Covid-19 brought an interesting issue to the surface. What happens when social media sites decide to censor information that they deem false? During the Covid-19 pandemic, many doctors were censored for opposing things such as lockdowns, vaccinations, and mandates. Doctors expressing unpopular opinions or differing data findings were promptly flagged, suspended, or banned. Because of this, many of the censored doctors fled to Substack to continue writing.
What exactly is Substack?
Hamish McKenzie, Chris Best, and Jairaj Sethi created Substack in 2017. It is essentially a blog and email newsletter platform. Writers can decide whether to make their content accessible for free or with a paid subscription. Consumers are often able to access some of the content online for free, in blog format. Subscribers receive the content in their email inboxes. Writers that choose to utilize the subscription format pay a 10% fee to Substack.
Substack received an influx of users and a place in the spotlight in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Social media sites like Twitter censored many users for propagating “misinformation.” Some of the censored users were simply online personalities such as Joe Rogan, who is well known for his conspiracy theories and polarizing opinions. However, some of the censored users were doctors. Dr. Peter McCullough, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Dr. Robert Malone, and Dr. Rashid Buttar are just a few of the censored doctors.
For their remarks regarding the Covid-19 virus and frequently the MRNA vaccinations in particular, these censored physicians as well as numerous others faced harsh criticism. Much of their content is very controversial, hence becoming banned from social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
After becoming banned from social media platforms, many of these controversial doctors fled to Substack. Substack allowed them to continue expressing their findings and opinions freely. In turn, Substack received intense backlash for harboring doctors perceived by many as misleading frauds.
Substack responded in an article written by founders Hamish McKenzie, Chris Best, and Jairaj Sethi titled “Society has a trust problem. More censorship will only make it worse.” The title of the article perfectly encapsulates the sentiments of the founders. They quote in the article, “we will always view censorship as a last resort because we believe open discourse is better for writers and better for society.”
Rise of Subscriptions?
Those fleeing from social media censorship and Substack have formed a sort of symbiotic relationship. Many of the censored doctors are noted to have tens of thousands of Substack subscribers. Substack’s subscription model has proven very successful. Doctors choosing to write articles expressing opinions that are not politically accepted have grown a dedicated subscriber base. Many consumers appear interested in investigating the suppressed information.
The doctors voicing contentious Covid-19 results and opinions do not only attract a sizable subscriber base; they also represent one of Substack’s major revenue streams. According to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, Anti-vax content has supposedly brought in $2.5 million. While Substack takes their 10% cut, 90% of the revenue goes to the writer themselves.
Many social media sites are currently undergoing controversy due to their censorship, including that of the doctors. After Elon Musk purchased Twitter, he has been releasing information pertaining to the previous owners of Twitter’s suppression of information and collusion with the federal government.
With many content producers such as doctors and now many consumers fleeing social media and flocking to Substack, does this indicate a rise of the subscription model? Social media has driven away many doctors rejecting censorship. However, as a consumer, utilizing Substack and subscribing to many different doctors is both tedious and impractical. Before the rise of social media, a subscription to a publication would allow access to the work of multiple different writers. Social media allows you to follow many different accounts without cost and to easily access them in the home feed. To keep up with these methods, Substack must become more practical.
A new tactic has already begun popping up. Some doctors are creating joint Substack accounts. Subscription to one Substack includes access to articles from multiple different writers. For example, Dr. Peter McCullough and John Leake have created a joint Substack called “Courageous Discourse.” The subscription includes articles from both writers pertaining to civil liberties and clinical science. This approach to Substack will likely grow in popularity, and as a consumer, it is certainly more convenient.
Despite the controversy, Substack is only rising in popularity. Doctors are finding new ways to share information and utilize Substack’s subscription model. Substack’s rejection of censorship will continue to set it apart from other media platforms unless others begin to follow suit. Substack has created a reputation as a haven for free speech, for better or for worse.