I am glad to see people are migrating (or threatening to migrate) from Substack, but I am a little surprised that this was news to them. Substack has been like this for a very long time. Supporting fascist content is not a new stance for them. It is the status quo.
Speech as a Commodity != Free Speech
I get so tired of corporations pretending that they are in the business of protecting free speech. They’re not. They are in the business of profiting off of another person’s creative work. Now, if they offer tools and structures that enhance or simplify that work (usually via work done by somebody else, but at least the corporation pays for that–or so they should.), the trade-off for the author may be worth it. In no case, though, does Substack have any say on what is or is not free speech. Despite what social media platforms want you to think, they are not the public square. They are just another publisher.
Want the easiest proof of this? Look at how quickly they limit speech when the content violates the terms of their credit card providers. It’s okay to make content that threatens whole sections of the population, but show a naked body in an unapproved way and they will ban you lickety-split. What heroes they are
. Substack isn’t a government. It doesn’t do free speech. It is a company that profits off the content on its platform. As such, it enables and makes hate speech profitable. Considering their backers, supporting this type of content is part of the plan and not a surprise.
So what are the options?
That is the question. I certainly understand why people use Substack. As a platform, it does work. There are options, though.
I like a Ghost, a lot. I actually just finished a test run of Ghost. I am considering a platform move for Text and Hubris, and I am hoping to add some community features. Ghost has some really nice options, but the structural and workflow limitations were hard to overcome. To be fair, limitations are not always a bad thing. I just wasn’t able to make it work for me.
I will also say that I do wonder if Ghost would behave any differently if it were the dominant platform. As far as I have seen, Ghost hasn’t had to deal with this issue on the Ghost(Pro) platform. It is hard to make a guess on what they would do. The only really powerful thing in Ghost’s favor is that it runs without venture capital investment. It is a nonprofit that only serves to run the Ghost platform. There is no expected return beyond improving the quality of life for its customers. That is a huge plus!
Of course, self-hosting would be ideal. If you are planning on gaining any serious traction and building an audience for a newsletter; though, you are looking at hours of maintenance and work. The email issues alone would be a nightmare. I completely understand why someone wouldn’t want to add system maintenance and updates to the already long list of work they are doing. That is why this is just a straight static site on shared hosting. The management requirements are minimal to say the least.
There is a lot of buzz (heh) around beehiiv, right now. I haven’t tried it. It’s a bit heavy on the marketing-speak and Silicon Valley buzz words, for me. It looks to strike a balance between the classic Mailchimp newsletter approach and Substack. It could be worth a look, if that style works for you.
The options may not be perfect.
They are real options, though. At the end of the day, this a two-way street. Substack has the ultimate say over who it profits off of and who it supports. It has made its choices very clear. Now it is up to those who use that site to make their decision.