Substack shouldn’t decide what we read
For a long time, the internet felt like a hostile place, then I stumbled upon a garden.
In the middle of the mire, Substack emerged as a beacon of writing and discourse. It was a garden of learning, where I could find and follow artists and intellectuals, where I could study human flourishing from some of the best minds pursuing it.
But just outside the walls, the rest of the internet is pressuring Substack to act more like other social media platforms. After an opinion piece was recently published in The Atlantic critiquing fringe voices on the platform, many Substack writers began calling for moderation. They want the platform to decide who can say what, and who can be here.
But I, and the writers who have signed this post, are among those who hope Substack will not change its stance on freedom of expression, even against pressure to do so.
Because we’ve seen that before and it hasn’t worked. Other social media platforms have actively given reach to an enormous amount of divisive content, and moderation has amounted to private companies deciding who to deplatform based on their own agenda. Facebook has struggled with hate speech and misinformation no matter what it has tried with its moderation policies, and Twitter’s moderators have actively suppressed stories that might sway an upcoming election, among other discrepancies.
There can be no doubt that there is a lot of hateful content on the internet. But Substack has come up with the best solution yet: Giving writers and readers the freedom of speech without surfacing that speech to the masses. In your Substack Inbox, you only receive the newsletters you subscribe to. Whether you’re a reader or a writer, it is unlikely you’ll receive hateful content at all if you don’t follow it. (I never have—though I saw it all the time on Twitter and Facebook despite never having followed an account in that vein.)
Most Substack readers subscribe to a newsletter via email and never see anything except the emails from the writers they subscribe to. Ninety-six percent of my own subscribers read via email—not the app—they might not even know that I publish my newsletter using a platform called Substack. How exactly would they come across hateful content on Substack?
The author of the recent Atlantic piece gave one way: actively go searching for it. He admits to finding “white-supremacist, neo-Confederate, and explicitly Nazi newsletters” by conducting a “search of the Substack website and of extremist Telegram channels.” But this only proves my point: If you want to find hate content on Substack, you have to go hunting for it on extremist third-party chat channels, because unlike other social media platforms, on Substack it won’t just show up in your feed.
One thing mainstream media outlets misunderstand: Substack is not one platform, it is thousands of platforms, and you get to pick which ones to be part of. And Substack has come up with a powerful way to moderate those platforms: Rather than rely on the company to hire a team of moderators, Substack democratized the process, giving full moderation control to writers.
As the author of The Elysian, I have authority over my own community. I can lock comments on my essays to paid subscribers, delete comments on my essays, and can ban individuals from commenting or subscribing for the set amount of time I choose. I can delete every comment one user made with the click of a button, and my readers can report comments they deem inappropriate.
I am the curator of my own space, and here comments are locked to paid members (including on this post) because this is a space where thinkers from every political spectrum are safe to engage in respectful discourse. That doesn’t prevent you from sharing this post with your communities and having discussions there if you’d like. (That’s the whole point!)
When Substack rolled out Notes, their “Twitter alternative,” it came with those same controls. I can lock replies on my Notes to paid subscribers, I can delete replies to my Notes that I don’t like. I can mute, ban, and block people from commenting and following me. Best of all, when I’m scrolling my feed, the only posts that show up are by the people I subscribe to and the people they are interacting with. There is no “viral tweet” inserted into my feed. It is a peaceful place filled with writers and readers who are discussing human progress., a nonprofit advocating for better public spaces on the internet, compares online platforms to public parks. These spaces should be freely available to the public, but they can be a beacon of community gathering, or not, depending on how they are designed and used by the community. They list Substack in their database of prosocial digital spaces for its ability to “build bridges between groups.” Facebook doesn’t make the list, but Facebook Groups do, which speaks to the power of small, self-moderated groups.
As they say: “Why shouldn’t we have digital platforms where everyone can feel safe and flourish, like in our best parks and libraries?”
That’s what we have created on Substack: A network of all of the best parks and libraries, where all of us are safe to flourish. If someone says something in a park you’re not part of… not much happens. It doesn’t get surfaced to the masses. Unless you actively try to find it, you won’t. You are no longer exposed to the niche worldview of whoever says the most outrageous thing or influenced by media outlets profiting from your attention—you are only exposed to the voices you follow and trust online.
The result is that we are uniting ourselves into communities, not dividing ourselves into factions.
Spend some time on Substack, then spend some time on Twitter (X) or Facebook or any of the rest—it’s easy to see this is one of the best places on the internet. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. We are still trying to figure out the best way to handle extremism on the internet. But of all the ways we’ve tried so far, Substack is working the best.
Let the writers and readers moderate, not the social media platforms. And don’t have one big town square we all have to be exposed to, have a bunch of smaller ones that we can choose to be part of.
Maybe in the future we will come up with an even better idea than this one, but right now, Substack is not just a model for a better social media, or even a better media—it’s a model for a better internet.
That’s why, alongside the incredible writers who have signed this letter below, I am not advocating for a lack of moderation, I’m advocating for community moderation. I’m advocating for democratized moderation. I’m advocating for decentralized moderation. Together, we’re advocating for a future internet where we decide what we read, and what gets reach on this platform—not an algorithm or a company.
Where we can create small gardens on the internet where all of us can flourish.
Signed,, author of The Elysian
, author of Garden of Anxiety
, author of A. Hellene Author
, author of quite useless
Angela Nagle, author of Angela Nagle
, author of The Truth Fairy
, author of The Algorithmic Bridge
, author of The Free Press
, author of Calm Down
, author of An Ordinary Disaster
, author of Beyond Parody
, author of Emeth
, author of Charles Eisenstein
, author of Writer in Progress
, author of Not Complaining
, author of Reality’s Last Stand
, author of Regions
, author of Contarini’s Attic
, author of Notes from the Middleground
, author of MartyrMade
, author of Sparks from Culture
, author of Of a Sober Mind
, author of Doomberg
, author of Hard Knox Life
, host of Dwarkesh Podcast
, author of Continuing Ed
, author of The Intrinsic Perspective
, author of House of Strauss
Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), author of FAIR Substack
, author of Freddie deBoer
, author of GIRLS
, author of The Glenn Show
, author of The Eternally Radical Idea
, author of The Prism
, author of Natural Selections
, author of The Roots of Progress
, author of The Illusion of Consensus
, author of Sey Everything
, author of House Inhabit
, author of Jimmy Doom’s Roulette Weal
, author of Julie Bindel
, author of Building Hope
, author of Random Minds
, author of Default Wisdom
, author of The Charrette
Kent Peterson, author of Kent’s Substack
, author of Konstantin Kisin’s Newsletter
, author of Critical Mass
, author of Lee Fang
, co-founder of Public
, author of The 3 C’s of Belonging
, author of Mechanical Pulp
, author of Anti-Mimetic
, author of Just Enough to Get Me in Trouble
, author of Antheros
, author of Racket News
, author of RissaJean: Field Notes on Love, Life, and Loss
, author of The Unspeakable with Meghan Daum
, author of Cosmographia
, author of McKuen Musings
, host of The Fifth Column
, author of Sincere American Writing
, author of The Process
Michael Shellenberger author of Public
, author of Skeptic magazine
, author of Chosen by Choice
, author of Psychopolitica
, author of The Upheaval
, author of The Abbey of Misrule
, author of The Taproot
, author of Peter Boghossian
, author of Anarchy Unfolds
, author of The Partisan
, author of The Cultural Futurist
, author of The Illusion of Consensus
, author of Unsupervised Learning
, author of The Poetry of Reality
, author of Rob Henderson’s Newsletter
, author of School of the Unconformed
, author of Castalia
, author of if not, Paris
, author of Hold That Thought
, author of Due Diligence and Art
, author of Moderately Offline
, author of The Art of Enchantment
, author of ŽIŽEK GOADS AND PRODS
, author of Rudegal Tab Rants
, author of The Creativity Gap
, author of The Honest Broker
, author of Uncharted Territories
, author of Unbound
, author of Wayfare
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