This is an era when platforms across the spectrum, from big centralized social networks to email newsletter marketers succumb to outside pressure all too easily to censor their customers’ content.
But not everyone is in a hurry to throw their users under the bus and become the self-appointed arbiter of truth, as this blog post by the founders of Substack, detailing the company’s business model, and its approach to content moderation, reveals.
The platform, geared towards small publishers and writers whom it allows to send out newsletters and make money through subscriptions – says the issue is anything but simple and easy to resolve.
Firstly, Substack is keen to differentiate itself from third-party content social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, which the post says dictate what their users can see thanks to algorithmically curated news feeds that favor and surface one type of content over another.
By contrast, the blog post continues, Substack’s nature is to give writers and readers control and choice over what they see and support financially. Rather than base its business on engagement as the be-all and end-all metric, the company avoids advertising as a model, choosing instead to profit, with a 10 percent cut, from the trust its customers build with their own.
The question of trust brings us to the question of how Substack navigates the issue of moderation, i.e., censorship, particularly in terms of politics. The post is clear on this point: “We do not seek to impose our views in the form of censorship or through appointing ourselves as the judges of truth or morality.”
While the platform’s founders profess their personal political views as being generally liberal, they say that allowing a plurality of stances and not attempting to separate the principles of free speech and free press is high on their agenda as a company.
In line with this, Substack says it is opposed to “heavy-handed censorship,” aware that it not only suppresses free expression but also backfires in terms of making the targeted content even more popular.
“We prefer a contest of ideas. We believe dissent and debate is important. We celebrate nonconformity (…) We will resist public pressure to suppress voices that loud objectors deem unacceptable,” Substack’s founders say, declaring the internet as currently “broken” – not because it allows everyone to speak, but because of the dominant “engagement and ads” business model imposed by Big Tech.