Substack CEO grilled by Nilay Patel on the topic of explicitly racist content

Just a reminder that we place too much stock in the ability of CEOs to be intelligent and assume that they actually have philosophical viewpoints on these issues (or any sort of coherent viewpoint). Musk is exhibit A of this ilk of dumbass. It’s on us for thinking this techbro was gonna have any sort of opinion on the issue that evinced anything but a feckless clinging to “mah freedoms” expressed in incoherent CEO platitudes out of fear of riling up the dickbags he wants to pay him.


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With all due respect, Thom, you shouldn’t understand that argument because it’s bullshit. It’s the same one tech companies have been trying to make since the ‘90s.

Community building 101: You are responsible for the communities you create.. If your platform is a cesspool, it is your fault, full stop.

The reason BBS is such a nice place is because BB gets that. Most platform companies refuse to acknowledge that because fascists are profitable in the short term.

Best is trying to walk the same line that all the rest have tried to walk, but he’s not even doing it well. Those interview answers are seriously weak, even for a tech bro.

We need to let go of the idea that public communication platforms are value-neutral tools. Nuclear weapons builders tried to make the same arguments in the 1950s. They proposed using them for excavation and lifting rockets, among other insane things. “It’s just a tool!” they all cried.

I refuse to ride our democracy down into oblivion to cries of “it was just a toooooooool”. Fuck these guys.


We need to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that Substack rebranded itself as the home of the Intellectual Dark Web. If they make a stand against racism and extremism, they could lose the people they’re trying to promote the most.


Interviewer: “Uh… your answers are really bad. Let me steer you to the correct answer…”
CEO: “No, I refuse!”

Welp, that’s not going to do Substack any favors…


I mean, what’s the plan? I’mma let you drum up hate and action for (harming) the groups all you want, but I’mma need your Mom in hock, and 99.9% of your income, and maybe 2-3 automatic firearms a month with Pelican cases and bore locks, and a week advance of all the crazy you about to crack open?
Erik Jäger GIF by Peloton

Water Fix It GIF by Boomerang Official
We’re a platform, but we’re also a hostel for Parents and counseling them to choose effective means backed by a different high explosive than before.


Free speech absolutism is a fairy tale fantasy, anyway.

My speech is restricted because of my work, and that’s a good thing. I can not legally just spout off about products that, if misused, can kill people they are supposed to help. My industry is not alone in that. So this idea that restricting speech in order to protect people is some kind of anathema is just so incredibly naive and harmful.


How users evade moderation, in minecraft.


Why is the thumbnail for this story a picture of Nilay Patel instead of Chris Best?


Bro, have you seen the horrifying shit that people read and write?


well… that’s certainly an observation alright

Although circumventing content filters is a relatively new phenomenon, the use of coded terms to conceal one’s meaning is not


Bless their heart.


I can understand that while substack is in the VC-funded growth phase the deals may be hard to turn down, but I cancelled the only substack I subscribed to a couple of years ago and when I see a substack url I pass on by. I’m not exactly walking away from Omelas here, it’s just some low-effort slacktivism.


I’m open to that argument, but in a narrow range of context, that neither Substack, nor its competitors even dream of aiming for. If you want the protection, both social and legal, that comes with being a non-content discriminatory platform, then you have actually hold to that across the board. You also need to be the type of tool where monitoring for offenses creates a bigger problem than an open platform would. So, for example, I think the phone company listening to every call in hopes of catching Nazis to kick off the service is a bad thing. Once you open your platform for one to many conversations, the public utility calculus quickly flips. Once you introduce advertising friendly content moderation, you’ve given up the

I was kind of a classic ACLU school of thought civil libertarian who was seduced by an earlier wave of tech bro accountability avoidance and it was a discussion about the utility of etiquette that finally broke that spell. (The conversation was far more interesting than any summary I’ve managed to give since then) In order to function, any system must have certain ground rules. Imposing those rules from the outside carries a pretty high cost, think the weird broken corners of government regulation. To maintain healthy operation without those costs, the rules have to be enforced internally, to allow for flexibility. Every time one of these CEOs argue that they won’t enforce internal rules I simply hear a call that someone else will have to.


For me, a good framing of this same idea came from my anthropology friends. Communities have always had rules. Since we were sitting around fires in caves, we had social rules. Don’t be a dick, or you get kicked out of the cave. Or exiled from the village. Or whatever. Rules for social behaviour are how we got here. It’s why we’re here flying in airplanes and spaceships and nothing else is. Because we build communities and those communities have rules to ensure they function well.

This tech bro idea that somehow you can create the biggest community of all and have no rules just because it’s online is patently ludicrous.

People usually ascribe our success to our technology which came from our big brains. That’s a factor, sure, but there are other animals probably just as smart as us, and certainly ones with as big a brain. It’s because we’re social and cooperative that we won. Our technology comes from that, not the other way around.


Let’s all chant it together: They Don’t Build These “social” Apps For Us. We have to build our own. At this point, the determined evasiveness is its own tell: Pretending to be neutral means they are fascist-friendly. “Put the writers and readers in charge” = Doors wide open to fascists and racists and any old knuckleheads.


Feel like a distinction needs to be made between sites that just host content and those that host content and use that content in feeds. If you use the content to get more viewership you should also be responsible for what all the content says.


It does seem like the rise of Mastadon and thus more attention on ActivityPub should give us an improved public framework for discussing what is and is not a tool. With something like ActivityPub to point to as closer to a platonic ideal of what a tool is, it should be clear that something like Substack (Facebook, Twitter) is not a tool.

Once you build a branded community, are regularly taking a percentage of users subscription fees, building advertiser spaces, curating content, making recommendations, etc… (any single one of these will do) you are using a tool in a purposeful way, not offering one. Even if you built that tool yourself to use and use it to elicit action from others, you’re still using that tool to build your community.

Mastadon servers are not tools for their users to use, they are an expression, a use of a tool to build a community. Their actions aren’t agnostic either. Ironically, this point seems to be mire explicitly stated and more easily grokkable for most people, including media heads, in a way that isn’t for corporate social media sites.

And of course, tools themselves aren’t free of intent based on their design (i.e. guns) but it would be nice to have our apples and orange at least in the right buckets.


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