Substack's Graham Linehan Conundrum
In June of 2020, Twitter permanently banned Graham Linehan for “repeated violations of our rules against hateful conduct and platform manipulation.” As a response to the social media company removing his access, Linehan made the logical next step for anyone looking to rid themselves from the tyranny of editorial constraint.
He started a Substack.
At The Glinner Update, Linehan “covers” things like signing up for a lesbian dating app and posting screenshots of users, constantly misgendering trans folks, sharing pre-transition photos of trans women without their consent, and other creepy shit. In fact, Linehan’s had such a grand time on the platform he’s about to open up a second Substack called The War on Women which promises to document “the current onslaught against women and the measures women are taking to fight back.”
While The Glinner Update is free to read, Linehan offers paid subscription plans that allow users to comment on posts. (He’s had paid subscriptions turned on since July in an attempt to censor those commenting.) Here are what the plans cost:
In the introduction to her new newsletter Trashberg, Substack’s latest Pro Ashley Feinberg said the company confirmed to her Linehan is not on a Pro contract, meaning that he’s on the standard Normie deal like any old fool who starts one. This means he keeps 90% of the subscription money, while Substack gets the other 10%. It’s unclear how many paid subscribers Linehan has, so it’s unknown how much money Substack has made from subscribers who support his posts.
It’s been obvious for awhile that Linehan would be a big hurdle for Substack’s techno-libertarian view on content moderation. While other writers on the platform have been branded anti-trans, Linehan’s posts have always been something extra, and maybe even more importantly, Twitter’s ban set a precedent that all other platforms must now respond to.
Seemingly in an attempt to get ahead of this, Substack recently re-explained their moderation process. A lot of it is standard boilerplate—no nudes, no spam, no plagiarism—but there are two sections that seem like pressure points for the Linehan Conundrum:
We do not allow doxxing, defined as the public sharing of private information (such as a home phone number or physical address) without their permission, or threatening to do so. This does not include acts of legitimate journalism, which often involves publishing information that some would rather be kept private, but does include attempts to intimidate people by publishing private information, especially for the purpose of inciting harassment or threats.
We do not allow hate, defined as publishing content or funding initiatives that call for violence, exclusion, or segregation based on protected classes. This does include serious attacks on people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or medical condition. It does not include attacks on ideas, ideologies, organizations, or individuals for other reasons, even if those attacks are cruel or unfair.
Like most other platform rules, they’re written vague enough that Substack can interpret them however they want. Is posting screenshots from a dating app a from of doxxing? Does Linehan’s constant misgendering constitute attacks based on gender and/or sexual orientation? There’s no need to ask Substack what they think as they’ve already answered them simply by allowing Linehan to continue using their platform. That’s how platform ownership works.
What remains to be seen is if those working with/for Substack can force the company to change its mind. As Feinberg put later, Substack currently feels “up for grabs.”
[N]othing about Substack right now is inevitable. […] There is nothing intrinsic to the idea of a newsletter platform that ensures it swings to the right. There are no algorithms here favoring angry disputation and reactionary shit-stirring.
Whether or not Substack writers can actually force the company to bend in any direction other than reactionary shit-stirring will likely be answered by how long Linehan is allowed to use their platform. Every post that goes by without the company taking a stance is one more notch in the “nope” column.
All posts will remain free on Substack as I won’t be using their system of paid subscriptions. If you wish to tip, feel free to drop dough at Venmo (Rick-Paulas) or Paypal (rickpaulas@gmail). Thanks!