Integrity, a Move, and a Hiatus

Substack's lack of information ethics made me lose faith, so I'm changing platforms

Integrity, a Move, and a Hiatus

In 2018, Substack appeared seemingly out of nowhere to deliver two things I was looking for as I moved beyond years of unpaid, volunteer blogging at “The Scholarly Kitchen”:

  1. A way to run a subscription publication/blog/newsletter, to help me demonstrate that subscriptions still work, make money from the hard work of writing (yes, it is a lot of work), and test whether I had the ability to attract paying subscribers
  2. A leadership team that appeared to understand the ethical problems besetting the Internet and its media outlets, and claimed they were trying to eliminate those problems

Hamish MacKenzie, one of Substack’s founders, told me in a 2018 interview on “The Geyser”:

Substack is intended as an antidote to the prevailing media environment. . . . and the rise of tech platforms . . . in which it was more profitable to spread sensationalism, outrage, and divisiveness than it was to spread truth . . .

I was satisfied until earlier this year, when Substack’s leadership team — Chris Best, MacKenzie, and Jairaj Sethi — showed they can’t live up to their word and won’t deal with core ethical problems around information dissemination.

Due to their commission-based business model, Substack now profits from hate speech, misinformation, and fraud, all under the guise of “free speech.”

Their retreat to “free speech” to justify their stance was an especially insulting move. Writers know this is a canard. Publishers routinely and properly reject submissions (books, articles, research reports), and private companies can require shirts and shoes. For its part, Substack bans porn and other vices from their platform, exercising selective and not unreasonable control over what they distribute. But misinformation, fraud, and lies don’t strike them as a problem, despite most platforms now actively purging miscreants and building prevention systems.

As another departing Substacker, Grace Lavery, put it:

. . . [Substack] is a corporation, and very clearly the commercial interest is in monetizing [offensive and fraudulent writers]. But it has decided to talk like a state, and present itself as the guarantor of rights that its corporate conduct, in fact, is fast eroding.

I tried to get them to come to their senses. I wrote emails to MacKenzie. I pestered the company account for weeks via Twitter, providing examples of what their most egregious fraudsters were up to. I pointed out that they have Terms of Use and Content Guidelines they fail to enforce.

All to no avail.

In short, their craven retreat to the worst talking points of techno-utopians, along with their unwillingness to live up to their own words, made it impossible for me to stay.

So, I’m putting my money where my mouth is, and moving out.

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The next platform for “The Geyser” will be Ghost.

In order to transition all the content, subscribers, and registrants, I need to freeze this site and pause publishing for 2-3 weeks.

I will be back as quickly as I can, and ask for your patience and forbearance while I make this move.

I’m assured the transition will be smooth, with everyone retaining their subscription and registration statuses, and with Stripe remaining the back-end e-commerce. All the content will migrate, along with various other elements. The only missing piece will be the comments — Ghost doesn’t have native comment support, which I think will be OK. After all, comments were few and far between, and the most effective ones came as emails to me. Please keep sending those along.

During this hiatus, I’ll use Twitter to indicate and discuss important developments. I may even find other ways to communicate with subscribers through the magic of creative thinking. We shall see. I have some ideas.

I’ll be back shortly. But for my peace of mind and personal integrity, I need to move away from Substack.