Passion Procrastination: We've moved!

We'd like to procrastinate away from the Nazis, please.

If you’re reading this, you might have already noticed that this newsletter wasn’t sent to you via Substack. That’s right, Passion Procrastination has moved house. 

There wasn’t anything wrong with Substack’s tech. It was free and fantastically easy to use, and we defaulted to it when setting up the newsletter because all three of us were familiar with using it. For a small, free newsletter, Substack worked like a dream. It’s just that, as happens way too often these days, Substack has a Nazi problem. 

Substack has content guidelines that say that it “cannot be used to publish content or fund initiatives that incite violence based on protected classes.” Still, it’s been reported that the platform not only hosts explicit Nazi content, but makes money off it too.

This is what Jonathan M. Katz wrote in The Atlantic in November:

At least 16 of the newsletters that I reviewed have overt Nazi symbols, including the swastika and the sonnenrad, in their logos or in prominent graphics. Andkon’s Reich Press, for example, calls itself “a National Socialist newsletter”; its logo shows Nazi banners on Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, and one recent post features a racist caricature of a Chinese person. A Substack called White-Papers, bearing the tagline “Your pro-White policy destination,” is one of several that openly promote the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that inspired deadly mass shootings at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue; two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques; an El Paso, Texas, Walmart; and a Buffalo, New York, supermarket. Other newsletters make prominent references to the “Jewish Question.” Several are run by nationally prominent white nationalists; at least four are run by organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—including the rally’s most notorious organizer, Richard Spencer.

Some Substack newsletters by Nazis and white nationalists have thousands or tens of thousands of subscribers, making the platform a new and valuable tool for creating mailing lists for the far right. And many accept paid subscriptions through Substack, seemingly flouting terms of service that ban attempts to “publish content or fund initiatives that incite violence based on protected classes.” Several, including Spencer’s, sport official Substack “bestseller” badges, indicating that they have at a minimum hundreds of paying subscribers. A subscription to the newsletter that Spencer edits and writes for costs $9 a month or $90 a year, which suggests that he and his co-writers are grossing at least $9,000 a year and potentially many times that. Substack, which takes a 10 percent cut of subscription revenue, makes money when readers pay for Nazi newsletters.

In response, Substack’s co-founder Hamish McKenzie wrote that “we don’t like Nazis either”, then went on to argue that “we don't think that censorship (including through demonetizing publications) makes the problem go away—in fact, it makes it worse”. In other words: nope, Substack isn’t going to kick Nazi publications off its platform.

There’s a lot that can be said about how untenable Substack’s position on content moderation (or the lack thereof) is. It’s worth pointing out that the right to freedom of expression doesn’t mean that tech companies are obliged to amplify and trade off hateful speech and expression. I could say a lot about these things, but that’ll make this newsletter read like my work writing, so I’ll just keep my reaction here to this:

Ugh. Or, as they say in the k dramas we watch, “진짜 짜증나 (jinjja jjajeungna)!”

Passion Procrastination doesn’t make any money, so we were at least not paying into Substack’s coffers alongside Nazis. (What a sentence to have to write…) But Passion Procrastination is also supposed to be a fun newsletter, a respite from the obligations and responsibilities of our regrettably serious adult lives. It’s not nice to be reminded, every time we log in to what is meant to be a safe, happy space, of the ‘ick’ of using a service that openly defends keeping Nazis on their platform (and profiting off it too). 

We’ve up and decamped to Beehiiv (here’s hoping their leadership aren’t also Milkshake Ducks 🤞🏼). It was thankfully very easy to shift everything over, and it’s not like this has been a regular newsletter anyway, so there should be no ‘disruption’ to speak of. 

We know it’s been awhile since you heard from us; we’ve been… erm… procrastinating. 😅 Peiying and I were together on a road trip last week, during which we intended to co-write a review of a drama we both enjoyed. But we didn’t do it in the end, because we were too busy having fun and chilling out to want to procrastinate. 

We promise to be back soon! Once the holiday period is over there will surely be a ton of things that will make us want to procrastinate again.

Oh, and Merry Christmas!