Is Substack All Bad?
I have been eating popcorn all weekend as I read more and more about the dispute between Substack and Twitter. If you haven’t been following the Twitter and Substack drama, you can check out a great timeline of events from The Verge.
I’ll give you a small summary here in my own words, but truly you should look more into this if you haven’t, it’s one of the more fun bits of drama that I have seen in a while.
- Substack announces a new way to create and post short-form content called Substack Notes, which I shared my small bit of initial thoughts.
- Twitter subsequently disabled likes, replies, and retweets if they have a Substack link in it.
- Substack’s co-founder, Chris Best, took to Twitter to respond directly to Elon’s bullshit
- Several big names in Substack say they are leaving Twitter because of this, including Matt Taibbi (AKA the guy who took the Twitter Files from Elon and botched the whole thing)
- Twitter allows links to Substacks but annoyingly marks all of them as “unsafe”
- Twitter no longer allows you to even search the word “substack” and it is instead redirected to “newsletter”
- Twitter rolls back all of their gatekeeping to Substacks, except for search which is currently still redirecting “substack” to “newsletters”
With all of this going on, I think this is a good time to revisit an ongoing question I have, “Is Substack bad?”
Hate Speech on Substack
First off, I hate how Substack has become a safe haven for COVID deniers, antisemitic, homophobic, transphobic, and other hateful content that does real harm. I find the lack of any kind of moderation a mistake on Substack’s part.
When I think of Substack, I always think about Medium and how that platform became the place for good writing and independent publishing. I remember going to Medium everyday to see what was new. While the platform isn’t what it used to be, it is still among one of the biggest places for independent publishing. I bring them up because I was comparing Medium’s content guidelines to Substack’s. What I found made me realize what I think Substack is missing. They don’t make a big enough stand against hate speech. Let’s compare, shall we?
Medium’s Content Guidelines regarding hate speech:
We do not allow content that constitutes or promotes violence, harassment, or hatred against people based on characteristics like race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, caste, disability, disease, age, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.
We do not allow posts or accounts that glorify, celebrate, downplay, or trivialize violence, suffering, abuse, or deaths of individuals or groups. This includes the use of scientific or pseudoscientific claims or misleading statistics to pathologize, dehumanize, or disempower others. We do not allow calls for intolerance, exclusion, or segregation based on protected characteristics, nor do we allow the glorification of groups which do any of the above.
We do not allow hateful text, images, symbols, or other content, including in your username, profile, or bio.
Substack’s Content Guidelines regarding hate speech:
Substack cannot be used to publish content or fund initiatives that incite violence based on protected classes. Offending behavior includes credible threats of physical harm to people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability or medical condition.
The key difference here is how Substack seems to only care about violence. There is nothing said about harassment or hatred toward someone or a group of people. To me, this isn’t an endorsement to spread hate but it certainly doesn’t thwart any of that kind of behavior either.
Also, Substack all but admits that the ball is in your court when it comes to content moderation.
The philosophy behind these guidelines also applies to Substack readers. We believe that writers are responsible for moderating and managing their communities, but there are some occasions when we will review reports of readers’ comments to enforce these guidelines.
What Substack Gets Right
Aside from the long-standing issues with content moderation and hate speech, I must admit that Substack gets a lot right for writers and journalists. Here are just a few that I have in mind.
- Substack has allowed for independent publishing to thrive and have a second renaissance
- Readers are able to directly support the work they support in one spot
- Creators are able to get up and running on Substack in minutes, eliminating the laborious process of setting up a site or blog
So, is Substack bad?
I’ve shared my conflicted feelings about Substack, but this Twitter drama puts yet another wrinkle into it. Truthfully, I can’t help but find myself aligning more with Substack’s point of view rather than Twitter’s.
I think Alex Cox said it best in their recent post on Patreon hoping to raise money for their cat who needs cancer treatment. By the way, if you are able to kick a few bucks to Alex you absolutely should. It was at the end in a FAQ.
Isn’t Substack gross?
I mean, I don’t like plenty of the people who use their platform, but that’s true of most services that focus on the “creator economy.” I see Patreon and Substack more as a way to communicate with a core group of people whose feedback I respect.
This is something that I think rings true for me as well. I don’t love Substack as a platform but I think there is more good coming from it than bad. With them getting Twitter’s full attention I think only makes them even stronger. What they do with that added strength and power remains to be seen.
Are you going to Substack now?
Personally, I don’t think I have ever had a larger audience than the one I had on Substack, and I often wonder if I should return to that platform.
Ultimately, I feel that there are too many unknowns to justify going back. Things like the volatile economics, the previously stated issues with hate speech, and my ongoing worries what the platform will do next prevent me from firing up another newsletter.
Instead, I am doubling-down on this blog. So if you like what you’ve read please share it with a friend of yours and subscribe to the RSS feed.