One of the fundamental tenets of working with social media is that they are fundamentally conversational vehicles. Someone says something and anyone out there can answer back. Not always civilly, but generally so. The biggest threat to organizations in a social world is not multiple voices but silence. Silence means irrelevance.
Tablet, an online publication, created a new policy this week. According to Capital New York, Tablet has changed it’s commenting policy because, “the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse)…”
Again, according to Capital New York, Tablet is among a growing list of media companies including Bloomberg and Popular Science that have turned off comments. “Moderating such forums is expensive for companies with limited resources, and a lot of reader conversations have moved to social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.”
But Tablet didn’t turn off comments, they are charging for them! The charge will b $2 a day, $18 a month and $180 a year. And the publisher made it clear that this isn’t a monetary decision, but a way, they believe, to make their comments more civil.
There are two issues here. The first is making it difficult to comment directly on the site. Disempowering readers by not allowing them to engage directly, presumably, with the author and publisher is antisocial in a world now set to social as the default setting. We have come to expect that we will be able to engage with journalists and publications directly.
Tablet generally gets a handful of comments on stories. A few get more, like the this article on interfaith marriage mentioned in the Capital New York article that received a lot for the site, 85 comments. My quick scan of the comments revealed absolutely nothing rude or offensive. Instead, there is a thread of agreers and disagreers – exactly what anyone designing a site would hope for.
A lack of civility shouldn’t be seen as a problem but an opportunity to engage the overwhelming majority of readers in an opportunity to help solve the problem. The fact that the perceived lack of civility by Tablet is a conversation stopper rather than a conversation starter tells us more about Tablet than about the web. Basically they view readers as a passive group of eyeballs rather than a community of smart, resourceful people able to help. By engaging the community as problem solvers, it is possible that Tablet may have found a reader or two out there that might have volunteered to help moderate the comments and block trolls.
Moderating comments makes a lot more sense to me than the solution that have unveiled of having commenters pay to comment. Trolls are very determined people, why would Tablet think that paying $2 would keep them away? The people they will lose are the people in the middle, the ones who don’t feel strongly either way and aren’t going to bother to pay to comment. So, really, all Tablet has done is let the extremists, both positive and negative, win.
I hope Tablet will rethink this policy. It’s a terrible idea. Instead, I hope they will come to view their larger readership as potential problem solvers and co-creators largely dedicated to civility.