I’m leaving Substack.
Why? Substack has a Nazi problem.
The real problem is, they have decided not to do anything about it. Substack, which is a publishing platform like Medium but with a robust and useful email sending capability built in, has chosen to draw their “free speech” line in such a way that they exclude “adult” content, but include Nazi content.
It’s not like they haven’t had time to think about it. First, The Atlantic wrote about it (non-paywall link) in late November. Hundreds of the publishers they host urged them in an open letter to redraw their line. Substack literally announced they didn’t intend to do so. That refusal was December 21. I needed to publish the next day, so I slept on it and made my decision.
Me Message to My Substack Readers
What follows is an expanded version of what I wrote in True’s Substack edition on 22 December 2023.
Dropping Substack? I had already noticed a burst of cancellations of [True’s] Substack edition, and one of the departing readers clued me in as to why. Not that he didn’t like my content (he was upgrading to the full Premium edition to replace his subscription here), but rather he doesn’t like Substack due to its newly announced position. Specifically, he sent me this link to an article at The Verge: Substack says it will not remove or demonetize Nazi content.
In response to significant criticism, Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie — who is who personally invited me to bring True to to his platform — announced that while “we [Substack] don’t like Nazis either,” he posits that “subjecting ideas to open discourse is the best way to strip bad ideas of their power.” I absolutely do believe that concept has some validity, but that’s not why such content is there. To provide a platform and a way to make money on such content certainly doesn’t “strip bad ideas of their power,” and I’m extremely uncomfortable in continuing to participate in the platform.
I have to give my reader kudos for also simply choosing to not participate in helping Substack make money — and to not even ask me to, let alone insist that I, move away from Substack. Hell, he didn’t even suggest it.
So what I did for him is provide a “rebate” for what he paid in the form of a discount on his Premium subscription, especially since his Substack subscription renewed just last month. If the situation disturbs you and you also want to move on, by all means do follow your conscience. If you would also like to switch to True’s regular paid version (“Premium”), let me know and I’ll send you a $10 coupon toward a year’s subscription; send me a note from your Substack-registered address with the request. Bottom line is this is fair notice: over the next week or two I will be winding this edition down and leaving Substack. [Which was competed 8 days later on 30 December 2023]
I’m not demanding that Substack “do” anything, but rather I suggest that staying the course they are on will cost them a lot more money than it would have cost to draw a line and refuse to make money from that kind of content.[End of Substack Editorial. Now comes the expanded part.]
The “Nazi Bar” Scenario
@IamRageSparkle on Twitter (he has since left that platform for similar reasons) posted a story there in 2020:
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, Oh, OK, 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.
So yeah: now it’s too late. Substack is a Nazi Platform. Not because there’s a Nazi there, but the first one brought a friend, and then another friend, and they all brought other friends, and “oh shit, it’s a Nazi Platform now.”
Will They Change Their Mind?
Maybe they could change their mind, but it really is too late. It’s not just that the bartender — er, Hamish — didn’t throw the Nazis out. The company actively promotes the Nazi newsletters.
Why would they do that, especially if they “don’t like Nazis either”? Because the way Substack makes money is to take 10 percent of all subscription fees off the top. So when a Nazi gets $50,000 in subscriptions, Substack gets $5,000 — and since the Nazis bring “friends” who publish there too, it’s not “just” $5,000, but who-knows-how-many times that.
One can’t condemn their actions and participate in their platform, making them money, so I won’t publish there; I won’t add to their profits. Yep, it’s costing me Yet Another Four-Figure chunk of income. But that’s OK: I don’t want to be on a Nazi Platform no matter how much I make there.
My income was building on Substack. Maybe someday I would have gotten to $50,000 too, with their “network effect” that is quite effective. But I won’t play the game to find out: the network is more and more tilted to Nazi content, not my “think more to improve the world” content. Nazism is antithetical to my kind of thinking, full stop.
At least, so far, two of my paid Substack readers have moved over to Premium, in addition to the original reader who clued me in (thanks, Mark in Texas!), taking me up on my coupon offer: only $132/year gross so far, but at least it’s honest money.
“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.” —Karl Popper, Austrian-British philosopher, academic, and social commentator.
NBC News reported that Substack said it removed some newsletters after criticism about Nazi content, but it’s a fairly tepid move.
In response to ever-growing criticism, Substack removed five publications, agreeing that the publications had violated its existing rules which prohibit content that incites violence “based on protected classes”. (So it’s still OK to incite violence against regular people who are not “protected classes.”) Substack added it has no plans to change their content guidelines (aka rules).
Apparently, then, Substack agrees that it was hosting Nazi content from at least five publications. “We are actively working on more reporting tools that can be used to flag content that potentially violates our guidelines, and we will continue working on tools for user moderation so Substack users can set and refine the terms of their own experience on the platform,” Substack told NBC News.
What does that mean? That “you can’t currently report comments directly to Substack: only writers receive your reports,” replies Platformer, which has also left Substack for the same reason I did — and they’re a lot bigger than True.
NBC noted that “A handful of Substack writers had quit” Substack. The thing is, True chose not to republish the open letter to Substack that several hundred publications there did. And there is no way to count the number of publications that have quit in protest, such as True. And, more recently, the excellent 7 Takeaways, which I have promoted a few times.
The level of damage from Substack’s actions, or lack of action, is hugely underestimated and underreported.
– – –
Bad link? Broken image? Other problem on this page? Use the Help button lower right, and thanks.
This page is an example of my style of “Thought-Provoking Entertainment”. This is True is an email newsletter that uses “weird news” as a vehicle to explore the human condition in an entertaining way. If that sounds good, click here to open a subscribe form.
To really support This is True, you’re invited to sign up for a subscription to the much-expanded “Premium” edition:
Q: Why would I want to pay more than the minimum rate?
A: To support the publication to help it thrive and stay online: this kind of support means less future need for price increases (and smaller increases when they do happen), which enables more people to upgrade. This option was requested by existing Premium subscribers.