tl;dr in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing:
We, The Citizens is moving from Substack to Ghost.
All content and subscribers, free and paid, will be migrating over, so you shouldn’t need to do anything on your end.
To facilitate this, this newsletter will be going on hiatus from now until early April (about two weeks).
Thank you for all your support! 🥰
There are almost 4,000 of you (Milo Peng Funders + free subscribers) subscribed to We, The Citizens. That’s a number I never thought I’d reach when I started this newsletter back in April 2018. To all of you who have been so supportive and wonderful, thank you.
I’ve got a big(ish) announcement to make: We, The Citizens is moving off Substack. This post will explain why, and how it’ll affect you (it shouldn’t!)
Why is We, The Citizens moving?
In terms of usability, I have no complaints about the Substack platform. It’s simple and easy to use, and allows me to just write. I’ve had limited but good interactions with the Substack team, too, including receiving a small grant for them last year.
But recently I’ve become aware of Substack offering significant advances to particular writers, or at least reaching out to recruit them to this platform, or hosting them and allowing them to make money without much thought for content moderation standards when what’s being published is harmful. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but trans writers like Jude Doyle have pointed out that some of the writers who are now on Substack are people who spread harmful views that hurt already marginalised communities, such as trans people.
As far as I’ve seen, Substack hasn’t tackled this criticism head-on, nor has it been transparent about which writers it has offered Substack Pro advances to. One of its founders, Hamish McKenzie, published this piece that responded to Doyle’s criticism more generally, arguing that Substack is merely a platform that makes business decisions and not editorial ones, but also saying:
“Inevitably, a small subset of writers we have done deals with are controversial in some quarters, attracting praise and scorn in equal measure. While these deals may invite sharp criticism – even denunciation – from those writers’ opponents, we think it would be a mistake to shy away from making these calls. No writer who says anything important is universally loved; and in fact, sometimes those who engender the fiercest opposition are the ones most deserving of support. This is why the free press is important. A hero can be thought a villain, and a villain a hero. History makes this clear, even if the conditions of the present show only fog. fact, sometimes those who engender the fiercest opposition are the ones most deserving of support.”
While I might agree with this sentiment in general, I found it an extremely troubling response given the specific context of it being a response to criticism that Substack is hosting transphobia. I responded to Hamish in this Twitter thread (click to read the whole thread):
Since then, I have been accused by some people on Twitter of trying to “cancel” some of the men and destroy freedom of speech.
I think the crap that Graham Linehan spouts on his Substack should breach content moderation standards, and that Substack’s “we’re just a platform, we don’t make editorial decisions” argument is bunk when they are de facto making editorial decisions by deciding to offer substantial amounts of money in the form of advances to some writers. But contrary to the accusations, neither I, nor Doyle, nor anyone else has actually “cancelled” Substack, or any of its writers.
In fact, what I’m doing right now is very much not cancelling anybody; I’m simply removing myself from a platform that I am no longer comfortable with. Earlier this past week I moved my secondary newsletter, Samseng Zhabor, to Revue (unfortunately, I wasn’t able to move the archive 😔).
Now begins the bigger job of moving We, The Citizens.
Where is We, The Citizens going?
Unlike Samseng Zhabor, I’m not willing to give up the We, The Citizens’ archive (three years’ worth of work!)
Apart from likely making things look prettier, another benefit of moving to Ghost is that they only charge a set monthly user fee, and don’t take a cut of subscription fees. I was willing to stick with a more expensive platform before because I thought Substack’s values were aligned with mine, and the money would also go to supporting other writers in need, but this isn’t how I feel anymore. Not having to give Substack a 10% cut means more of Milo Peng Funders’ money goes towards supporting this newsletter and my other independent work. 😃
So what happens now? What do I have to do?
By the time you read this, I will have already exported all my data to begin the work of shifting things over. With Ghost’s help, I should also be able to migrate Milo Peng Funders’ subscriptions, so if it all goes well none of you free or paid subscribers should have to do a thing!
Doing all this and making sure that everything is in place is going to take a bit of time, though, so We, The Citizens is going on a hiatus while I work this all out. I don’t have an exact length of time in mind because a lot depends on how smoothly this all goes, but I aim for the newsletter to be back in your inboxes in early April.
If you’re reading this but not actually a subscriber of this newsletter yet—don’t hit that subscribe button for now, because you won’t be reflected in the subscriber list once I’m over at Ghost! Please wait until the relaunch, then subscribe. 😊
Thank you! I’m actually finding all of this quite exciting—I’m really looking forward to finding out how I can improve this newsletter once it’s all on Ghost!