Glenn Greenwald was pissed. The Columbia Journalism Review had just asked whether Substack should remove the writer Andrew Sullivan from its service. And having recently joined the email newsletter platform himself, Greenwald attacked.
“It was only a matter of time before people started demanding Substack be censored,” he said, taking it a step further than the CJR.
Last October, Greenwald left The Intercept, a publication he founded, claiming the publication’s editors, who previously hadn’t touched his work, “censored” him ahead of the 2020 election. So he moved to Substack, which advertises itself as a home for independent writing. Seeing a reporter point out Substack’s lack of moderation set him off.
CJR reporter Clio Chang pushed Substack to take a stance on Sullivan for a simple reason. Sullivan had previously published excerpts from The Bell Curve, a 1994 book that attempted to link IQ to race. Chang asked Substack’s founders whether his presence could cause other writers to shy away from the platform. Its paid newsletters, she noted, were already very white and male at the top.
“Often, adherence to neutrality only enforces existing power structures,” Chang wrote as she considered Substack’s hands-off content moderation policies.
The CJR article’s stance, and Greenwald’s fiery pushback, felt familiar to those who’ve watched similar arguments regarding Facebook, Twitter, and Google in recent years. Some have criticized these platforms for leaving up too much objectionable content. Others have called the platforms censors, arguing they take down too much. The difference with Substack, of course, is the medium. It wasn’t Big Tech. It was an email platform.
Though the big social networks have been the main focus in the debate over how — and whether — online platforms should moderate user content, the fight is migrating toward smaller platforms devoid of rollicking social feeds. They include email providers like Substack, podcast platforms like Spotify (hello Joe Rogan), and nascent…