Policing Consumer Comments: No Charge, Please

It turns out that charging $19.99 to review harassing or libelous comments posted on a Web site really is a really bad idea. On Monday (August 9), the local-Web-message-board group Topix officially agreed to stop its ill-advised, year-long attempt to monetize the monitoring of its sites. Topix says it will now review all reported abusive posts for free, remove inappropriate posts within three working days and report illegal activity to law enforcement.

Topix had help changing its mind: In May, 23 state attorneys general called on Topix to stop its pay-for-policing charges, with the implicit threat that they'd get tougher if Topix didn't end this policy. As we said then, retailers also have lots of ideas for making money on the many non-customers who hang out at their E-Commerce sites just to comment. But you wouldn't charge $19.99 to have a security guard stop thugs from roughing up someone in your store. Maybe that's the test case to use for deciding whether an audience-monetizing idea is over the top.