Over a month ago an article from Jonathan M. Katz at The Atlantic made waves with an article titled "Substack Has a Nazi Problem".
At least 16 of the [Substack] newsletters that I reviewed have overt Nazi symbols, including the swastika and the sonnenrad, in their logos or in prominent graphics. Andkon’s Reich Press, for example, calls itself “a National Socialist newsletter”; its logo shows Nazi banners on Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, and one recent post features a racist caricature of a Chinese person.
Not only are there white nationalists, Nazis, and conspiracy theorists on the platform, but they are getting paid. Some of these newsletter Katz mentioned have thousands of subscribers, many of whom are paying for this hate speech. Substack takes a 10% cut from all paid members as part of their business model. This means that Substack is profiting off of hate speech and Nazis.
Substack's response to this report and an open letter from hundreds of writers on the platform pleading they moderate this kind of rhetoric was simple: Substack will not remove or demonetize Nazi content.
Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie viz Substack Notes:
I just want to make it clear that we don’t like Nazis either—we wish no-one held those views. But some people do hold those and other extreme views. Given that, we don't think that censorship (including through demonetizing publications) makes the problem go away—in fact, it makes it worse.
McKenzie then proceeded to provide zero substantial evidence backing up his claims that censoring literal Nazis won't better the platform.
After reading all of this news, I couldn't help but remember a story about Nazi bars.
(transcribed from a series of tweets) - @iamragesparkle
I was at a shitty crustpunk bar once getting an after-work beer. One of those shitholes where the bartenders clearly hate you. So the bartender and I were ignoring one another when someone sits next to me and he immediately says, "no. get out."
And the dude next to me says, "hey i'm not doing anything, i'm a paying customer." and the bartender reaches under the counter for a bat or something and says, "out. now." and the dude leaves, kind of yelling. And he was dressed in a punk uniform, I noticed
Anyway, I asked what that was about and the bartender was like, "you didn't see his vest but it was all nazi shit. Iron crosses and stuff. You get to recognize them."
And i was like, ohok and he continues.
"you have to nip it in the bud immediately. These guys come in and it's always a nice, polite one. And you serve them because you don't want to cause a scene. And then they become a regular and after awhile they bring a friend. And that dude is cool too.
And then THEY bring friends and the friends bring friends and they stop being cool and then you realize, oh shit, this is a Nazi bar now. And it's too late because they're entrenched and if you try to kick them out, they cause a PROBLEM. So you have to shut them down.
And i was like, 'oh damn.' and he said "yeah, you have to ignore their reasonable arguments because their end goal is to be terrible, awful people."
And then he went back to ignoring me. But I haven't forgotten that at all.
Substack has become a Nazi bar, plain and simple. After McKenzies response, I decided that it was time to leave the platform behind.
Leaving the Nazi Bar
So here we are, after several hours of work and stress-eating I am running my newsletter and blog on Ghost with a DigitalPress hosting plan. All of my posts have been migrated, my email list imported, and my website customized.
I am actively losing money by hosting my own site, but it is worth it for me to pay a few bucks instead of helping a platform like Substack. I will be holding off on offering paid plans for right now. However, if/when I decide to none of that money will go to Substack. Clicked is fully independent now.
While going independent for me wasn't especially difficult (I have a habit of moving platforms), I want to try and put myself in a larger Substack, one with thousands of paid subscribers and tens of thousands of readers. For them, moving platforms is like hauling a NASA rocket: slow, expensive, and risky.
I don't envy those in that position right now, because when I moved my newsletter I got stomach pains. I cannot imagine the stress it would cause moving something ten-fold the size. Still, there have been some large publications who have left Substack.
Casey Newton shared on his Substack, Platformer, that they will not only be meeting with Substack privately, but they are also working to create a database of the Nazis on Substack and share it with both Substack and their payument provider Stripe in hopes that change will be made. Whether this change is done through no-brainer content moderation by Substack or ripping that money straight from their pockets remains to be seen. In either case, I hope that Casey joins the slew of other newsletters that have left the platform because of this and no longer gives Substack any of his revenue. Even though I know it isn't easy for someone like Casey to change providers I think it is worth the risk if it means no longer associating with a company that profits from Nazi rhetoric.
That being said, I don't want to mark everyone on Substack guilty by association at this time. Many Substackers, like Casey Newton, are trying to make change happen from within, and I hope their efforts are fruitful. Every platform has bad actors, there is no question about that. What is in question here is Substack's response, or lack thereof.
In hopes to keep things in a simple timeline I decided to make a website covering platforms that allow their platforms to be Nazi bars at IsItANazibar.com.
I plan to keep it updated as much as possible, but if you see any articles worth adding shoot me an email at jeff[at]clicked[dot]cool.
Speaking of Clicked, it's is coming back for regular weekly newsletters every Wednesday. I will also be sharing more blog posts as well here. Think of the newsletter as a more formal piece from me and my smaller blog posts being quick links to cool and interesting things.
If you read the newsletter I will have a list of the posts from the past week you can click on. If you want to subscribe to the blog and get everything I make you can do so via RSS.
Everything that you know and love about Clicked is going to continue, except this time the platform and newsletter is 100% mine.