Why Substack Sucks

Imagine if Facebook paid Ben Shapiro. That’s Substack Pro

Substack lets you send email newsletters. Like a platform it attracts bad actors, but unlike a platform Substack pays them directly. Imagine if Facebook paid Ben Shapiro a salary. That’s Substack Pro.

Substack Pro is not a platform. Substack Pro hires writers, for thumping amounts. Substack pays these guys a years salary if they publish on a schedule. Substack denies that they’re hiring anyone, but what do words mean? That’s literally how you hire a writer.

You just hired writers.
Substack: No we didn’t. We gave them a ‘sum’ to write articles for us.
Yeah, you just described hiring a writer.
Substack: [waves hand] these are not the droids you’re looking for.

While Facebook can deny responsibility for Ben Shapiro’s hate speech (“we’re just a platform!”), Substack cannot. They fucking pay writers directly. This is brazen even by Silicon Valley standards. The ‘neutral platform’ defense is sacred, one does not simply pay users directly. We don’t know who Substack Pro is paying, but now it’s basically TERF Island over there. Lots of white people peddling hate. And they get paid straight out of the corporate account.

We’ve seen instances of tech companies allowing hate group leaders to acquire huge followings through negligence, from white supremacist YouTube stars to a President who has to be banned from Twitter for trying to start a civil war, but those were cases where the platforms failed to keep bigots out. Substack is actively bringing the bigots in. Then it’s giving them paychecks. (Jude Ellison Sady Doyle)

Substack is like the Moneyball of mendacity. If you’re an HR nightmare at any publication, if you’ve been de-platformed everywhere else, come to Substack. They’ll even pay you directly. As long as you can put numbers on the board, who gives a fuck?

You’re a Substack Pro.

Substack’s Vapid Philosophy

You don’t have to take my word for it. Just read co-founder Hamish McKenzie’s explanation and tell me if your head doesn’t explode. It’s a moral black hole. Words lose all meaning. Time becomes a flat circle. Only whiteness can escape.

With Substack Pro, we pay a writer an upfront sum to cover their first year on the platform. The idea is that the payment can be more attractive to a writer than a salary, so they don’t have to stay in a job (or take one) that’s less interesting to them than being independent... The only thing we ask for in return is a commitment to a minimum publishing frequency so we know they’re giving it an honest shot.

So, Substack pays them a salary… to be independent. By independent they mean… having a fucking job.

We see these deals as business decisions, not editorial ones. We don’t commission or edit stories. We don’t hire writers, or manage them.
Substack Blog

How does this make sense? Because we see it that way. It’s a completely subjective definition of reality. None of this obvious bullshit is bullshit, because it’s good for business. Please try this in your daily life. Oh, that was a red light officer? Sorry, I don’t see color.

Substack has hired (and attracted) some of the world’s most corrosive writers and says “we don’t manage them” like that’s a feature. This is like saying Jurassic Island is full of dinosaurs, but don’t worry, they’re completely out of control.

TERF Island

Thanks their vapid philosophy, Substack is rapidly turning into TERF Island. Their tepid content rules preclude outright racists, but trans people are fair game. Their rights and dignity are still up for public debate.

As Jude Ellison Sady Doyle details, they’re attracting some real defenestrated dickweeds:

Glenn Greenwald started his Substack by inveighing against trans rights and/or ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio, is currently using it to direct harassment at a female New York Times reporter, and has repeatedly used his platform to whitewash alleged rapists and domestic abusers. 
Freddie de Boer is an anti-“identity politics” crusader who became so infamous for harassing colleagues, particularly women, that he briefly promised to retire from the Internet to avoid causing any more harm; he’s currently using his “generous financial offer” from Substack to argue against “censoring” Nazis while pursuing a personal vendetta against the cis writer Sarah Jones. 
Matt Yglesias, who publicly cites polite pushback from a trans femme colleague as the Problem With Media Today — exposing the woman he named to massive harassment from Fox News and online TERFs alike — reportedly got a $250,000 advance from Substack. It’s become the preferred platform for men who can’t work in diverse environments without getting calls from HR.
Jude Ellison Sady Doyle, on Substack lol

How did Substack end up paying six-figures to these reprobates that no one else would touch? It’s like Moneyball, they’re hiring just based on stats. Let’s go back to the endless black hole of their philosophy, hold onto your atoms:

When considering a Pro deal, the main thing we take into account is the writer’s likelihood of success with the Substack model. We look at the writer’s audience size, how engaged their following is on social media, and the respect they engender among their readers and peers. As an indicator of a publication’s market opportunity, we look at what they cover and assess how well that subject is covered elsewhere. We consider their track record and look for evidence of an ability to publish multiple pieces a week for an extended period of time. We do not approach this process from the perspective of a publisher, looking to gather a particular type of content under our brand, but with the eye of an investor, looking to stimulate a new generation of profitable media businesses. We want to help writers flourish.
Substack Blog

Literally nothing in this logic would stop them from publishing Der Stürmer. Nazis would be successful, they’re de-platformed everywhere else, huge pent-up demand. They have a large, engaged audience, and the writers can hit publish many times a day. Let’s hire some fucking Nazis.

Substack has some sense of self-preservation, so they don’t hire Nazis outright. Trans people are fair game right now, so Substack has become a deeply unsafe space for them. However, literally nothing in Substack’s philosophy precludes Nazis. “We do not approach this from the perspective of a publisher, but with the eye of an investor.” They’re literally all about the money. They take no responsibility for the social effects, unlike even Facebook, which at least spends some blood money here and there.

Substack simply does not give a fuck. To them this is a feature, not a bug.

A Pretty Classic Business Model

Sadly, this is a pretty classic business model. Rupert Murdoch’s entire empire is based on hiring people to say hateful shit, hurting the vulnerable, fucking up democracies, and getting paid. Rush Limbaugh and lots of American talk radio is the same. Dunk on migrants, the colored, the different, the poor. Shit sells.

This is the same niche that Facebook fell into. It’s not really a niche, it’s a chasm. There is huge demand for hatred and there’s lots of money in shoveling the devil’s coal.

The question is whether you as a reader want to be a part of this, and whether the many good writers on Substack also want to be involved. Personally, I’ve cancelled all my subscriptions because I want to get the fuck off TERF Island. I thought I was paying writers I liked, but if the company is enriching these six-figure dickheads I’m out. I’ve already seen this film with the amoral arrogants at Facebook and I don’t want to see it again, with even less responsibility.

The fact that Substack has become THE platform for the de-platformed is not a good look. I was just getting some emails from cool people, and now I find out that the worst people on the Internet are getting paid 10,000 times more? Why would I pay money for this? Why would you?

Substack Is Not a Neutral Platform
The newsletter platform is the latest tech company to turn a blind eye to anti-trans arguments

Note: I paid for one subscription upfront, and Substack actually processed my $50 refund within a few hours. So you can do that. For platforms alternatives there’s Revue (now owned by Twitter) and Ghost.