Notes

I’ve seen so many Notes saying Substack must allow the most overt expressions of hate because it’s a radical defender of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But it’s not.

Substack already limits legally protected, non-violent free speech because it’s gone out of its way to *not* become OnlyFans.

Substack does not “allow porn or sexually exploitative content on Substack, including any depictions of sexual acts for the sole purpose of sexual gratification.” (1)

And I get it. Once you allow porn on a site, it tends to become a porn site. Because well...porn is pretty popular. (Breaking news! Porn is popular!) And Substack isn’t trying to build a porn site.

But porn made by consenting adults definitely falls under the umbrella of free speech/freedom of the press. The umbrella that Substack says it’s holding over all our heads.

A porn Substack could exist in its own community bubble, with its own terms of engagement. Which is what Substack is currently offering instead of saying, “No overt racism or antisemitism on our platform.”

So why isn’t porn allowed? Well, becoming a porn site just isn’t good for business unless you want to be in the porn business. So Substack has made a business decision by excluding legally made pornography.

Substack has made a different business decision when it comes to hate speech.

While calls for violence are supposed to moderated, overtly racist (and still violent) sentiments like, “all brown people are animals and they shouldn’t be allowed in America,”(2) are met with the statements about controls for readers/communities to set their own terms of engagement.

(And here, I wish I could insert The Office Gif of Oscar saying, “This is so much more offensive to me than hardcore porn.”)

So: Legally made porn is protected free speech. There is plenty of ethically made, non-violent pornography. AND porn is the only truly proven online subscription business. But Substack has decided it does not work for their business model.

Overt racism, overt misogyny, overt transphobia, overt antisemitism is also protected free speech. There are no ethically made, non-violent antisemitic conspiracy theories or calls to kick all brown people out of the country. But Substack had decided that *does* work for their business model.

Allowing this antisemitic meme on here is not a free speech decision. It’s a business decision.

That decision was a problem when it Substack was an enterprise business for newsletters. But it’s catastrophic as Substack moves into becoming a *network business* that hopes to be “a new economic engine for culture.”

Who is being used for fuel in that engine when Nazi propaganda is allowed?

I don’t think Substack has ill-intent. I do think they’ve grown and now need to think at scale. That’s challenging for every startup, but it’s a good challenge.

I’ve interacted with a lot of the Substack team. They are thoughtful and deeply concerned about what they’re building here. I really, really want to stick around to see what they can do. I love watching people build. I love building alongside them too.

In his last communication, CEO Chris Best said he knew Substack’s approach to moderation would have to evolve. I think that’s a great first tight turn…there’s a word tech people use for that...it rhymes with trivet? 😉

During this pivot, we all need Best to decide he doesn’t want Substack to be a hate site as much as he doesn’t want it to be a porn site.

It’s really that simple.

(1) it should be noted, Substack has made that business decision while allowing “depictions of nudity for artistic, journalistic or related purposes, as well as erotic literature…” some of which will surely seems like porn to some people!

But it’s decided to take the time to make judgment calls on what is porn and what isn’t. It can do the same with offensive speech versus overt hate speech.

(2) Quote from The Verge interview with Chris Best

(3) substack.com/profile/39654977-chandra-h…

Admins: are we going to allow antisemitic memes from Substack authors here? This dude is clearly deranged and dangerous?

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