Substack says readers and writers are really in charge of moderation
December 23, 2020
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Substack plans to take a “hands-off approach” to determining who can use its newsletter platform and “resist public pressure” to remove writers seen by some as “unacceptable.” In a blog post this afternoon, the company outlined a relatively lax content moderation policy designed to let writers know they won’t be removed from the platform as long as they comply with basic rules.

While it does have a short list of prohibitions, Substack says that “readers and writers are in charge.” The idea is that readers don’t have to pay for or subscribe to writers who they don’t agree with, and writers can leave — and take their mailing lists with them — if they don’t like the platform. “We just disagree with those who would seek to tightly constrain the bounds of acceptable discourse,” the platform’s co-founders wrote today.

Substack argues that it’s nothing like Facebook or Twitter, but it could soon have to grapple with the same thorny moderation problems of big platforms. The service has attracted a number of high profile writers this year, including Glenn Greenwald and Anne Helen Petersen. Pretty much anyone can start a newsletter and start accepting payments on the platform, though, and the service’s increasing prominence could soon lead to an influx of writers who aren’t reviewed or endorsed by the company.

Substack’s approach echoes Reddit’s longtime policies around moderation, which the service has only recently started to change. The platform long held itself up to be a bastion of free speech, allowing users to subscribe to the communities that interested them and ignore ones they didn’t. That led to some troubling groups — like a white supremacist community — to thrive.

Moderation at Substack is currently handled by the site’s founders, Substack CEO Chris Best said earlier this month on Decoder with Nilay Patel. “In general, we’re very pro-freedom of the press and extending that freedom to as many writers as possible,” Best said.

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