Substack removes five pro-Nazi newsletters but says its rules aren’t changing

The company has faced increasing pressure over its content moderation policies.

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Newsletter platform Substack has removed "some" pro-Nazi publications from its platform following weeks of pressure over its content moderation rules.The takedowns include five newsletters flagged to the company by Platformer, which was first to report the news.

The move comes amid growing pressure on the newsletter company after it repeatedly declined to remove publications promoting white nationalist and pro-Nazi views. In November, The Atlantic reported that it found “scores of white-supremacist, neo-Confederate, and explicitly Nazi newsletters on Substack,” some of which were monetized by their authors.

Substack, which has landed in hot water over its refusal to ban Nazis in the past, responded to the article and ensuing controversy by doubling down on its stance. “I just want to make it clear that we don’t like Nazis either—we wish no-one held those views,” Substack cofounder Hamish McKenzie wrote in December. “But some people do hold those and other extreme views. Given that, we don't think that censorship (including through demonetizing publications) makes the problem go away—in fact, it makes it worse.”

In the latest, and somewhat confusing twist, Substack now says it has removed “some publications” but hasn’t changed its underlying rules. In a statement to Platformer, Substack’s founders said that an investigation “found that five out of the six publications you reported do indeed violate our existing content guidelines, which prohibit incitements to violence based on protected classes.” The founders said they were working on new moderation tools “so Substack users can set and refine the terms of their own experience on the platform.”

A Substack spokesperson also confirmed to Engadget that the company had removed “some” newsletters, though it wasn’t clear if the company had removed any others besides the ones reported by Platformer. "Substack regularly reviews reports of all potential content violations," the spokesperson said. “Substack did not change its policies."

Meanwhile, some prominent newsletter writers have already left the platform in protest and have reported cancellations among their paid subscribers. And it's unclear whether the company's latest act of moderation will be enough to reassure its critics. As Casey Newton, who runs Platformer noted, “this issue has raised concerns that go beyond the small group of publications that violate the company’s existing policy guidelines.”