SUBSTACK REFUSES TO TAKE A STAND ON RACISM MODERATION
Substack, a subscription newsletter platform, recently launched a Twitter competitor called Substack Notes. However, the launch was not well-received by Elon Musk, who took steps to block Substack links on Twitter. The platform’s CEO, Chris Best, was interviewed on the Verge’s Decoder podcast to discuss his company’s foray into social media. When asked about content moderation, Best refused to take a stance on overt racism.
As the CEO of a platform with over 500,000 paying subscribers, Best was not prepared for this kind of question. Controversy over its content is the platform’s biggest issue, and Best’s stance on racism overshadowed other interesting questions facing Substack. Best refused to engage with the idea that his company should take steps to avoid promoting and profiting from racism.
Substack’s CEO denied that Substack Notes is a Twitter competitor, despite obvious similarities between the two platforms. Substack Notes even created a GIF that bears strong resemblance to other social media platforms. The lack of clarity from Substack’s CEO about the platform’s intentions created confusion about Substack’s position on content moderation.
Substack has previously sparked controversy over content moderation. In 2022, the Center for Countering Digital Hate estimated that the platform earns $2.5 million annually from content that promotes dangerous misinformation about vaccines. Substack responded with a blog post stating their principles of defending free expression and sticking to a hands-off approach to content moderation.
The Verge’s Nilay Patel pointed out that Substack’s newsletter product operates as a service provider where free expression is favored over company interference. But with Substack Notes, the company is dealing with a social media product where anyone can make a post that others will see. Social media platforms are expected to make editorial decisions to limit dangerous ideas. However, Best refused to take a position on how Substack would handle extremism on the platform.
Best’s refusal to engage with the issue of racist content on Substack Notes is concerning, particularly considering the rise in racism and hate speech online. Companies such as Twitter and Facebook have been grappling with content moderation issues for years. It remains to be seen how Substack will handle these issues in the future.