Substackers against Nazis

Sex work is banned on Substack, but National Socialism is fine.

Substackers against Nazis
Photo by Peter Gargiulo / Unsplash

There’s a good chance you’ve seen the following letter a lot lately: I’ve been meaning to send it out for a while now. I’m sending it to recipients of both The Bad Newsletter and here on the Cynic’s Guide, because — to say shortly what I’ve said at length — having Nazis on your platform when you are not a free speech platform is bullshit. I could respect an absolutist free speech stance, but Substack is not a free speech platform. There are multiple forms of speech that are not accepted here, including sex work: try using Substack to send nudes or fire out some erotic fiction and see how long your account lasts. Still shorter version: Nazis yes, nudes no. And if you’re not going to be a true free speech platform, then I’m going to have to join the voices demanding that you get rid of the Nazis.

Of course, it goes further than Nazis, who are merely the tip of the Substack garbageberg: this place is a haven for hate and disinformation merchants of all kinds who are thrilled that Substack is giving them a platform and the ability to monetize. I’m putting a piece together on how Substack enables and encourages disinformation: look out for it soon at The Bad Newsletter.

Dear Chris, Hamish & Jairaj:

We’re asking a very simple question that has somehow been made complicated: Why are you platforming and monetizing Nazis?

According to a piece written by Substack publisher Jonathan M. Katz and published by The Atlantic on November 28, this platform has a Nazi problem:

“Some Substack newsletters by Nazis and white nationalists have thousands or tens of thousands of subscribers, making the platform a new and valuable tool for creating mailing lists for the far right. And many accept paid subscriptions through Substack, seemingly flouting terms of service that ban attempts to ‘publish content or fund initiatives that incite violence based on protected classes’...Substack, which takes a 10 percent cut of subscription revenue, makes money when readers pay for Nazi newsletters.”

As Patrick Casey, a leader of a now-defunct neo-Nazi group who is banned on nearly every other social platform except Substack, wrote on here in 2021: “I’m able to live comfortably doing something I find enjoyable and fulfilling. The cause isn’t going anywhere.” Several Nazis and white supremacists including Richard Spencer not only have paid subscriptions turned on but have received Substack “Bestseller” badges, indicating that they are making at a minimum thousands of dollars a year.

From our perspective as Substack publishers, it is unfathomable that someone with a swastika avatar, who writes about “The Jewish question,” or who promotes Great Replacement Theory, could be given the tools to succeed on your platform. And yet you’ve been unable to adequately explain your position.

In the past you have defended your decision to platform bigotry by saying you “make decisions based on principles not PR” and “will stick to our hands-off approach to content moderation.” But there’s a difference between a hands-off approach and putting your thumb on the scale. We know you moderate some content, including spam sites and newsletters written by sex workers. Why do you choose to promote and allow the monetization of sites that traffic in white nationalism?

Your unwillingness to play by your own rules on this issue has already led to the announced departures of several prominent Substackers, including Rusty Foster and Helena Fitzgerald. They follow previous exoduses of writers, including Substack Pro recipient Grace Lavery and Jude Ellison S. Doyle, who left with similar concerns.

As journalist Casey Newton told his more than 166,000 Substack subscribers after Katz’s piece came out: “The correct number of newsletters using Nazi symbols that you host and profit from on your platform is zero.”

We, your publishers, want to hear from you on the official Substack newsletter. Is platforming Nazis part of your vision of success? Let us know—from there we can each decide if this is still where we want to be.


Substackers Against Nazis