Independent publishing website Substack has faced recent criticism from mostly liberal critics looking for more policing of views and speech on the platform, but the company has shot these wishes down.
In a Thursday statement titled ‘How we approach moderation decisions,’ Substack did not leave much room for hope for its recent vocal critics who have attacked users such as Glenn Greenwald and claimed the platform tolerates harassment.
As Substack points out in their statement, they already have a harassment policy in place, but their definition of “harassment” and “hate” may not be as loose as those of their critics.
Threats, according to Substack, do “not include writing about someone unfavorably, even repeatedly.” The writing, the company says, must be directly threatening violence or organizing others to do so.
“Hate,” the company adds, does not “include attacks on ideas, ideologies, organizations, or individuals for other reasons, even if these attacks are cruel or unfair.”
Those stern definitions are part of Substack’s “hands-off philosophy when it comes to censorship,” something that has made the subscription-based platform especially alluring to more independent or right-leaning journalists seeking to escape censorship in the mainstream media, like Greenwald, who successfully transitioned to the site after leaving The Intercept for censoring an article on actual censorship.
Greenwald was one of many to celebrate Substack’s defiance with their new statement.
“Good, clear, defiant statement from Substack about recent censorship demands: making clear what is and is not ‘harassment’ & ‘hate speech,’ defending the right to express unpopular opinions, and emphasizing they will not make decisions from public demands,” the journalist tweeted.
Good, clear, defiant statement from Substack about recent censorship demands: making clear what is and is not “harassment” & “hate speech,” defending the right to express unpopular opinions, and emphasizing they will not make decisions from public demandshttps://t.co/qawlam4kMvpic.twitter.com/yyhbHC0A8f
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 25, 2021
Recent attacks on Substack began amid a debate about online harassment after reporter Taylor Lorenz’s image was shown on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News series this month. While many saw it as simple reporting that included a widely available picture, Lorenz and others claimed this was harassment.
This snowballed into activists targeting the “right-wing culture warriors” using sites like Substack to “network and organize” and run “harassment campaigns.”
I like Substack as a product. And I am excited by the opportunities it’s offering writers.But it is also increasingly hard to ignore a community moderation time bomb waiting to go off as it pulls writers who are more and more brazenly organizing harassment campaigns. pic.twitter.com/Pb2Lmv9qhK
— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) March 10, 2021
Numerous critics have since called for more aggressive content moderation for the company, including Rob Lethearn, Google’s vice president of privacy product management.
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