Platformer, a popular technology blog, said it was leaving Substack over its moderation policy that does not explicitly ban pro-Nazi content.
One of the most prominent publications hosted by Substack said it was leaving the subscription platform over its failure to moderate praise for Nazis and pro-Holocaust material.
“I’m not aware of any major US consumer internet platform that does not explicitly ban praise for Nazi hate speech, much less one that welcomes them to set up shop and start selling subscriptions. But suddenly, here we were,” Platformer’s founder Casey Newton said in a blog post.
Platformer has over 170,000 subscribers on Substack, adding more than 70,000 in 2023 alone. Substack promotes the publications it hosts, including through a Twitter-like social network, Notes.
“While I would love to credit that growth exclusively to our journalism and analysis, I believe we have seen firsthand how quickly and aggressively tools like these can grow a publication,” Newton said.
“And if Substack can grow a publication like ours that quickly, it can grow other kinds of publications, too,” he added.
This is a concern shared by other creators, with 247 publications signing an open letter to Substack leadership last month asking it to explain why it was “monetizing” Nazis, in what they said was “a very simple question that has somehow been made complicated.”
The letter followed an article published by The Atlantic, which stated that Substack had a “Nazi problem.” It said the platform hosted Nazi and white nationalist newsletters with thousands or tens of thousands of subscribers.
It said this made the platform “a new and valuable tool for creating mailing lists for the far right,” with many also accepting paid subscriptions, which The Atlantic said flouted the platform’s terms of service.
“Substack, which takes a 10 percent cut of subscription revenue, makes money when readers pay for Nazi newsletters,” the article claimed.
The response that followed from Substack was not what detractors expected. Its co-founder Hamish McKenzie said in a blog post in late December that the platform would continue enforcing rules banning incitements to violence but would not engage in “censorship.”
“I just want to make it clear that we don’t like Nazis either – we wish no one held those views. But some people do hold those and other extreme views,” McKenzie said before adding that steps like demonetizing certain publications would not make the problem go away.
“In fact, it makes it worse,” he said.
Some Substack authors expressed support for the platform’s non-interventionist position. In a post entitled “Substack shouldn’t decide what we read,” writer Elle Griffin defended the platform’s decentralized moderation policy.
Authors who signed under the post include evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, journalist Bari Weiss, and philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
Others have left the platform since, including culture writer Ryan Broderick and crypto researcher and critic Molly White. Platformer, however, is by far the most prominent name having made the decision.
Faced with the backlash, Substack said it would remove five Nazi newsletters flagged by Platformer’s own investigation as “clear-cut examples of pro-Nazi speech.” However, this failed to address the bigger problem at hand, according to Newton, the Platformer’s founder.
“This was never about the fate of a few publications: it was about whether Substack would publicly commit to proactively removing pro-Nazi material,” Newton said, adding he believed the company would.
“But I no longer do,” he said.
Platformer would now move to Ghost, a new non-profit open-source publishing platform, Newton said. Subscribers should receive their Tuesday newsletter as usual “if all goes well.”
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