Monday, February 09, 2015

Tablet Web Comments: Pay to Play?

Over the years I've written quite a bit on the topic of the comments section on the Web. I often refer to this section located under Web articles as "The Wild Wild West." In fact, after my first article was published on The Huffington Post about five years ago I become inundated reading the many comments from around the world. Very few of these comments were on topic and most were, quite frankly, of an anti-Semitic nature.

I remember asking my colleague Rabbi David Wolpe, who had already written several articles for The Huffington Post, how he managed to read and respond to all these comments -- and whether he was alarmed by the hateful nature of so many of them. He responded to my inquiry with something to the effect of: Just write, don't bother with the comments.

Tablet Magazine charges to comment on its articles - Blog - Rabbi Jason Miller

The ability to post comments anonymously was often thought to be the problem that allowed trolls to comment off topic on articles posted on the Web and so many websites changed their policies forcing users to sign in before leaving comments. That solution only goes so far since users can create dummy accounts and many of these trolls don't care about masking their identities. Over the years, many websites have come up with solutions to the problem of what I call "garbage comments" (e.g., 9/11 conspiracy theory comments on a cute YouTube video of my kid playing guitar). These solutions include the ability for users from within the "community" to be able to vote up or down comments and also to report violations of the terms of service or commenting policy. This is a good start and I think all Web media sites should employ this strategy, allowing users whose comments typically receive up votes to filter to the top and banning users whose comments are often reported for abuse.

A completely new model of commenting entered the fray today when Tablet Magazine ( announced a change to its own commenting policy. Now, Tablet is asking readers to pay to comment on articles. While Tablet's articles remain free to read (unlike the subscription gate or paywall on the Jerusalem Post for example), a small donation is required to access its talk-back section (comments section). The fee to comment on a Tablet article will be $2 per day or $18 for a monthly subscription. For $180, you'll be able to comment as much as you want. While these are nominal fees and can be considered a donation to a fine Webzine with good content, my sense is this is not going to work. People love to give their two cents, but not when it actually costs them money to do so!

On Tablet's website, they explain, "we're doing this to weed out the destructive, often anonymous, comments that drag down these discussions with invective (and worse). Instead of shutting off comments altogether (as some outlets are starting to do), we are going to try something else: Ask those of you who’d like to comment on the site to pay a nominal fee -- less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation."

This is a noble effort, but I don't think it will succeed because I don't think many readers will comply. First, if someone wants to comment on a Tablet article or interact with other readers, they can simply comment for free on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. Second, I don't think many people will care to take the time to enter a credit card number or use PayPal before leaving a comment and will choose to just "bite their tongue" or comment elsewhere. Had Tablet formed a consortium with other websites who all agreed to a pay-to-comment policy this culture change might catch on, but going it alone will be tough and now other websites will wait and see how Tablet's experiment fares before jumping on board.

Update: Tablet's decision to charge users to comment on its articles was picked up by The Verge, who concluded its article on the subject with: "The Verge's comments remain free. Feel free to use them below."


Rabbi Jason Miller said...

What I want to know is can you pay money to keep certain people from leaving comments???

Rachel kapen said...

I experience antisemitic or anti- IIsrael comments whenever I write an opinion piece for The Oakland Press, a newspaper twhich enables you to cmplaiinf on these kinds of comments. It happened twice when a friend , David Henig, ז״ל, informed of such a comment and it disappeared at once.
To pay to comment? I don't think it's such a good idea.

the wifely person said...

Has anyone gotten a straight answer out of editor about how successful this is? The FB page is totally toxic. I had acidic exchange of emails with the editor-in-chief that made me end my support for the emag altogether.

So I was just wondering.