Censorship Is Actually A Platform’s Only Real Job
Yesterday, The Verge released a podcast interview with Substack CEO Chris Best. And it did not go great. Best would not answer any questions at all about how racist content would be moderated on Substack’s new centralized social feed, Notes. And, at one point, interviewer and Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel told Best, “You know this is a very bad response to this question, right? You’re aware that you’ve blundered into this. You should just say no.”
The entire back and forth was, honestly, strange, considering Substack does have guidelines that prohibit hate speech and threats of physical harm. But to Best’s credit, Substack is a unique platform, in the sense that, up until Monday of this week, it was not really a platform at all, in the traditional sense. Substack primarily gives users the ability to send and monetize emails. It was very easy to use it and never encounter another Substack user. But over time, the company has added more and more community features. It has leaderboards, a recommendation system, an app that consolidates the feeds of all the newsletters you read, and, now, a big timeline for all of its users to interact inside of.
And, like all user-generated content platforms, even though Substack has guidelines against hateful content, there is, of course, plenty of it on the site. I’m not saying this to cancel Substack or anything. But bad people love finding ways to be bad online and at a certain scale, you’re just playing whack-a-mole with these freaks. And so there are nazis on here and transphobes doxxing random people and antivaxxers, you name it. And as Substack continues to centralize itself, it will become harder to ignore these writers and the audiences they’ve brought to the platform. And unlike, say, platforms like Instagram or Twitter, which still don’t really have totally clear creator deals, Substack offers monetization tools to any and all who want to turn them on, which means it’s in direct business with its users. So while in a sense all digital platforms are marketplaces, with the additions of Notes, Substack is now the ultimate content marketplace. A virtual mall with infinite storefronts. Which I think is a useful framework for understanding how Substack is evolving and why this generally fuzzy relationship to content moderation is going to get a little tough to stick with.
Imagine you’re a company that owns malls, like Simon Property Group. You find a nice desolate interstate at the edge of a small town, near a Denny’s, four gas stations, a Taco Bell, and maybe an out-of-business mattress store and you decide it’s the perfect place to build a new mall. What the heck, let’s pretend it’s the 2000s again. You open up spaces to various businesses and your usual clientele all scoop one up: GameStop, a craft beer place for Harry Potter couples to play cornhole, a GNC, that doomsday cult that owns the Cheesecake Factory, all your faves. You’re slightly uncomfortable with how many dildos Spencer’s Gifts sells, but you have rules about how prominently they can be displayed and they’re happy to put them behind the WWE merch and glow-in-the-dark bongs. All these businesses start getting settled into their new storefronts when a local vendor tries to lease a space. It’s a small business you’ve never heard of before called Nazi Rick’s Swastika Emporium. You do some research and you realize the name is very literal. It’s a store run by a white nationalist militia and they want to sell Nazi shit in your mall. This is actually a very easy decision for you. You tell them no. Now imagine you’re building out the food court. A local business called Mr. Germs Aren’t Real wants a spot in your food court. So, you do some digging, start seriously questioning building a mall in this town, and you discover it’s a restaurant that sells rotten uncooked meat run by someone who’s pretty good friends with Nazi Rick. Once again, this is a very easy decision for you. No fucking way.
I don’t think these hypotheticals are actually hard to talk about. Separating out controversial, but harmless users, or even acknowledging the difference between conservative users and dangerous extremists should not be difficult and, honestly, it should be something platforms are happy to talk about. For instance, though they eventually left Substack, and while I don’t agree with the politics of an outlet like The Dispatch, and I think it’s weird that its owners are hanging out with that billionaire nazi memorabilia collector that likes to buy real estate from Supreme Court justices, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that its content isn’t the same as The Daily Stormer’s. And, one could argue that, aside from making sure the infrastructure runs, the only job of a marketplace is to understand that difference. That’s it! At the end of the day, the only thing users need marketplaces for is to quickly and efficiently determine if adding a user or a business — or letting them stay — will positively or negatively impact the rest of the marketplace as a whole.
Speaking Of Marketplaces, Think About Supporting Mine!
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Let’s Check Back In On My AI Publishing Timeline
Back in February, I outlined a seven-point timeline for how I assumed major publishers would fight against and then ultimately accept and be absorbed by generative-AI. I titled this timeline, “I Hope I’m Wrong” lol. It turns out, I was, but not in a good way. Digital publishers are embracing generative-AI way faster than I expected.
Insider’s global editor-in-chief Nicholas Carlson sent out a memo to staff yesterday announcing that the company was launching “a pilot group of experienced producers, editors, and reporters to experiment with it as a word processing aid.”
And Insider isn’t the only publisher beginning to feel out exactly what AI means for their publishing apparatus. News Corp., in typical News Corp. fashion, wants to know if they can be compensated for their content that is getting hoovered up by these chatbots. And The Guardian, in typical Guardian fashion, recently announced that they will soon have an announcement about how they plan to innovate with generative-AI.
Writer Luke Winkie in Slate recently summed all of this up very well, writing, “If raw, unbridled content generation is a top priority—if an organization’s business model must be underwritten by vacant engagement—then a tool like ChatGPT has plenty of upside.”
And while I’m not ready to fully adjust my apocalyptic AI publishing timeline just yet, I think that’s a good way to characterize what’s happening right now. Publishers are, either consciously or unconsciously, deciding whether they are content companies or journalism companies. And the content companies will be the ones that embrace generative-AI the fastest.
Subscribe To Elon Musk For “Exclusive Memes”
Boy, when I blocked out today’s newsletter I didn’t think there’d be so much inside baseball media chatter in here, but TGIF, baby!! Elon Musk is barreling forward with some kind of creator monetization strategy for Twitter. I assume he’s spooked by Substack’s Notes. So Super Follows are being redeployed as “Subscriptions”. This news led to maybe the saddest, most pathetic tweet I’ve ever read:
Actually, Twitter user @cb_doge, I can almost certainly promise you it will be boring. If you want to see Musk’s “exclusive memes” without paying him money, just to go over to this website called reddit.com, click on the section called “All,” and sort the posts by “most popular”.
MrBeast Vs. Transphobia
Chris Tyson is a frequent MrBeast collaborator and last year, fans began noticing that Tyson appeared to be transitioning. This year, Tyson separated from his wife and then, this month, he announced that he now uses any pronouns and has begun hormone therapy.
It’s put Tyson in an extremely unique spot. He has essentially documented the slow process of coming to terms with his gender identity on the largest possible stage and has been open about how beneficial it’s been for his mental health. And, honestly, MrBeast has been really supportive, which is great! Other influencers, however, have been less supportive.
Streamer xQc called Tyson’s transition a “liability” for MrBeast’s brand and, most recently, SunnyV2, a popular YouTuber who does super dramatic “rise and fall” videos, published a video titled, “Why Chris Will Soon Be A Nightmare For MrBeast”. Which led to MrBeast actually tweeting a response:
Obviously, not the most elegant thing in the world, but I’d argue more impactful than any eye surgery video he produces. My favorite take on this, though, was from Twitter user @antinatesilver, who wrote, “This is basically how every normal, not-very-political person reacts once they realize how weird transphobes are.”
ChatGPT Is Going To Be Built Into Windows 11
Tom’s Guide has more details about this. I haven’t used a Windows device since XP (the best operating system of all time), but, apparently, there was a launcher feature in Windows 10 called Powertoys. And Tom’s Guide is reporting that ChatGPT will be integrated into Powertoys, which will let you summon the chatbot by typing “??” Neat!
I actually finally bit the bullet and subscribed to ChatGPT and set it up on my Mac with MacGPT. I’m not sure if I’ll use it enough to keep paying for it, but I’ve found that with all of these tools, if you start to try and find uses for them, you tend to keep finding new ways to use them. If that makes sense.
Here’s one way to use an AI: Extortion. A woman in Arizona reportedly got a call from an AI voice clone of her daughter claiming that she had been kidnapped and needed $1 million for a ransom. This is honestly a weird story and I’m not saying this woman is lying, but I’m wondering exactly how the scammers did it. I suppose if the daughter had enough clean audio on Instagram or something it might work. I learned in my experiments with ElevenLabs earlier this week you only need about 30-seconds of it to get a good AI clone up and running. But it’s still a weird story.
That said, I’ve been prepping my dad for eventual AI scam calls by tormenting him with voice notes from an AI clone of Joe Biden. Gotta train those ears fast.
Lofi Girl Has A Friend
This is fun, Lofi Girl, the YouTube channel that manages the mega-popular lofi hip hop radio station has launched a new stream called, “beats to chill/game to” with a new mascot, Synthwave Boy.
There was a whole interesting marketing rollout for the stream where a light appeared in one of the windows in the background of Lofi Girl’s stream and then after a countdown it was revealed that it was Synthwave Boy’s bedroom.
Also, from the Garbage Day archives, a reminder that Lofi Girl lives in Lyon, France.
Crypto Is Still Happening
The always sharp Molly White, the writer behind Web3 Is Going Just Great, spotted a very interesting startup listed among a16z’s big list of crypto companies in their portfolio, there’s one called E-PAL, which lets you “hire” “gamers”. “Being able to select the ePal and services for you ensures a safer, friendlier, and toxic-free gaming session whilst also encouraging genuine interactions and socializing with those who share your interests,” their blog reads.
So, first, this is so outrageously grim, just on its face, that I have trouble processing it. The “gamers” that you “hire” for “services” are paid in a virtual currency called buffs and I actually think it’s more depressing if it’s not a sex thing. But, second, as someone pointed out in White’s replies, it’s definitely a sex thing and E-PAL used to literally be called egirl.gg.
A Good TikTok
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Some Stray Links
“What Comes After TikTok” (I wrote this!)
P.S. here’s a good mood meter.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
The Nazi trolling has already begun on Notes, particularly on posts expressing some variation of, “Gee it would be nice if Substack had a coherent moderation policy for Notes”. Besides being toxic and bad and avoidable, this all also seems bad for Substack’s business?
Your obsession with censorship is fascinating.
There are awful people online? What?
Who could’ve thought!
Who gives a fuck? ( serious question )
Who appointed you as the hall monitor of the internet?
Or Is it just narcissism?