to marginalized groups who cannot use Facebook because using Facebook legitimately puts their lives in danger? Those transgender voices, the voices of people fleeing domestic assault, the voice of people who have been sexuality assaulted, voice of people of colour, voice of people fleeing religious and political prosecution, whistle-blowers? These are voices that need to be heard who legitimately use a pseudonym so that they are not further abused.
- How are you going to stop people from going through Facebook to also harass people who are a target’s friends list?
- And what about all the doxing that is going to happen?
Again, those are only a few of the problems.
Only people in power with a lot of privilege can safely use their real name online. CBC, by forcing a real name policy, you are asserting your power and privilege over the millions upon millions of marginalized voices you write about and report on every day. You are silencing those voices.
CBC, you are my primary source of news. I have a high respect for your organization. That said, you are at fault for the current state of your commenting system. Instead of hiring an in-house staff who cares about your community and really understands your policies around hate speech, you contracted out to a third-party who doesn’t care. The only way you can fix this mess is by firing the third-party contractor, by creating an in-house team and by hiring people who actually care; people who understand how CBC is supposed to reflect the Canadian culture and will truly care about cultivating a safe-space to express and to have a respectful dialogue around that culture and the issues that affect us the most. Yes, it will cost time and money, but it will be well-worth it.
I don’t write anonymously because I’m unwilling to take responsibility for my words. I write anonymously because, a long time ago, I fell into the wrong belief that only people with integrity sign their name to something and those who do not are without integrity. So, I signed my name to things. The result: A seven-year and counting campaign of people using both pseudonyms and real names to harm myself and my family simply because I am part of a marginalized community and I dared to use my voice to write and speak about social issues. There has been multiple RCMP involvement. No real name policy has ever kept me safe from the abuses and attacks I face on a daily basis. It won’t help you, either.
CBC, just like with all of my potential clients, I invite you to contact Skookum Monkey for a free consultation to help you implement a real plan that will effectively combat the current situation you face on CBC’s news site. I have a lot of real, expert experience in this area, including managing very large and safe online communities. And I’m a Canadian who truly cares about the CBC.
I hope to hear from you.
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