Big Tech platforms have taken lots of heat in recent years, often deservedly so, for at times caving to outrage mobs and censoring conservative views. So, it’s only fair to give credit to two tech platforms that are currently resisting calls for censorship and defending free expression: Spotify and Substack.
The Mob Campaign Against Spotify and Substack
Spotify’s in the hot seat right now. A celebrity boycott against the company continues, with critics demanding that Spotify deplatform mega-popular podcaster Joe Rogan over so-called “COVID misinformation.” From rock stars to cable news hosts and even Biden administration officials, the chorus of attacks on Spotify is gaining new voices every day.
Yet, at least so far, the company isn’t caving to the mob.
Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek just released a statement attempting to appease critics while ultimately not caving on the underlying issue of free expression. He announced that the company will add links to mainstream COVID-19 information on all content, not just Rogan’s, that discusses the pandemic. But in PR corporatespeak, Ek said they’re not going to start censoring their most popular voices just because blue-checks on Twitter don’t like what they have to say.
Spotify Responds to the Mob
“A decade ago, we created Spotify to enable the work of creators around the world to be heard and enjoyed by listeners around the world,” the Spotify CEO wrote. “To our very core, we believe that listening is everything. Pick almost any issue and you will find people and opinions on either side of it.”
“Personally, there are plenty of individuals and views on Spotify that I disagree with strongly,” he noted. “[Yet] it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.”
The company is currently losing big sums and major artists amid the anti-Rogan campaign, but it’s holding firm on its values. To be clear, this isn’t entirely altruistic or principled—they do have a $100 million contract with Rogan motivating things, after all. But it’s a defense of free expression by a Big Tech platform nonetheless. Those are rare enough that beggars can’t be choosers.
The Attacks on Substack
Similarly, Substack is standing up for free expression despite an ongoing pressure campaign for them to deplatform controversial voices. The email-newsletter subscription service is relatively new but already reaches millions. It features authors as notable as Edward Snowden, Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, and more. Perhaps in part because of its success, social media mobs have started calling on the platform to shut down “anti-vax” voices:
Anti-vaxx grift going strong – why is Substack facilitating science denialists’ ability to profit from destructive lies (and comfortable profiting themselves)?
“Anti-vaxxers making ‘at least $2.5m’ a year from publishing on Substack” via @guardian https://t.co/FBc6IkzVXa
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) January 27, 2022
— Center for Countering Digital Hate (@CCDHate) January 27, 2022
Anti-vaxxers making ‘at least $2.5m’ a year from publishing on Substack https://t.co/eiaQwI4CGn
— The Guardian (@guardian) January 27, 2022
Yet Substack VP Lulu Cheng Meservey recently stood up to the mob. In a viral Twitter thread, she doubled down on the company’s principled approach.
Substack Responds to the Twitter Mob
“At Substack, we don’t make moderation decisions based on public pressure or PR considerations,” she said. “An important principle for us is defending free expression, even for stuff we personally dislike or disagree with.”
“Open debate is not always comfortable,” Meservey concluded. “But neither, for that matter, is the sea. We want a thriving ecosystem full of fresh and diverse ideas. That can’t happen without the freedom to experiment, or even to be wrong.”
“Who should be the arbiter of what’s true and good and right?” the Substack executive asked. “People should be allowed to decide for themselves, not have a tech executive decide for them.”
Why We Need to Give These Companies Credit
I couldn’t agree more. This pro-free-expression message is so refreshing to hear from tech platforms, having become accustomed to companies like Twitter and YouTube engaging in countless, blatant acts of political censorship.
People on the Right are never hesitant to bash woke Big Tech platforms when they censor dissident voices. That pushback is necessary.
But it’s just as important for us to praise and financially support the tech platforms like Substack and Spotify that are embodying free speech values as it is to complain about those which aren’t.