Fixing Comments Sections with Financial Incentives
Jess Zimmerman offers "An ingenious way to save the comments section," if she does say so herself.
Jess Zimmerman offers “An ingenious way to save the comments section,” if she does say so herself.
Make comments cost money.
Hear me out before you decide I’m a capitalist swine. I’m not proposing just charging to comment, which would mean the richest people had the most voice. I also believe we should pay people when their comments reach a certain threshold of value.
How do you determine whether a comment has value? Probably editorial judgment—that’s how you determine whether an opinion piece should be published—but in the spirit of democracy and not overburdening the editors, we might fold in votes from users. The point is, the comment has to do something for someone else, not just act as a release valve for a particular person’s poison.
I’m obviously not talking about paying very much per comment; the state of Internet writing is such that most sites can barely pay staffers, let alone drive-by volunteers. Something on the order of a few cents per high-quality comment, enough that a diligent and thoughtful commenter could buy a couple extra lattes a year if she decided to cash out. (Most users, of course, would just put their profit towards more comments.)
The pay for a good comment should be slightly more than, but not double, the cost of commenting—meaning that a high-value comment will pay for itself, plus give you some profit, but not enough profit that you can post one “Obama is a tard” for every thoughtful point you make. Not for free, anyway.
Result: Good commenters have a chance to make a little pocket change, which seems appropriate if we believe that comments actually enhance news sites. (They don’t, but anyway.) Good commenters, in that case, are shoring up the site with valuable content—something short of an op-ed but more worthwhile than the usual dirty graffiti—so it makes sense to pay them a tiny bit.
Meanwhile, bad commenters are free to get down with their shitty selves—but they have to financially support journalism while they do it. You want to weigh in on every article with a female-sounding byline, telling the author to get back in the kitchen? Be our guest—the money you spend will help subsidize more feminist writing.
Of course, implementing this would require a lot of new infrastructure. So it’s unlikely to happen, or at least to happen any time soon.
It’s an amusing idea, if an impractical one. First, as Zimmerman herself notes, implementing this would be an administrative nightmare worse than comment moderation, which is itself so tedious and labor intensive as to have sparked the problem that this solution aims to fix. Second, even if this could somehow be automated, few people are going to be willing to pay money up front for the privilege of providing thoughtful commentary in hopes that they’ll eventually break even or even come out ahead. Third, it’s quite likely that this would actually encourage trolls even further. After all, they’re paying for the privilege of being jerks, so they’re entitled.