Americans woke up on Good Friday 2023 – the first Easter weekend in three years that held out the possibility that it would be somewhat normal – to a grim reality on Twitter. It was consistently blocking all engagement from any post with a link to Substack. I first saw the rumor and then tested it. It was and is true.
This came as a devastating shock to many of our best independent writers and thinkers who have found a home on Substack. They gain followers on Twitter and post their material, which inspires subscriptions and makes it possible for them to have a life and means of support. Without that ability, many careers will be devastated.
The platform of course is newly owned by Elon Musk, a self-described free-speech absolutist. What the algorithms are doing as I wrote is radically inconsistent with this. And maybe indeed it is all a mistake that will be reversed. Or maybe not. We are now at his mercy.
“We’re investigating reports that Twitter embeds and authentication no longer work on Substack,” Substack said. “We are actively trying to resolve this and will share updates as additional information becomes available.”
One theory is that Elon came after Substack for rolling out a Twitter rival called Notes. That seems pretty far-fetched to me. And yet Mashable goes further to say that Twitter is actively going to war against Substack.
Elon has so far (as of this writing) not spoken about the issue. This alone is rather spooky. It is possible that he is just working out a personal grievance but this affects everything and everybody.
If this turns out to be deliberate and Elon sticks with it, the effect on chilling research, writing, and free speech will be even worse than when Elon took over Twitter. It will also seriously hurt Substack too. There are huge businesses that are thriving there. It is one of the few bright spots on the Internet today. A loss of reach here will mean the further cartelization of opinion and ideas.
Over just a few months, the magic combination of Twitter and Substack have created a small zone of freedom in a media/tech system that seems otherwise 90 percent captured by industrial and government interests. With this combination, we’ve seen the rise of a powerful dissident press that offered the world some real hope that we can turn back the fascist tide.
The timing itself is alarming because the very woke ADL just published a big attack on Substack with the usual litany of complaints about how the platform is enabling disinformation.
“The ADL Center on Extremism observed a recent increase in Substack’s popularity, as well as several conspiratorial or extremist influencers either creating their own Substacks or directing their followers to others. A number of these Substack accounts were dedicated to spreading extremist, antisemitic and conspiratorial narratives, and several problematic authors are popular enough to have earned a ‘bestseller’ ranking on the platform.”
The article proceeds along familiar tactics. It lists aggressively hateful sites promoting real hate and anti-Semitism. As the reader warms up to the thesis and sees the point, the article starts including merely partisan material from Libs of TikTok, then goes after poor Steve Kirsch who writes mostly entirely about vaccines, and then even includes eminent scientist Robert Malone, just so we are clear about what is going on here.
The attack here is entirely pointless. The reader can handle egregious sites on Substack by simply not reading or subscribing. By throwing in good scientists with absolute hate-mongers, the article only serves a censorious agenda. I saw this piece only a few days ago and my first thought was: please not let it be so. To be clear, many Brownstone Institute writers are included in the list of bad guys by this woke ADL so it poses a real existential threat.
To be clear, there is no problem at all with the ADL’s posting a brutal attack on opinions they don’t like. But if this turns out to re-trigger the level of censorship we’ve had over 3 years – when government worked directly with social media to cast a single narrative in stone with grave consequences for science and society – it becomes a problem.
This sort of government/tech collaboration is being litigated now. But you can tell just how unafraid the platforms and government of the judgement are by their current behavior. LinkedIn, Google, Facebook, and the rest, are just as captured and controlled as they always have been. They have not relented at all even in the face of litigation that seems like it will be successful, whatever that means in this context.
Elon’s emancipation of Twitter from this machinery of control has been a true blessing for society and freedom. Together with Substack, Epoch Times, and a handful of other sites and institutions such as Brownstone, many have been given hope that the good guys will eventually prevail in this battle for free speech.
If this algorithmic change is for real and not rolled back, many hopes will be dashed. And keep in mind, even if Elon changes his mind or it is a mere mistake, this experience should serve as a warning against all forms of information centralization. There is only one future for freedom in today’s world, and it is entirely decentralized.
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