Substack co-founder says ‘we don’t like and don’t condone bigotry’, doesn’t explain how Notes will moderate it


“Last week we got some criticism after Chris didn’t accept the terms of a podcast interviewer question about how Substack will handle bigoted speech on Notes,” McKenzie said. “It came across badly and some people harshly criticized us for our naivety, while others questioned how we would discourage bad behavior and bad content on Notes. We wish the interview had gone better and Chris had more clearly stated our position at the time, and we regret sounding the alarm to people who care about Substack and how the platform is evolving. We screwed that up. And in case anyone is ever in doubt, we don’t like bigotry in any form.(Emphasis ours.)

But McKenzie still isn’t specifying exactly how that bigotry will be moderated on Notes or how Notes moderation will relate to the Substack newsletter policy. Instead, like Best in being Decoder interview, McKenzie questions the “standard assumption that aggressive content moderation is the answer to the problems it is supposed to solve.” He claims that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, despite having large content moderation teams, have not reduced bigotry or allayed concerns about disinformation.

Substack’s claim is that it can solve these problems by adopting a different business model focused on paying writers rather than “attention harvested by algorithms” for ads. “We give communities on Substack the tools to set their own standards and set their own terms of engagement rather than having everything handed to them by a central authority,” says McKenzie. (This is very similar to Reddit’s policy of letting people run their own moderated subreddits, though Reddit is still largely ad-supported.)

At the moment, these tools are still in their early stages. Notes allows people to block and hide users and delete replies, and McKenzie said Substack is experimenting with ways to limit replies to subscribers. And in the future, “we will design Notes so that users can define the specific terms of engagement with their community on a one-time or only occasional basis,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie also acknowledges that Substack may need to make changes along the way. “The truth is, we know that Notes is a new space and it has some crucial differences from the core platform Substack that people have come to know over the past five years,” he writes. “We fully anticipate that we will need to adjust our content moderation policies and approach as the platform evolves.”