Why FrameLab left Substack

Our top reasons for making the right move

The word "freedom" in neon lights
FrameLab has left Substack. Photo by Kristina V / Unsplash

Due to popular demand – and out of moral necessity – FrameLab has now migrated off of Substack. We believe this is good news for our readers, and for us.

As I explained in my previous note, the vast majority of FrameLab readers subscribe to our email list, so FrameLab will continue to arrive in your inbox as usual. Most of you, including our paid subscribers, will probably not notice any change.

We’ve simply shifted over to a new provider, Ghost, an open-source nonprofit that hosts many other popular newsletters and publications.

Reader poll

Earlier this year, we conducted a poll of FrameLab readers and found that nearly 80 percent supported us moving off of Substack, and most said they would continue to read us no matter where we published. This made it an even easier decision for us.

Briefly, here are the main reasons why we felt the need to move FrameLab off of Substack: 

1) Nazis and Hate. Substack has a Nazi problem. The owners of the platform have made it clear that hate speech will have a home at Substack. FrameLab itself was targeted by a deeply anti-Semitic Substack account last year. But Substack’s co-founders apparently share the far-right view that hate speech deserves a big, monetized public platform.

Jonathan M. Katz wrote about this issue an Atlantic article headlined “Substack has a Nazi Problem,”

 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."

Casey Newton of the popular Platformer tech newsletter shares more details in his explanation of why his publication left Substack. We encourage you to read the whole thing if you have any questions about our move. Platformer’s move is what got us thinking more seriously about our own, so we thank them for setting an example and leading the way.

2) Substack has problematic investors: FrameLab focuses on framing and ideology, and it seeks to illuminate the ways in which extreme authoritarian ideologies affect American politics.

In recent pieces, we have focused on how influential Silicon Valley figures are openly embracing authoritarian politics and trying to push American politics to the far-right. At the center of these efforts is Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm that has been one of Substack’s biggest investors. And since Substack charges a 10 percent fee of all subscriptions, it means FrameLab and its readers were paying money to right-wing billionaires with an authoritarian vision for the future.

We can write for our audience without directly giving money and power to these billionaires, can't we? Yes, and doing so seems like a moral imperative to us. A newsletter is essentially a blog with an email list and a way for subscribers to pay. It's not too complicated.

3) Substack is power hungry. A small group of corporations or billionaires increasingly owns the world's major media outlets. Substack aims to become a main publisher of news and information in the 21st century, which would give the company tremendous power to tilt the political discourse toward far-right politics.

We prefer a future in which a handful of authoritarian billionaires do not control everything. While Substack does host progressive or Democratic-leaning newsletters, there’s no reason to believe that will continue if the company is allowed to consolidate its power – with the help of progressive writers and their audiences!

And if Substack becomes a main platform by which people get their information, the company will have tremendous power over what people actually see. As we have seen with Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, this will likely be very bad news for democracy and freedom.

We believe it’s important to build an ecosystem of news and information that is independent of such control and influence, both now and in the future.

4) Ghost is a better deal: While Substack charges a 10 percent fee, Ghost charges a flat fee based on the number of subscribers that we have. This will result in tremendous savings and allow us to spend money to pay guest writers and grow our audience. Even if it weren’t for all of the other Substack problems we've listed, it still make more economic sense for us to operate on a nonprofit platform with lower costs.

Final thoughts

Some of you are reading us because fellow writers on Substack recommended FrameLab to you. We appreciate and respect those writers, and everyone will have to navigate this decision for themselves. We will still be reading some of our favorite writers on Substack, but we will no longer pay for subscriptions to Substack-based publications.

We are grateful to those of you who kept bugging us about getting off of Substack. We heard you, we listened to you, and you were right. We are happy with the decision and look forward to the future.

While it's not entirely possible to avoid all interaction with tech companies owned by bad billionaires, we feel a moral responsibility to do our best to avoid enriching them whenever possible. Moving off of Substack is a small but necessary step in a better direction.

That being said, we will now resume our regular programming.

And remember: Today is a great day to join hundreds of fellow FrameLab readers in becoming a paid subscriber!

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