Substack is Still a Problem

The controversial newsletter company capped off a bad week by acquiring a company with multiple TERFs on its masthead. Surprise.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
8 min readAug 4, 2021

A woman stunned by an unexplained horrible thing on her computer screen.
“In fairness, this is what I deserve for unmuting Glenn Greenwald.” Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

For one hot second, transphobia at Substack was a major news story. The newsletter platform was trendy in media circles. Its content often went viral. It paid writers, sometimes in the six-figure range. It also hosted a growing number of vehemently transphobic pundits, and because it refused to disclose which writers had received advances, there was no way to know which TERFs had been hired by Substack and which ones were just doing it for the love of the game.

The tension boiled over last spring, when many trans writers (including me) left the company in protest. Substack responded by calling their critics “the thought police” and insisting that it would never bow to pressure campaigns; after all, co-founder Hamish McKenzie wrote, “a hero can be thought a villain, and a villain a hero. History makes this clear.” Substack eventually hired a few high-profile trans writers, criticism mostly died down, and it was down to History to determine the heroism or villainy of the people involved.

History took about four months. This week, seemingly every reactionary on their platform made a fool of themselves simultaneously, culminating in an announcement that Substack had acquired a company which boasts multiple TERFs on its masthead. Substack has made its stance on hate speech very clear: They don’t care, and they don’t plan to care. The question is whether anyone still wants to hold them accountable.

Let us begin by surveying the wreckage. It’s hard to sum up any series of decisions this stupid, but I’ll start with the top earner: Matthew Yglesias, who reportedly received a $250,000 advance from the blogging platform for his political insights. Yglesias responded to a bit of viral news about Matt Damon using “the f-slur for a homosexual” by recommending that Damon run for office as a Democrat. Then, using his $250,000 brain, Yglesias himself dropped the f-bomb.

Yglesias, for example, became uncomfortable right after sending this Tweet.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.