I'm beginning to believe everything on the interwebz is a racist, misogynistic, transphobic scam

I’m sure many of you signed up for Annalee Newitz’s Substack… Well, turns out there are issues with substack as a company - in that they pay writers but aren’t transparent about it:

And some of those writers are transphobic assholes.


Here is the response from the co-founder…



yeah I was wondering why Greenwald ended up there after his tantrum at the Intercept. Moolah. Great stinking gobs of moolah. Substack is evidently assembling a stable of high click-through writers. Writers who sometimes seem to have some trouble getting published anymore. I wonder what the venture capitalist/private equity end-game is? In the meantime, it seems to be developing into something of a tr0ll-farm.


What a mess. Where are writers with a functioning conscience supposed to gain an audience now? I remember Medium being popular for a while, but I dont know how that platform has panned out.

I wonder if (iirc) Heather Cox Richardson is still the most-subscribed writer at Substack. And if she knows about this shit.


Good question. Or is she one of the people who got an advance? As Newitz said, there is no transparency, so we have no idea who is or isn’t getting paid. They’ve noted some high profile assholes (like greenwald, as @rob_bray points out) who either are or are suspected of being paid, so it stands to reason that they’d include some people who are on the left for “balance”…

Also a good question. Profit motives don’t help here. I’d love to see someone like Newitz use her position to call for an alternative that’s non-profit perhaps, run by volunteers maybe, and allows people to have an easy to use interface for this kind of thing.

In some ways, this sort of scamming, lying, and profiting off hate speech might be part and parcel of commercialization of the internet more broadly. If profit drives everything, then other considerations like safety for marginalized groups are going to be of secondary consideration.

I’m still wondering if a public option for social media would be a workable solution. Though it deserves some criticism, the public park movement in the 19th and early 20th had some great outcomes. Although there was some condescension about the leisure time of the working class (and like many other things at the time, was deeply racist), I think public parks have been successful in giving people spaces for recreation, exercise, and community building that has great benefits (I just walked in my local park yesterday, in fact!). If we could get widespread broadband backed by the fed, why not then build public social media that’s free and accessibly to all?


Maybe there’s no turning back from the insidious damage wrought by Fecesbook and Silicon Valley’s other attention oligopolies. But I would like to see the internet somehow recapture the golden age of blogs with more modern technology, possibly through federated social networks. It’s difficult to see how it can get anything but worse as long as productizing plutocrats control the medium.



Maybe. I doubt they needed to lure her onboard with an advance, though, given the hundreds of thousands of fans she’s built up by posting the content simultaneously on Facebook.

But yeah, who knows? I’d like to think she’d be transparent about it.


True enough. I wonder where her biggest audience is? I’m guessing probably FB. Obviously that platform has it’s own problems!

Me too, it seems like she would be to me.


In 2019, they started to get very needy with trying to ensnare readers.


Interesting indeed! Have you seen any good pieces on that?

Some internet version of that post war federal writers project would be awesome too. A lot of Great American Writing got supported that way.

Which reminds me more generally to look into what the Biden administration is planning more generally by way of supporting artists… hopefully they will, and hopefully they’ll be up to speed in terms of “new (ha) media.”


Ken White is another writer I enjoy on Substack. I’d like to think he’d be transparent about it if he was paid an advance.

I was initially skeptical of a lot of the alarmism in traditional journalism regarding Substack because so much of it reminded me of the alarmism around blogging, a lot of which was gatekeeping. But Newitz’s article on the matter has convinced me that Substack has some transparency problems that can’t be excused given that they’re positioning themselves as an alternative to traditional media. Indeed, those problems remind me a lot of the issues with Medium but arguably less transparent and potentially less well-intentioned.


Not as such… there’s this wikipedia, but it’s more about government regulation:

I’ll keep looking around to find articles about it and post them here if I do, but I think since the emergence of the WWW, most have thought of the internet as a privatized space that government intervention would only screw up. But that’s in part because of when it emerged and how embedded in “common sense” the neoliberal idea that the government is only a hindrance was at that point. I think people are starting to shift on that general issue and are beginning to see a place for government again in our lives. It’s clear to many people now that private industry that’s for profit has failed us in many ways, and that a strong set of regulations from the government for the public good can be a useful tool for citizens.



Slightly tangential, but access internet infrastructure is arguably as critical to the modern world as transportation infrastructure.


Medium was great for a bit. Things got weird once they monetized it, though (shocking, right?). I think it still gets a lot of use, but there are restrictions on what you can and can’t read. I’m not sure if it has to do with being logged in or not, or whether it’s around having a paid account. I’m usually told when I stop by there now that I have X number of articles left.

Though I only stop by there these days to grab links to portfolio pieces.


Less tangential, I think, and more central to the argument! If it’s something we need to function in modern society, then why not have a public option, that’s either subsidized by tax dollars and either free or cheap to use.


It seems that it is not a scheme to subsidize new users, like uber did/does, and some of the authors who have received those advances (like Scott Alexander and Matt Yglesias) claimed that they actually lost some money in the deal (if they had just singed as a normal user, substack would have claimed a lower percentage of the subscriptions and the authors would have received more).
But, it is hard to generalize it, because you only hear about the success cases and substack doesn’t talk about who they subsidized.

I guess they don’t have a nefarious plan to promote bad actors, and they are probably just motivated by money and a neoliberal ideology (again, impossible to confirm, since the data is not public).

However, this creates some other problems of their own, like focusing too much on each individual and hoping that this is enough to create a social good, a la Adam Smith’s, and assigning a value to each discourse based on how popular it is.

Following Doyle’s link, it seems that ghost.io (like their own https://jude-doyle.ghost.io/) is a good alternative, and apparently it is even open-source.

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That doesn’t make it any better though. It’s still promoting and supporting bigotry.

It’s not about popularity. It’s about the active support of bigotry, which as we saw last week, leads to people being killed.

The problem with that platform seems to be upfront costs for the authors. Obviously, for more established folks it’s not a problem, but that’s not the case for newer, less established writers.


Not sure if this is helpful (and it’s possibly off-topic):

My impression, at least until now, was that Medium was something like blogspot.com, blogger.com etc. Which is to say, another platform where anyone can post just about anything (and – why not? – stick a Ph.D. after their name, while they’re at it). But the extent of my involvement with Medium has been from trying to verify a citation in Wikipedia. An editor there cited a non-existent article in an (otherwise real) academic journal, but instead of linking to the journal’s webpage (or a DOI etc.) they linked to where they (i.e., the Wikipedia editor) had published it on Medium. When we’ve called them out on this, the Medium article has been appended with various grievances about Wikipedia.

For what that’s worth… (and assuming I made any sense)


Unfortunately, a common problem from more open platforms when compared with for-profit ones that can give more direct subsidies.
I found it strange that they have several different prices based on the audience size, but they don’t offer a more accescible free tier for starting users.
On the other hand, at least it seems possible to start on substack (if you can take the moral costs) and then switch to ghost when you are able to cover the upfront costs.

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