Mouse Poop in Cereal Boxes

Dave Karpf:

But the philosophical issues are secondary to the pragmatic ones. Pragmatically, it’s really quite simple. Content moderation is costly. It is a first-order revenue sink, not a revenue-generator. (I say “first-order” because if you skimp on content moderation, eventually you’re going to have a cascade of problems that cost you a lot of money <*cough* ElonyouidiotNilayPatelwarnedyou *cough*>.) But the KPIs for the content moderation team are never going to be “look how much new business we brought in for the company.” When content moderation is going well, you don’t hear much about it. That’s kind of the goal.

This is why every tech CEO loves the libertarian approach to speech issues. Tech libertarianism holds that someone else (or no one at all) should expend resources on setting and enforcing boundaries for how your product is used. The essence of the position is “I shouldn’t have to spend money on any of this. And I shouldn’t ever face negative consequences for not spending money on this.”

Karpf’s apt metaphor is the amount of mouse poop permitted in boxed cereal — which, if you are interested, is not a specific FDA category, but on a related note, is an average of below nine milligrams per kilogram of wheat, and less than one in a sample of fifty grams of cornmeal — was well considered even before Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie published a defence of why platforming the views of literal Nazis is good and necessary. There is a vast gulf between acknowledging that some people who have Nazi views may be using the platform inadvertently and what McKenzie wrote, which is that Nazis ought to be welcomed on Substack to broadcast their views short of specific encouragement of violent acts. He may as well be advocating for the right of mice to defecate in cereal.

Substack is not the last bastion of free speech on the web, despite what it may claim. It is just one platform of many, and there is always the freedom to host your own. Substack is proud that writers can “own all your content” and “own your subscriber list”. It should mean a much lower tolerance for Nazis because it means those writers can be kicked off but they get to take their list elsewhere. They get to keep their audience; they lose nothing except time. Instead, Substack is pretending it is some bulwark against encroaching censorship, and the best way it can demonstrate that is by allowing Nazis to generate income and take a 10% commission from those subscribers.