But failing that, there is a way to save comments and shore up the flagging news industry simultaneously. It is this: 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 paypeople 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.
That's a novel idea, but I don't think it would work out in practice.
For one thing, there is the issue of selection bias. Asking the editorial staff to rate commenters can result in the staff rewarding people they agree with or people they like. Or in the case of letting commenters vote, it can result in a discharge of trolls supporting each other.
But more importantly, this system would raise the cost of commenting on a site and thus drive away commenters. Even when commenting has no financial cost, there's still an investment of time and, with some sites, the aggravation of dealing with their account management system.
Add a financial cost on top and you'll find far fewer people interested in commenting. What's more, financial transactions require a verified id of some kind, something that the anonymous (and sometimes most valuable) commenters will avoid like the plague.
TBH, I don't know of a solution to the comment troll problem, but I don't see charging for comments, or simply banishing all comments, as solutions. The latter strikes me as a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water, while the former carries to high of a price.
But I do know of one solution I liked. I can't tell you where I saw it, but one of the blogs I follow has replaced the comment section with an option to instead email the blogger. This allows engagement and also prevents trolls from gaining any satisfaction from publicly being a troll.
This won't work on a high traffic, blog but I do like the concept.
image by Marcy Leigh