After a hellish month for Substack many writers on its platform have decided it is time to set up their newsletters and writings elsewhere. If you aren’t familiar with what happened, you can find out more on a timeline I made.
A large number of Substack writers, including Ryan Broderick (Garbage Day), Molly White (Citations Needed), Rusty Foster (Today in Tabs), and now Casey Newton (Platformer) have left Substack over this. While all of these writers have written their own pieces on why they are leaving (as have I), I want to share some points from Casey Newton as they particularly resonated with me.
I didn’t want to leave Substack without first getting my own sense of the problem. I reached out to journalists and experts in hate speech and asked them to share their own lists of Substack publications that, in their view, advanced extremist ideologies. With my colleagues Zoë Schiffer and Lindsey Choo, I reviewed them all and attempted to categorize them by size, ideology, and other characteristics.
In the end, we found seven that conveyed explicit support for 1930s German Nazis and called for violence against Jews, among other groups. Substack removed one before we sent it to them. The others we sent to the company in a spirit of inquiry: will you remove these clear-cut examples of pro-Nazi speech? The answer to that question was essential to helping us understand whether we could stay.
It was not, however, a comprehensive review of hate speech on the platform. And to my profound disappointment, before the company even acted on what we sent them, Substack shared the scope of our findings with another, friendlier publication on the platform, along with the information that these publications collectively had few subscribers and were not making money. (It later apologized to me for doing this.)
The point of this leak, I believe, was to make the entire discussion about hate speech on Nazis on Substack appear to be laughably small: a mountain made out of a molehill by bedwetting liberals.
I just want to say again that to me, this was never about the fate of a few publications: it was about whether Substack would publicly commit to proactively removing pro-Nazi material. Up to the moment I published on Tuesday, I believed that the company planned to do this. But I no longer do.
[U]ntil Substack makes it clear that it will take proactive steps to remove hate speech and extremism, the current size of the problem isn’t relevant. The company’s edgelord branding ensures that the fringes will continue to arrive and set up shop, and its infrastructure creates the possibility that those publications will grow quickly. That’s what matters.
The frequently asked questions towards the bottom of the article is also great.
Substack is yet to respond to these publications leaving the platform, and I am not sure they will in all honesty. I do think this mass exodus of writers, myself included, just might force Substack to realize they are not just infastructure and make changes. They can either remove the social aspoect of things, or they can moderate content with no-brainer rules and regulations.
Still, I believe that this whole saga for Substack will forever be a black eye for them and their reputation. Substack deserves the consequences they are receiving.