115 Comments

I don’t understand how you write about the importance of free speech and then say you don’t allow “porn” without defining it or explaining that decision.

First off, you aren’t protecting free speech if you’re censoring sex. But second, this leaves content creators who address sex in an uncertain, precarious position. What counts as porn? Who decides when that line is crossed? What happens to the creator when it’s crossed?

You’re a private company and you have every right to censor content you deem pornographic. But don’t pretend to be principled defenders of free speech if you’re going to censor sexual expression.

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That's a reasonable objection, Cathy. If we think of Substack as an open public community, however, then it's consistent with geographical communities, where pornography or overt sexual expression are not permitted in public. As such, freedom of speech in public does not include freedom to display pornographic or graphically sexual content in public. When we add the component of a public community setting, that changes the application of types of appropriate expression. So do we want Substack to be open and public, or to have private clubs going on behind the scenes not explicitly publicly available? If the latter, then it alters the dynamic of the community considerably. It's not just a preference to check off, but a fundamental aspect.

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You’ve also failed to define pornography. And who prohibits porn in public? Also the internet is not a geographic area so it’s not really analogous at all.

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Neither of us specifically defined pornography. We were both making our introductory statements. I did give an implied meaning when I likened it to sexual expression in public which is not legally allowed. The online display of the type of sexual behavior that wouldn't be legal in public in real life would be a good starting point for what would constitute pornography for the purposes of a public online community. You may be looking for a one-size-fits-all application or definition, but as I mentioned, there are other factors in play here. The distinction between public and private must be made. Is Substack going to have private sectors for exclusive access? That would play in to the decision.

You asked who prohibits pornography in public. Pornography openly displayed or blatant sexual expression/activity in public places is against the law. Nudist colonies don't simply appear when you walk around a corner. There's a defined process to access them. They are not part of the public arena.

Your last comment seems self-contradictory. It's true that the internet is not a geographic area, because it's an analogy. If it were the same, it wouldn't be an analogy.

What I didn't elaborate on yet is the role of persons in public in real life vs. the role of posted content in an internet community. The content becomes the people, the actors. Thus posting content of that nature in a public community would be akin to engaging in sexual activity out in public in real life.

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Her objection isn't serious enough to be treated seriously. She's playing "progressive" word games, which is what her kind does.

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Lewts even go to Diogenes. He has been said to advocate doing EVERYTHING in public that one does in private. If porn is to be everywhere, even here, then so is pooping and peeing sans underwear. Just like Diogenes. No discrimination about what you cant show!

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Thank you for your very well reasoned and considerate response.

Both your response and reading through Substack's view of content moderation were a breath of fresh air to me.

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You are welcome, Jeff. I feel it's good to be forthcoming, take a rational approach, compare ideas, and see where that leads. To me, that's a great way to understand other perspectives and learn more about those perspectives as well as your own.

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I shall not...attempt...to define ["hard-core pornography"]... But I know it when I see it.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart

1964, Jacobellis v. Ohio

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Tl;dr - the best reason to disallow porn is that every time you allow it into a generalized space, it takes over the space. It’s the kudzu of the Internet. And it has plenty of its own space on an internet that has infinite space.

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We know it when we see it, and so do you. Play a smarter game.

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And here I thought you'd be impressed with my Justice Stewart quote...

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Good job defining subjective! Do you want a cookie? Is “define words” the smart game you’re playing?

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There's no lack of porn on the internet. It doesn't have to be everywhere, no matter how much you want it to be. Oh, and thanks so much for your condescension. You must be a "progressive" too. LOL

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you my dear are snide, not a worthy behavior to embrace

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Cathy, what may be pornographic may not be easy to define precisely but it is easy to identify. Anybody can tell what is pornographic without it being defined.

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That's a contradiction in terms but okay

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OMG tell that to the school boards across the world right now. You can't read it out loud in the meeting, but it can be in the library of a 6 year old. The world health organisation is trying to teach children to masturbate by the age of 4 and they are designing books that I view as porn for 3-8 year olds. This is site really does need to consider this more carefully as I would like to write here but it's just to vague and the right are trying to stop all people learning about sex it seems.

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Images aren't a problem for me. Language is though. I'm a potty mouth who talks explicitly about body parts and functions in my LGBTQIA+ advocacy and some of the people i interview are worse. My hater's comments are really bad. I put trigger warnings on everything that will be NSFW or TMI for kids and the sexually repressed.

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I agree that if a warning is there, then don't read it. We shouldn't all be sexually oppressed because a few are.

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Dec 16, 2023·edited Dec 16, 2023

I also write about sex love and intimacy and I would never consider what I write about as porn, even it's it's how to have an 8 inch anal cherry pop. I'm assuming this is a site for adults, although I didn't see any age guidelines in your introduction. I don't consider an image of a man and woman embracing each other as porn, but I would never include it without education, or inspiration to live a happy more fulfilling life.

As someone who is following the WHO education guidlines sexualizing our children, I'm absolutely shocked at the number of adults who are offended by the mere topic of many marriage end in divorce due to mismatch sexual styles and desires and how they are communicated.

I see sexy photos all over in public which I would consider soft porn, or on TV.

I would say that perhaps a guidelines on what is allowed on Netflix with a warning on the top, should be in place.

I personally am not writing as I don't trust this platform as I have censorship PTSD. But I have a big database that would love to see me writing again - instead of just trauma vomiting.

You can't write well with no trust in the platform and I feel the person makes valid points for those of us that are looking to discuss issues that do lean on the erotica side.

As a sex educator, I write a lot of bdsm type behavior modification to the government in my dissent - I bet a lot of my memes and writing I send to the government would be deemed as erotica.

For example;

I want to organize a world tour, where hire out an arena and people can volunteer to take a dump in Trudeaus mouth whilst wearing a black catsuit with a red lace up back and 6 inch heals - the tour in my fantasy is called the Red Tape Tour. And it opens with putting the director of the CIA and various others in a trample cage.

And of course, I have a meme made that I sent to a special agent who was assigned by the CIA to gang stalk me whilst they corrupted my medical records. I've been kidnapped and tortured twice by the police as I'm exposing human trafficking. And I am playing dirty too!

I have medical sadism as a result of the governments torture of me the last three years. This means I am turned on by wounds and bruises or if someone falls down.

I should be free to explore this in whatever automatic writing I need to process my trauma and heal... Without worrying if I'm going to cross the line of porn.

I don't know what others intentions are but substacks based on education, healing and personal growth should be able to express themself freely.

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I think the public community forum is a good analogy. While porn - even at my age - is entertaining, that's not what I came here for, and it's a distraction. I came to find a place where vastly differing opinions can be laid bare so that I can choose among them, since I do NOT trust the mainstream media in any way. I dumped my satellite dish literally into my pond and have never been on any social media of any kind. I need a good neutral source for opinion and good writing.

I like that you are up front and that you lay your decisions out in public along with the reasoning thereof. I came here following Bari Weiss and think I may have also otherwise found a home. Thank you so much. Let's hope it lasts.

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The main point of this post is that you get to choose what you see. So if you didnt come here for that, don't subscribe to the post which talk about sex openly as part of their journey.

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I doubt they have any moral objection to it. But in general, if a site allows porn, it rapidly becomes a porn site. Look at OnlyFans, which started as a site for fans of assorted niche interests, only four years ago, and is a byword for porn today. I suspect that they just want to avoid Substack turning into that, because it's not the business they want to run.

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I agree as I was a fan of Quora until I discovered it had loads of pornographic posts and questions. Stopped using it as I’m not against porn just think it’s a private matter.

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I realized Quora was far left so I never go there.

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It's like if you want to keep a sensible profound conversation inside a group where there are shouting thugs.

Or, in another metaphor, if you try to keep an electrical circuit operating, and thrusting it in high voltage.

It takes some moderation to think about the deep.

Porn doesn't tell you "a big deal" (pun intended) on sex, rather limiting itself to the empty repetition of violence.

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Your point is well taken and as a writer, I understand your question and concern. However, pornography is generally viewed not only as a form of journalism, "art", or other media but to many, a form of abuse and/or discrimination. In fact, the county where I lived back in the early 80s banned adult book stores not on moral grounds but because of civil rights violations. While many people, myself included, do find porn morally objectionable, it is actually the degradation of people, generally women, which makes it prohibited in many cases.

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After reading through these comments, I have to say, this is the one i appreciate the most. Just a bystander but you allowed me to have some very clear, well constructed understanding of both sides of the discussion. Plopping in not to contribute anything to the conversation but to merely say; thank you.

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Thank you. I try to be as open and objectionable as possible, understanding that "Free Speech" is certainly protected under the First Amendment. As a Christian writer, I would hate to see a day when my faith was censored by the government and I could no longer write/publish because of it. By the same token, freedoms of any kind cannot be left to run amuck if they then infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others. Then we must ask where the line must be drawn.

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Free speech is protection from *government* censorship. Private corporations and individuals are free to regulate speech in their own spheres, for the most part. That’s why private schools are able to restrict expression while public schools are on much thinner ice when they do so. The consumer is free to go elsewhere, or not.

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Do you like women !Porn crushes women , we may not outlaw it , however making it clear what the goal is ...

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The porn regulation is, I guarantee, to keep their payment processor happy. Mastercard rules with an iron fist, and one of their stands is, essentially, no porn.

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A breath of fresh air.

Thank you for bucking the trend.

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This is an awesome read. I'm really pleased to see more and more people speaking out against censorship and cancel culture. Hopefully as more writers come to Substack to gain control of their content rights, the overall price of a subscription will go down. Then the value of the content will go up, and we can further form Substack into a stronger decentralized media platform. This is the way. Legacy social media is something one has to conform to for a long while. New social media like Substack offer a platform to build on. I'm looking forward to seeing more features implemented.

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I was pleasantly surprised by Substacks stance on censorship which honestly I wouldn't have expected being located in San Francisco.

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Impressive and bold statement, but if we're all to be honest the real test of things will probably not be with Substack, but with the payment processors when someone significantly odious enough (to the external censors) is deemed unworthy of a platform.

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That's why Substack 2.0 should be blockchain based. They can integrate the payment method. Cryptocurrency is a marketplace, and it's possible to trade various types using exchanges like Coinbase and converters such as ShapeShifter. Simply move your Substack balance as another currency into your bank account via the regular withdrawal methods. If they do it well enough and make it a vibrant enough platform, perhaps they get bought by Apple and integrated into the Apple services stack. ApplePay, etc. That's one of the big benefits of vertical integration; it becomes really easy to make technological improvements on previous ideals.

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Thanks for that. Now would you care to put that into English, or is that something techno-nerds just do not ever do?

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Which part? lol

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All of it, thanks so much. LOL

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He’s basically saying eventually payment processors like Visa will yield to pressure from the left to disallow payments to certain writers or platforms and the way around that is by paying in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, which is unblockable and untraceable.

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Pretty much. And that those that integrate Bitcoin, or rather blockchain technology, will be set to ride the wave of increasing value.

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Our Substack site when live today: speakupmag.com. It is a voice for those without: homeless, addicted, incarcerated.

This post is incredibly reassuring and appreciated. Thank you for standing for free speech and expression, even when it is uncomfortable.

I think we'll be here for a long time.

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Subscribed! Welcome to Substack. :)

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Terrific! Thank you.

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I think narcotics dealers are vampires and should be executed. Users are zombie and should be sent to prison to "detox." Both groups are worthless, and we would be much better off if they'd just speed up their suicides.

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Can you delete my words?

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This is the correct way to think - and I think it prevents a slippery slope from happening at Substack. Thank you for laying this all out. Respect you so much more for doing so. Readers will censor out the writers that are unacceptable by not reading their writing. Eventually, if no one is reading it, the writers stop. This is how it should work.

Quote (and the right way to handle this):

Ultimately, we think the best content moderators are the people who control the communities on Substack: the writers themselves. On our platform, each publication is its own dominion, with readers and commenters who have gathered there through common interests. And readers, in turn, choose which writers to subscribe to and which communities to participate in. As the meta platform, we cannot presume to understand the particularities of any given community or to know what’s best for it.

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I already comments about how this post is a breathe of fresh air, but I also want to say that if you really want to put content creators in charge, you need to support another video platform other than YouTube or Vimeo. YouTube is going absolutely nuts with censoring people and I don't want to support them anymore. Vimeo is not really set up as a platform that you want to send people to. Consider LBRY or Brighteon, or such. Don't force us to use YouTube please!

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Agreed. I am trying to taper off YouTube and have been searching for options. I'm fed up with their aggressive, Big Brother Censorship. I hadn't noticed it yet on Vimeo.

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Everything about this manifesto is amazing! Both as a paying subscriber and content creator, I feel strongly about your philosophy. Keep fighting the good fight, and keep building great things!

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It was refreshing to read this. When I read the subject line I rolled my eyes and thought “here we go again” but was pleasantly surprised. Let’s hope you can stay the course (please do)! And please promote/award grants/fellowships to writers of myriad perspectives on our culture’s most difficult issues.

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Appreciate the thoughtfulness, both in how you view the media business and how you craft the product. A balanced position, and I hope that you are able to manage it. I share your view of the future of media, and hope you can see it through.

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Completely agree. It starts with the business model. Even the overall positivity of this comment section proves that Substack is doing it right.

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The test of all those high-blown words will come the minute the "progressives" decide you are "phobic." And since you've proclaimed yourselves to be liberal yourselves, I think we can reasonably assume that Substack will hop on board the Cancel Train, with plenty of mush-mouth excuses. Or maybe not, but I will not be holding my breath waiting for Substack to fight for freedom of thought.

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The author says they are, "liberal in the general sense". I suspect, you, me, and most of the commentators here are also.

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I've been online longer than a whole lot of the "influencers" have been alive. I have miles on the tires, and predict that Substack will go the way of Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Google, the New York Times, and CNN. I'd love to be wrong, but I'm not going to be. Just wait; you will see.

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Just yesterday I was reflecting on what exactly was so 'distasteful' about FB and IG in particular. This has been a conversation among my clients. I had come around to the fact that the values and the beliefs expressed through the actions and presentation of those companies and their apps are not ones I align with. Facebook shows what's important through it's tool/app.

Substacks values and ethics seeped through. Before I read this I had a strong sense. But after reading, I'm overjoyed. This is the type of company I want to affiliate with. One, because the values you share I align with. BUT also because you actually shared and clarified your values and beliefs.

That's important. What we stand for matters. Thank you.

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I have been writing the weekly Friday Letter newsletter since January 2009. Until recently we were distributed by MailChimp, which cancelled us last month because we did not meet its content standards -- what those violation are MailChimp did not say. It is not difficult to figure out, as we write on constitutional conservatism. But we don't ridicule people for their appearance, certainly not their race, and we don't use vulgarity in outlining our political differences with people. I have been a reporter and editor for a very long time, going back to the Greenfield Daily Reporter in Indiana in the 1970s, and I have never been sued for libel or sanctioned. I mention this because of the gratitude my video production partners and I have for Substack. Our numbers are still very small, but last week we had 784 views, vastly more than in any week before we joined. We're going to stay free for a while, but I am motivated by the message above from Chris, Hamish, and Jairaj to start making this thing happen financially. Writing is fun, but getting paid to write is more fun, and I have experienced that in both peer-reviewed academic writing and in published journalism. I regret not having the source of this, but a well-known writer gives this advice: write for love, write for pleasure, but always for money.

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Do you have a Substack newsletter? When I click on your name, I see your profile but not anything to subscribe to. (I'm a newbie)

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Thank you for your inquiry! If you will send your preferred email address, I will add you to the list. You should be able to click on subscribe, but I can add your name. We do not share email addresses with anyone. Regards, Stephen Combs

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Thank you for putting this out there. Activists from all corners might come for you, but writers will settle in because of this announcement. I have known about Substack for a year and held off making it my primary platform because I wanted to see where it stood on free speech.

Substack's revenue model rewards writers for trusting them: help us grow, and we become happy to share the revenue. But if writers grow, and then start getting policed for their expression, Substack will have helped them grow an audience only to see them leave for an alternative platform, and miss out on the profit sharing. So Substack has skin in the game to stand by their announcement!

This month I started setting up on Substack, but my posts so far are in draft mode and I had not yet announced to my content marketing newsletter that we have a new home. I guess I was waiting to see proof that I can trust Substack to be a "forever" home for my content.

I am relieved to see this post. I'll be bringing my audience across. Cheers team!

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Thank you for this. It is one thing to think that free speech is important, it is another to base your business model on it, but to state publicly that you believe that all voices should be heard is truly impressive and takes great courage, I commend you. I have subscribed to 2 newsletters and now plan on doing even more to support you, because when the cancel crowd comes for you, as they inevitably will do, I would like to know that I did what I could to support you. Thank you again.

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