Substack is always staggering from one crisis to another.

Are you tempted to use Substack? Maybe think twice.

Substack is an American online platform founded in 2017 that provides publishing and design infrastructure to support subscription newsletters and create varying levels of revenue. The platform takes a cut of revenue generated by writers but also pays high profile writers to use their influence to attract readers.

Since it started it has been subject to ethical scrutiny for several reasons.

It started with the premise of paying high profile authors, including controversial writers known for spreading misinformation or divisive content, huge sums of money to publish on the platform in order to attract readers and other writers. Some of these high profile people left quite quickly and the relationship between the paid authors and the platform owners has never been clear. Although it is possible to produce free newsletters, less influential writers are encouraged to charge readers a subscription fee from which the platform owners take a cut.

In November last year an investigation by The Atlantic turned up “scores of white-supremacist, neo-Confederate, and explicitly Nazi newsletters” on the platform. Because the site takes a cut of subscription revenue, this meant that Substack was making money off extremists. In response, nearly 250 Substack writers demanded in an open letter that the site explain why it was “platforming and monetizing Nazis.”

Meanwhile, an opposing group of nearly 100 writers published its own open letter rejecting calls for greater moderation.

There are concerns that Substack selectively enforces or ignores its content policies, potentially allowing high-profile or profitable writers to publish content that violates it’s community guidelines.

The model encourages writers to attract subscribers, which can incentivise the creation of sensationalist or controversial content to increase engagement and revenue, regardless of its truthfulness or ethical implications.

By providing financial support and a prominent platform to certain writers, it implicitly endorses their content.  The platform has been criticized for not adequately protecting writers from harassment and abuse, especially those from marginalized communities, making it a less safe space for diverse voices.

From a reader’s point of view the platform aggressively encourages them to log in before they can like, comment or share content and relentlessly pushes paid subscriptions.

Medium is a less controversial, more transparent platform but does not accommodate creating revenue. I use it for non-business posts, book reviews and keeping notes, ideas and links to stories, poems and articles that I like or want to comment on:

Jon Alexander uses it to “think out loud” and share content with his mailing list

If you have a blog, think about why you might need another platform … the best way to publish your content is always on your own website / blog / newsletter platform and means you own your material and subscriber details.

If you have any questions on this please get in touch!

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