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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Could paywalls make people nicer?

The Times paywall may have one interesting consequence. People who've paid may be more willing to post their comments on the site. If they're in the company of other people who have made a similar investment they will assume they're less likely to be the victim of a rhetorical drive-by than they might have been in the past. In the last few years, as newspaper sites have been an open prairie, they've been magnets for people who just wanted to unload a few prejudices before moving on and the flagrant lack of respect for other people's right to a view has made you tremble. There's a difference between a debate among Times readers and a forum in which a lot of people have only turned up to bait the paper's core constituency and to make themselves feel better by simply venting.

I note that The Independent have at the same time taken steps to make it easier for posters to use their Facebook or Twitter names. It will be interesting to see how this works. Our experience on The Word site, which is an oasis of civility in the human zoo, is that people prefer to use screen names because that way they don't draw an employer's attention to the fact that they might be posting on the firm's time. However, whether anonymous or not, the posters do seem to accept that the forum they have is worth having and that they have a shared responsibility to maintain it. Is it possible that something similar could happen on a bigger stage?