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Substack and Freedom of Speech

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This could be controversial so you may want to go watch some cat videos instead.

Substack, for those not familiar with it, is a service that lets creative people set up a blog / email list and earn money from their content. It has grown quite a following over the last year or so, with all sorts of people sending out newsletters to their audiences, talking about whatever they are passionate about. So far, so good.

Recently, many of the users of the Substack platform have been protesting and leaving the service because Substack has several Nazi-related newsletters. They are upset because Substack hasn’t really made any move to do anything about the Nazi newsletters. I did see something that Substack is removing five such newsletters from their platform but this doesn’t do enough in the minds of the people who object. Leaving the service because they disagree with whatever the folks running the service are doing (or not doing) is their right. Again, so far, so good.

My question is – why do they think Substack has to do anything?

In the States, we have the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, which contains the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to Freedom of Speech. This means that the government shall make no laws to censor what people have to say. I’m a very big believer in freedom of speech and very much against censorship.

Now, the First Amendment covers the government not making any laws to censor things. This doesn’t mean a platform like Substack can’t have their own ‘rules’ and not allow people to put things out through their service that they don’t like. That is Substack’s prerogative, should they choose to do so. But they can also let people use their service, and not censor the content, if they want.

I gather that this is the viewpoint of the people who make the decisions at Substack (not censoring content put out through their service) as posted here They are not supporting Nazis but instead supporting free speech. There is a difference. The people using the Substack platform have to make their own choice on whether to use the platform. Everyone must follow their own conscience on these matters.

But the people who don’t agree with Substack’s stance on the matter who demand the platform do something to censor the content of the platform because they don’t agree with it, are practicing censorship. They can go to a different platform and start over. Maybe it will change Substack’s mind, or hurt them financially enough that they are forced to close down. I doubt it, but anything is possible.

A free and healthy society should be able to discuss any and all topics without self-destructing. Nothing will satisfy or appease 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time. The users leaving Substack are trying to change society and denounce Nazis at the same time. Trying to bury the problem simply lets it spring up in another garden somewhere and take root again. Don’t believe that shouting about how bad Substack is because they have content you don’t like is going to change anything. Doing so is fixing the wrong problem.

Of course, the blade cuts both ways. How would the protesters feel if Substack shut down their newsletters about butterfly collecting because other users found the subject too boring and demand Substack ban them? A silly example I know, but I’ve found people in this world get upset over all sorts of odd things.

There are a number of people on this planet who say a number of things I don’t agree with. Even though I don’t agree with what they say, or even like what they say, I believe they have the right to say it. They don’t have the right to force me to listen to them, they don’t have the right to harass me for not listening to them, they are not free from any *consequences* for saying whatever they have to say. But they have the right to say it.

And yes, let’s cover the elephant in the room – child pornography falls under this too. No, I don’t think anyone should be publishing or consuming such content. There is definitely a failure in society that anyone even wants to produce or consume such content. We need to make the world better so that this type of content disappears on its own. Because censoring it is NOT going to make it go away. If people really want to consume such material they will find a way to get it. And there are other people who are more than happy to get rich selling it to them. That is a sad commentary on the human condition.

But freedom of speech means that they have the right to produce it. Again, see the note above that it *does not* protect the people producing / consuming it from the *consequences* of their actions.

If you disagree with me on any of the above, fine. That is your right. You can publish your own content telling everyone that I’m a horrible, stupid, devil-worshipper for believing the way I do. That is your right. I can’t censor you. I can sue you for defamation of character after the fact, but I can’t stop you from saying it in the first place. You can hit reply and tell me your views on the topic.

This is a large topic, more than can be covered in a few short paragraphs here. I’ll probably revisit it again at some point in the future.

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