Substack, “freedom” and my stupid little newsletter

I created a newsletter on Substack because it’s free, all the cool kids are doing it, and I thought it might be a good way to exercise some creativity, coupled with a dose of discipline. The discipline part is maybe in need of some fine-tuning. I stalled after four issues, trying to rethink what I wanted to do with the newsletter and having only vague notions but no actual content to go along with any bold re-visioning. But eventually!

In the meantime, the editorial staff of Substack pushed out a newsletter to everyone on the platform because they’re feeling the heat by hosting anti-vax writers decrying censorship.

You can read it by clicking the link below. And DO read the comments!

Society has a trust problem. More censorship will only make it worse.

As I read through the comments, I noted that they seemed to be mostly, “Boo censorship! Yay Substack!” at the start and continued mostly along those lines. Further in, though, you start to see the “uncensored on Substack” voices appear. That’s right, the lunatic fringe, safely protected on Substack because of freedom (until they cause legal troubles or other reasons, one of which I will get to shortly). These people use Substack to peddle conspiracy theories and the usual bullshit we’ve all grown used to. Substack lets them because they don’t believe in censorship, even though refusing to publish these writers would have nothing to do with censorship any more than requiring a driver’s license is censoring driving (insert your own terrible analogy here, I’ve got plenty more to spare!)

Substack’s staff doesn’t seem to want to take responsibility for the content it hosts, much like the social media companies they sneeringly look down on in the above editorial. I get it, as the platform grows, it becomes a massive pile of work to control, with the headaches to go with it. So they wrap themselves in the righteousness of being anti-censorship while allowing increasingly lunatic content to flourish.

And guess where that leads? That’s right, to Substack being known as “oh yeah, they’re the guys that host all the crank newsletters.” More reputable writers and creators who don’t peddle bullshit and lies will start moving off Substack, and more cranks will move in. Substack will defend itself as a champion of freedom as it swirls down the metaphorical bowl.

Or maybe not. Maybe it will all work out, or it turns out to be much ado about nothing. But the fact that this kind of theorizing is already in the air is not a good omen for the platform. I’m hardly the first to express these thoughts. I’m probably like the twenty-third, at least.

It’s made me think whether I want to stick with Substack, and it makes other issues with the platform (their editor is surprisingly bare bones for a place that targets writers) stand out more in relief. For now, I mull, which goes well with the mulling I am doing over the content of the newsletter. But I’ll make a decision soon.

(Originally I was going to quote from the editorial and object to certain reasoning and/or leaps of logic, but I don’t feel the piece warrants that kind of dissection. I found it pretty facile, that’s my hot take.)