Substack sucks, but so do the rest?

There’s been some recent controversy about Substack that I’m not quite sure yet how to feel about and I was hoping I might hear your thoughts on. I don’t have many followers here and I’m not terribly committed to it as a platform, but I know and trust most of you, so your input—either privately via email or in the discussion section below—would be really helpful.

Though I have been trying to not get sucked into all the ins and outs of this internet drama, it’s essentially come to light that Substack is paying a number of writers large advances, “wooing” conservative journalists (amongst others) to get comfortably setup on the platform for a year. I thought we more or less knew this already, but of course, these people are worse than we thought, and a number of them are transphobic and bigots. It sucks they’re getting paid by Substack, especially since queers and POC did a lot of the work getting the platform where it is now. Here’s a good summary thread for more background:

So far, one writer I follow has left. On the one hand, I completely agree with the arguments that we should get out of here, move our writing elsewhere, and stop supporting (yet another) Silicon-valley startup with iffy content moderation. On the other hand, most of the alternatives look pretty similar to me and I’m tired of running. Or “boycotting,” I guess.

At this point, I’ve pretty much left all social media for my own well-being and, at least in the case of Instagram, in solidarity with sex workers. When I made the decision to leave, I felt it was time to start writing somewhere online where I could go further in depth and include multimedia elements, something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I was skeptical of Substack for its trendiness, but I’d also encountered a growing number of people I respected using it, and I liked the simplicity of the signup—no need for yet another account—paired with it’s sort of throwback bloginess. They also have good accessibility features, such as image captioning.

And they don’t make any money off of me. Since there are no ads and I haven’t enabled subscriptions, I’m basically just using up their servers with this (please correct me if I’m wrong). To leave now, in a sort of vote-with-my-feet mentality, perhaps sends a message in solidarity with the few others doing so, but I mostly think it hurts us. Moves like these aren’t real, intentioned, public boycotts. They’re little Twitter PR stunts that mostly elevate the platforms’ visibility, and in the process, we surrender the space to fascists. These hateful writers get the money and the loudspeaker, and we end up dispersed and burnt out. I don’t think I really have the time and energy to research a bunch, find an alternative, and move all my posts. There are too many (one called Ghost looks cool, but too expensive)…

I’m really concerned with questions of how we align our politics and our art, especially through how our forms of distribution can be more revolutionary (I have a long essay about this coming soon!). But I don’t think either leaving or using Substack are revolutionary acts, and it’s a useful tool for now. Though there are some important questions raised by the whole affair, and I think content moderation online is a huge issue we haven’t figured out, this particular debate feels a little tired and pointless to me. Here’s a dumb ugly comic that encapsulates sorta how I feel 🙃

What do you think? Should I stay or should I go? Do you know of any good alternatives? I have a website that I pay for and maybe I could use that, but I’d need tech help…

Love,

Nico