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Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard

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A Nazi Christmas at Substack

I need to vent, but feel free to skip this... <rant>

A Strange Christmas

I host my french-speaking blog & newsletter on Substack, and I am very much happy with it.

The best thing about substack is that it frees me from social media, I can communicate with my audience directly without an algorithm-in-the-middle, which is like a man-in-the-middle but much worse.

On December 25th, it was Christmas, unsurprisingly.

The weird part was when I opened my Substack app, everyone in my feed was mad about nazis.

Without any context, my first reaction was something like: "What do you mean by nazi here ? Was someone mean to you and you didn't like that because you are easily offended or something ?"

But no, as it turns out, they were talking about white nationalist, antisemites, Charlottesville people.

So you know, actual nazis.

And in case I offend those people by calling them names, it's very much intentionally so.

Substack's reaction

The infuriating part is that Substack owners reacted by self-promoting as big-brain open-minded free-speech-extremists fascists-enablers.

It's a given that there are fascists on the internet. Quoting The Popehart Report :

Substack has Nazis, because of course it does. Substack is on the internet, Nazis are on the internet, and if Substack doesn’t want Nazis it has to take affirmative steps to get rid of them. Flies don’t stop coming into the house because you want them to; they stop because you get off the couch and close the screen door. Any social media or blogging platform faces this.

The fundmanental issue with free-speech-extremists is that they are lying.

Every platform on the internet ever needs to make choices about how it want its platform looks like. Not making choices is also a choice, the worst of them all. But everyone makes choices, to prohibit spam, or doxedin, or harassment, whatever.

So of course Substack makes choices, they just decided to stay neutral on fascism.

My point is not that any of these policies is objectionable. But, like the old joke goes, we’ve established what Substack is, now we’re just haggling over the price. Substack is engaging in transparent puffery when it brands itself as permitting offensive speech because the best way to handle offensive speech is to put it all out there to discuss. It’s simply not true. Substack has made a series of value judgments about which speech to permit and which speech not to permit. Substack would like you to believe that making judgments about content “for the sole purpose of sexual gratification,” or content promoting anorexia, is different than making judgment about Nazi content. In fact, that’s not a neutral, value-free choice. It’s a valued judgment by a platform that brands itself as not making valued judgments. Substack has decided that Nazis are okay and porn and doxxing isn’t. The fact that Substack is engaging in a common form of free-speech puffery offered by platforms doesn’t make it true.

I hope Substack will reconsider, may be they already have. But since this discussion is happening again and again with internet platforms, let's go to the bottom of it.

Democracy doesn't mean one minute for the Jews and onne minute for Hitler

It should be well known at that point that providing lots of free speech to fascists so they are free to harass others doesn't, in fact, improve freedom.

That should be well known especially in the US who was the leader of the anti-fascist camp in the New Deal era.

Let's remind us briefly why.

This was well explained by Karl Popper with its tolerance paradox

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them

What does Karl Poppe mean by that ?

You know the old adage

Don’t play chess with a pigeon. It’ll just knock over the pieces, poop all over the board and then strut around like it won the game.

Same here

Don't play democracy with fascists. They will use all the protection you offer them, poop all over the boar, then strut around like they won the game. Except they have actually won the game because they now have more power, and they very much intend to destroy the game and you with it.

Democracy is a social contract and fascists don't want to be part of it.


Let see some common counter arguments

"But the US founding fathers said bla bla bla"
They lived in the 18th century and fascism is a 20th century pheonem. You wouldn't ask a physicist of the 18th century for guidance about Einstein's relativity theory. Same here.

"You know what we should with nazis ? We should debate them in the marketplace of ideas."
I don't really know where that place is. I would rather defeat them first on planet Earth.

"But it's a slippery slope, if we punch a nazi like Richard Spencer in the face, what's next ?"
Hopefully punching more nazis in the face ? Wouldn't it be weird to punch only one ?

"But it costs time and efforts and money to do so"


Fascism is shits for brains, and rejecting fascists is the easiest ethical test ever.

I don't trust organizations who choose to stay neutral.

Top comments (18)

latobibor profile image
András Tóth • Edited

[Edited heavily after I have slept enough to recognize how all over the place was this comment]

I would say any given system will have its gamers. There is a lot of religious thinking in the US about how things can only work in a certain way, and that's the only way it can be. To give an example these platforms are very prudish about any form of nudity, regardless, say, if you post a centuries old painting featuring a naked lady. You can't post those, but you can totally post animal abuse, hate speech, violence, etc. and it stays on social media for a long time.

Neutrality of a platform then is just a game with their rules; if you can have unlimited tries at it, you will find your way in. Especially if there are absolutely no repercussions. You posted something very disgusting, you make another email address, you post something less disgusting. Repeat until you have posted the most disgusting allowed thing.

While extremists, and anti-democratic forces change and update their tactics year after year, these old ideas, more like custom from another era can't keep up with them.

However, regardless whether these platforms get in trouble with their government, not moderating properly will have clear effects. If you let one group run amok, users and advertisers will pull out. Therefore allowing certain toxic minorities to flourish will shrink user base. You only need one aggressive kid unchecked in a school for other kids to be pulled out.

Propaganda is also not free speech as it is not interested in conversation but to spread its own message.

In my social networks the only good, healthy social media groups that work are the ones that focus on a subculture or a skill and they are well-moderated: meaning somebody isolates people with a dark agenda or people who have mental health issues that are dangerous to others.

My solution? It is time to define values or even laws for social media companies. It is time to pay for expert moderation instead of expecting it to be free forever. It is time to differentiate between psychological safety to tell your true opinion and propaganda or violent agenda disguised as an opinion.

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard

I am Jean-Michel and I approve 100% of what you say :)

latobibor profile image
András Tóth

Thanks for raising the issue! I personally think that one of the greatest threats to decent human life recently is corrupt/extremist actors use free speech platforms for pushing their agendas or to simply create confusion. There is the so called "saturating the informational space" euphemism, which means Russian-style propaganda aimed at discrediting any opposition, any positive human movement.

Yet another thing is "fix it for the US only" problem. Facebook is known to only moderate and track down concerted efforts if it is in the US as their commitment is only for avoiding lawsuits in the States. Fired whistleblower employees were reporting on this.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard • Edited

The book Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It tells the story that, thanks to German law, Twitter Engineers were tasked to implement an classifier to detect automatically neo nazi propaganda. That they did the job well, it worked.

And then Twitter executives decided to enable only in Germany. Learning this made me sick and from then on, Twitter is a morally corrupt company for me.

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latobibor profile image
András Tóth

Great recommendation!

darkwiiplayer profile image
𒎏Wii 🏳️‍⚧️

I think the idea of letting people speak so everyone can see how bad their ideas are has some merit, but only in the kind of situation where the "bad ideas" aren't already widely known.

When everyone believes that the donut-abolition-party really just wants there to be a choice to eat a carrot instead, letting them rant in public about how "really, donuts need to be banned outright", then that might have the benefit of showing their true face to people who actually like donuts, but are on board with eating a carrot every now and then.

But when everyone knows that they hate donuts and just want to ban them, then the only point in letting them speak is to allow them to normalise their position. People aren't entirely rational, and the best approach to winning over the masses is sadly often to just pretend that most people are already on board with your ideas.

But the idea sounds appealing. "They should let us speak; if we're really so bad, we'll be laughed off the stage, no?" is how people will often argue, while leaving out the countless techniques they intentionally use to prevent that, and to paint a picture of broad agreement.

And yet, it sounds good. It's enough to convince people when there's nobody around to challenge the flaws in this reasoning. It makes it easier for people to feel tolerant, more so than actually working towards maintaining a tolerant society ever will.

That might be the true paradox here: That once a status quo of broad tolerance is achieved, the actions that uphold tolerance for society, end up feeling the most intolerant to the individuals taking them. And those who want to topple the whole system know to exploit this discrepancy.

Fascism really is the devil on the shoulder of democracy.

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard • Edited

I think you are right, big brain tech bros feel like they are being intellectually coherent by applying the usual standard of free speech to their ennemies. And that sounds true-ish enough. So who cares if people are harassed i the real world ?

I don't think the tolerance paradox is a real paradox by the way.
Fascists thought that democracy was weak, because they were able to throw punch after punch at it, until they found ones that landed, and nobody was out there to defend democracy.

Now obviously they were wrong, and they got utterly destroyed in the end.

But the simple insight here is that democracy needs to defend herself. It is a social contract and those who don't play by the rules are outside of the social contract. You cannot let the pigeon poop all over the board.

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard

Update Substack has apparently decided to do the obvious right thing.
Ethically you must ban fascist content.
Legally you must ban fascist reason, unless for some reasons you want to ban readers and writers from Europe....
Everyone makes mistakes, what matters is what you do after.

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soanvig profile image
Mateusz Koteja

Give me an example. Nowadays If you don't align with mainstream, or your opinion is harsh, you are called nazi or fassist. I tried but neither you or other authors you mentioned gave a single example of that bad content you are all bragging about. I'm not saying you are wrong, but to be fair it's best to have some examples.

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard • Edited

The charlottesville people who marched down the street while saying "Jews will not replace us".

You know when many jewish personnalities on Twitter for example say they are being harassed for being jewish, my first reaction is to take that seriously. At the very least it's worth investigating by authorities.

I like it when people say "nowdays the word has lost its meaning".
Before 1945, people had no problems calling themselves fascists, in fact, they chose the term, they were proud claiming it.
Nowdays nobody but maybe the head of the klu klux klan would do so.
It's not a big mystery that the word has lost its meaning :

Fascists are well understood to be the ultimate terrible losers.
And while it's bad that people abuse the term at people who are mean to them,
it's would be much worse if we can't use that term anymore, allowing fascists to hide behind a better branding.

As for me I am a big fan of duck typing :
"If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck"

soanvig profile image
Mateusz Koteja

Still no examples of particular content. I see you take that topic very personally.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard • Edited

Indeed I won't advertize specific fascist content. There is nothing that deserves publicity in it.

It's the reaction of the publisher that is interesting to me.

And yes I take the topic personally, I lived for 6 years in Berlin and here we remember where assholery leads.

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soanvig profile image
Mateusz Koteja

I think your post is okey if we take a premise that there is indeed bad content.

However it's hard for a reader (or for me) of this post to take a side or relate if it's unknown what we are talking about here. Maybe these fascist weren't fascist, and it's just your and few other people opinion, and publisher doesn't agree. Or maybe the authors are indeed fascists, but these particular post weren't fascist.

I don't agree with witch hunt per se. Even the worst person in the world can have valid point.

And by antagonizing a group of people no matter what you are in fact playing tribalism (we versus them) which leads to extremism. So it's not helping in anything. That is: by antagonizing fascists no matter what you are making them more united. Yeah, few people will get scared and will abandon their world view, the rest will take siege mentality.

My advise is to always pinpoint particular issues, and not go all or nothing.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard • Edited

The issue is that we will never have people agree what fascist means, because most people don't know jmuch about fascism, and also because fascists are lying, and also because fascism is the contrary of an intellectually coherent ideology.

A good starting point is Ur-Fascism or Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt from Umberto Eco, a major european writer who lived under Mussolini, aka fascism's original inventor. Not that everyone agree with his definition, all definitions are wrong but some are useful.

You will see that Umberto Ecogives 14 criterias to recognize fascism. And that almost no-one has a 0% or a 100% score on all 14 criterias. There is no facist/not fascist threshold everyone will agree on, but clearly one should have his personal threshold. So that's complex.

But what is not complex, is that when we have an internet platform and our users are being harassed by all kind of terrible people, then the platform has a choice of not doing much or of doing something about it. This story is a PR nightmare for Substack, they have the evidence, if there was no fascist content in it, they would have said so, that's the easy way out. And also people generally don't complain for no reason contrary to a widespread myths.

So I would rather focus the conversation on people being harassed and what to do about it.

cbid2 profile image
Christine Belzie

While your anger is understandable. I’m not quite sure how this post fits into the conversation about technology.

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard • Edited

The way it fits together is that we technologists are the ones who build those platforms, and the conversations that happens there depends on the choices we make.

We cannot be neutral, and personally, I prefer my name and my work to be associated with better choices rather than worse choices.

cbid2 profile image
Christine Belzie • Edited

I understand. However, given the post’s central focus on a specific company and politics, I don’t think is necessarily the best platform for this conversation (it also violates the Code of Conduct). Perhaps you can take it to Reddit. Again, this is not to discourage you, it’s to help you find the best suited place to have this conversation.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard • Edited

It's not Substack-specific, Twitter is the posterchild of this failure to act, and for a far longer amount of time.

I had read the code of conduct, and if I read it again, I see this part :

We pledge to prioritize marginalized people's safety over privileged people's comfort.
We will not act on complaints regarding:
Criticisms of racist, sexist, cissexist, or otherwise oppressive behavior or assumptions.

My (meta) criticism here being that a company cannot be neutral when super oppressive behaviors proliferate on her platform.