We don’t allow porn or sexually exploitative content on Substack. We do allow depictions of nudity for artistic, journalistic, or related purposes, as well as erotic literature. However, we may hide this content from Substack’s discovery features, including search and on Substack.com.
“Sexually exploitative content” can mean all kinds of things–and as LGBTQ+ creators have discovered time and again
, it only takes one conservative middle manager to decide queer content is sexual content
and pull the plug on their livelihoods. That Meservey can passionately defend right-wing wackos in one tweet and snidely dismiss writers who write about their sexuality in the next shows you what her values are.
Oh, right–values! Isn’t that what this is supposed to be all about? Bravely defending the principle of free expression at great cost?
No, it isn’t. Choosing to be a safe harbor for hate speech and dangerous lies isn’t costing Substack anything. By courting right-wingers who bring big direct-to-audience engagement along with them, Substack is just picking up low-hanging cashfruit.
That is the principle to which Meservey, and the company she works for, is committed: making money off other people’s writing. Substack found a niche in the #content market, and they’re filling it as best they can. That they’re doing real harm to real people sucks, but at least it’s not an unusual amount or form of harm for most tech platforms these days. What bothers me is the claim that the harm is actually good.
To be clear, Meservey, Taibbi and the Substack co-founders (a three-person byline of Hamish McKenzie
, Chris Best
, and Jairaj
) make some great points about information bubbles, echo chambers, and blind-faith tribalism in media consumption, including some I’ve made myself. I especially liked this bit from the founders:
In a pernicious cycle, these dynamics in turn give each group license to point to the excesses of the other as further justification for mistrust and misbehavior. It’s always the other side who is deranged and dishonest and dangerous. It’s the other side who shuts down criticism because they know they can’t win the argument. It’s they who have no concern for the truth. Them, them, them; not us, us, us. Through this pattern, each group becomes ever more incensed by the misdeeds of the other and blind to their own. The center does not hold.
But Taibbi, as he often does these days, inverted the power structures at play
to make his point: Don’t we remember how the Department of Defense cracked down on journalists during the Vietnam War, insisting the truth be suppressed and the official government version of reality be parroted?
Well, many terminally online folks probably don’t
know about that, which is absolutely why a free press is important.
But Substack is not “a free press.” Taibbi is not embedded at the front lines of an unjust war. And over-educated, underemployed, often marginalized writers Tweeting at Substack that they should stop publishing fascists is not tanks rolling down Main Street.
As much as Meservey is taking Ls online right now (and getting an army of anti-vax weirdoes coming to her rescue), the reality is that Tweets and posts like this one probably won’t move the needle–or their venture-capital boosted bottom line
–all that much.