I just want to make it clear that we don’t like Nazis either—we wish no-one held those views. But some people do hold those and other extreme views. Given that, we don’t think that censorship (including through demonetizing publications) makes the problem go away—in fact, it makes it worse.
While McKenzie offers no evidence to back these ideas, this tracks with the company’s previous stance on taking a hands-off approach to moderation. In April, Substack CEO Chris Best appeared on the Decoder podcast and refused to answer moderation questions. “We’re not going to get into specific ‘would you or won’t you’ content moderation questions” over the issue of overt racism being published on the platform, Best said. McKenzie followed up later with a similar statement to the one today, saying “we don’t like or condone bigotry in any form.”
Substack has maintained this don’t moderate but occasionally condone stance for a while now. In a 2020 letter from Substack leaders, including Best and McKenzie, the company wrote, “We just disagree with those who would seek to tightly constrain the bounds of acceptable discourse.”
This latest clash over moderation comes after The Atlantic reported on Substack publications with “overt Nazi symbols” in their logos, several from prominent white nationalists, and other posts on Substack supporting those views. McKenzie’s response explains that absent an incitement to violence, Substack’s “decentralized approach to content moderation” response to that material is to publish it, monetize it, and continue to take a cut of the profits.
The Atlantic also pointed out an episode of McKenzie’s podcast with a guest, Richard Hanania, who has published racist views under a pseudonym. In his note, McKenzie says he doesn’t regret having the guest, and that “I didn’t know of those past writings at the time, and Hanania went on to disavow those views.” The article’s references to Hanania’s tweets from less than a month before the podcast episode went unaddressed.
His response similarly doesn’t engage other questions from the Substackers Against Nazis authors, like why these policies allow it to moderate spam and newsletters from sex workers but not Nazis.
McKenzie does, however, cite another Substack author who describes its approach to extremism as one that is “working the best.” What it’s being compared to, or by what measure, is left up to the reader’s interpretation.