Let's not turn Substack into the next OnlyFans
People who are thick as mince are best ignored with extreme prejudice
TL;DR: the longer this stupid freedom of expression row continues, the worse it will be. We can all do our bit to try to limit the damage. But it takes discipline.
There’s an optional hour and twenty minutes of interesting audio embedded, too, which might be good if you’re in the mood for that.
Emotions are contagious and addictive
Been thinking a lot about this ‘classic’ tweet.
Don't worry. The person was OK in the end.
They have a different account now, on X, still identifying as #FBPE* but also (obviously) #SlavaUkraini.**
[* Follow Back, Pro EU]
[** The hyper-Remain wing of Brexit politics hates Putin because they think he influenced the 2016 referendum at home and then installed Donald Trump over there.]
I shouldn't mock and I won't any further. That person has strong feelings about things and sometimes they are overwhelming. In the case of the suicide crisis, those feelings were about the vote that led Britain out of the European Union.
They were bad feelings, which I had at the time too, albeit to a non life-threatening extent. Anger, fear, frustration, shock.
These feelings were massively amplified by an emotional contagion effect that arises among groups.
Emotional contagion is a social phenomenon now employed as a business model. It ramps up attention, which means more eyeballs for adverts. As a hyper-social species we are vulnerable to the feelings of others and can unwittingly adopt them as our own feelings too.
It's a feedback loop. You feel mad about something you've seen and then everyone else gets mad too. You see their anger and it amplifies your own. You emote even more, which encourages everyone else to. Plus, of course, pleasant feelings arise from the sense of groupish fellowship you get among likeminded people, which is reassuring and gratifying.
There are all kinds of other subtleties at play too. Our desire for attention on social platforms and our intuition that the best way to get it is to post content with high emotional valence. The content with the strongest energy to agitate always gets the most traction, so you are incentivised to broadcast ever stronger feelings, to avoid being the also-ran who gets little attention.
As Rob Henderson says, reviewing Cass Sunstein's book Conformity:
"Groups act as affect multipliers. They increase the credibility and acceptability of certain ideas held by those in the group. Consider outrage culture. In the age of social media, individuals initially outraged when confronted with an act of moral wrongdoing become even more outraged after consulting with their respective group."
I’m in a kind of group at the moment. The pro-keep-Substack-just-as-it-is group. I’m feeling feelings too, one of which is outrage.
It’s more like a game than we often realise
An episode from my old podcast explored another aspect of this. It's an interview with philosopher C Thi Nguyen, who sketched out his then nascent theory of 'Quantified Motivation' to explain some of the underpinnings for our behaviour on social platforms, especially in echo chambers.
Game on! Quantified motivation & value capture: things we don't notice in online social life
[If you do listen to this, skip to 6 min 45 to avoid some unnecessary preamble]
Why write this, now?
It’s because of the current flap in Substackistan about freedom of expression.
If you're lucky enough to be unaware of it, here's a quick recap.
A guy who blogs on Substack had a piece published in the Atlantic headlined 'Substack Has A Nazi Problem'. It has been picked up in all the usual places.
He seems to want Substack to remove (or penalise in some way) some blogs. I’m aware of some of them and they’re just conservative blogs. The rest I’ve never heard of. I think he found 16. The story has gone well for him.
Substack is a platform predicated on freedom of expression, so the reaction has been predictable.
A load of radical people, like recipe bloggers, music writers, literature lovers, fiction authors, Christians, stoics ... you get the picture ... are annoyed at this manifestation of authoritarian leftishism and believe that they are capable of choosing for themselves what they read and subscribe to.
So there's now a bit of a war on between people calling for censorship by Substack and people who want to make their own reading choices.
Count me among the latter.
Here's a synopsis of my position.
[You have to click on that to expand it to the full post. Or not bother. Up to you]
I posted that on Substack's Twitter-like short post feed, called Notes. It's where people share articles and opinions.
Notes has been a refreshing place to discover articles I wouldn't otherwise have known about and exchange opinions on them. Disagreements often arise and seem to be navigated respectfully, making it quite unlike the free-for-all of Twitter/X.
That is until the authoritarian leftish came looking for things to ban.
So now Notes is full of leftish slacktivists complaining about the pushback from writers who came here in the first place to escape their censorious bullshit.
Suddenly Notes requires the patience of a saint, as bad faith/lazy/unsophisticated actors line up to drop ad hominems into the mentions of anyone who thinks a change to Substack’s rules and culture isn't the way to address an obvious storm in a teacup.
Of course they're using all the tools at our disposal in internet disagreements, to provoke a reaction.
My personal ‘favourite’ moment was an exchange where a couple of them discuss how I am a 'boring' and 'predictable' member of the 'alt-right'* for preferring to curate my own feed, rather than have Substack determine what I can and can't see.
[* It's quaint to see 'alt-right' still in use as a term, when it went out of circulation several years ago, which singles these particular people out as archetypal midwits, still fighting the Twitter battles of 2016-18. The kind of people I torched my Twitter to escape]
I'm calling it; these people are thick as mince.
And therein lies the rub.
This is my personal vulnerability.
I really am my own worst enemy at these times.
Yes, it's funny. Once you notice. Then you can practice not reacting.
But what's been happening is that people I like and follow - and people they like and follow - have been getting angry and their feelings have been rubbing off on me. I've had thick as mince types in my mentions and then I've seen others I respect having pointless to-and-fros with similarly challenged do-gooding leftishy midwits and it's just been getting me mad.
Just glad that I spotted this. Emotional contagion, masked as being right on the internet.
So I'm undertaking not to bother with these authoritarian wannabe gatekeepers. With their ironic similarities to the supposed nazis they don't like.
I'll leave them to enjoy the tiny dopamine burst they get by insulting someone they don't know in connection with a perspective they cannot grasp.
I've been there before. When my Twitter was unusable for several days after pointing out on a podcast how data showed that people in the #FBPE group were behaving exactly like bots.
They were dementedly upset about it. To the extent that the Twitter app kept crashing every time I went to look at the welter of mentions that they were orchestrating in their Discord channels. Something I assume the current Substack detractors are doing now. You can’t fault the leftish for their organisational skills.
The actually important point
There's also a practical reason not to engage with them, which doesn't hinge on these people mostly being thick as mince.
Every time we engage with an idiot on the internet we give them what they want; our time and attention. Which they mostly don't deserve. Being thick as mince.
Worse, though, is the fact that as long as we keep this supposed ‘debate’ live, the wider attention it's likely to get - and the faster it will leak out into the mainstream.
The longer this goes on the more chance there is of Substack becoming the next OnlyFans.
When OnlyFans was launched it was for creators in general. People started offering fitness tuition, music lessons, cookery demonstrations and just about any kind of content that they could monetise.
Just like Substack has done for independent writers, of every persuasion.
But OnlyFans is now almost exclusively known for porn, presumably because adult content creators enjoyed a certain notoriety. News of their activities leaked into the mainstream in a way that other content didn’t.
It no longer matters that there is still a diverse array of content on OnlyFans. I was so unsure of this that I had to check. Yes, apparently there is still plenty of non-porn OnlyFans content.
In passing I'm indebted to Mike Alexander (of) for observing that porn often drives other content out, as it has for example on Tumblr too. And that this is why Substack's rules (yes, it does regulate content) preclude porn.
Swap porn for nazi content.
The longer this silly debate goes on, the more likely we are to be joined by idiots from places like 8kun. They'll hear that people are upset about nazis on Substack and they'll love that. They will want in on the crack.
If I were an 8kun troll I'd definitely be setting up a Substack now, to stir this pot.
If I decided to offer visual content that I wanted to monetise now, the last place I'd choose would be OnlyFans.
Imagine telling people you've got an OnlyFans.
This is what will happen with Substack, if we’re unlucky enough for the slur to stick.
‘Oh, you're on Substack, where all the nazis are. Nice.’
I assume that this is part of the intention at the more cunning end of this leftishist assault on a successful alternative media platform, where they don't hold the sway to which they feel entitled.
They want Substack to be reputationally tainted.
The data show that independent media platforms of all kinds are where the money is. As Ted Gioia convincingly demonstrated in his recent piece here. Substack is hitting the traditional media where it hurts most - in talent attrition.
The number of journalists jumping ship from onetime legacy media behemoths to publish here - and bring their readers with them - is growing. Gioia shows how revenues are plummeting in corporate media as readers, new and established writers look to more interesting places to consume and produce.
Of course Substack won't collapse, but the longer this kerfuffle continues the more it will make writers think twice about associating themselves with our platform. And the leftishist slacktivists are gleefully promising not to let up until they get what they want, which is everyone going back to the places on their approved lists, talking only in approved ways about their approved topics.
It will be infuriating and we will be unable to prevent them by argument.
The best we can do is not to amplify them.
That begins with me not taking them on when they jab, duck and weave among my Notes.
If you're a writer here, please consider doing the same.
Like me, notice the dopamine as a red flag and instead crack on with what you always do.
And if anyone ever says 'oh, that's where the nazis are?' just laugh.
Back on Twitter there was a ‘notorious’ troll who fashioned an image for himself as a nazi. He’d get banned and then come back again and again. Eventually he was doxxed by an enterprising group of tweeters and he turned out to be just a weirdo loner used car trader or small time scrap dealer or something, with no girlfriend or life to speak of. I think he even started up a political party, with silly nazi references in the branding. Can’t really remember now.
Last week, for the first time since I’ve been on Substack, a pseudonymous account called something ‘Spangler’ popped up dropping context-free nonsense after my comments on other people’s posts (and on Rarely Certain) about Jewish bankers. There was something very familiar about the language and tone, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the same guy.
I assumed that it was all the talk about nazis that brought him out of the shadows. Or maybe it was just coincidence. He was the first example of that culture I’ve ever seen around here (unlike Twitter, where there always seemed to be a lot of them). Anyway, I just muted and blocked him, on quality and relevance grounds.
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