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Is Substack Promoting Far Right Propaganda?

I joined Substack only recently, around the time when the platform launched its Twitter-style feature called Notes.

Just as I was starting to warm up to it, I saw on my timeline the following Note from Substack promoting a podcast by the company's co-founder Hamish McKenzie:

"In this week’s episode of The Active Voice podcast, @Hamish McKenzie talks to @Richard Hanania about the origins of wokeness, the long reach of civil rights law, and the future of the culture wars."

Who is Richard Hanania, you might ask? That's how The Active Voice introduces him:

"[A]s the pandemic intensified online tribalism, [Richard Hanania] emerged with a provocative analysis that carried the headline “Why Is Everything Liberal?” The piece, which explores why almost every major institution in the U.S. leans left, did the rounds on Twitter, announcing Richard’s arrival as a distinctive new voice in American politics discourse.

"Soon enough, he followed it up with a series of other pithily headlined posts that demonstrated a streak of contrarianism that variously managed to win fans and challenge readers from across the political spectrum: “Liberals Read, Conservatives Watch TV,” “Why Do I Hate Pronouns More Than Genocide?”, and “Conservatives Win All the Time,” to name a few."

So, the "distinctive new voice" is basically the same old far right propaganda we have seen thousands of times in a myriad of iterations since the 1950s. Not surprisingly, Hanania describes himself as "anti-woke" - a highly "original" take amid the current culture war.

One of Hanania's masterpieces is titled "How Woke Caused Cultural Decadence". He writes:

"Art reflects and speaks to human nature. When cultural and intellectual elites don’t like human nature and want to change it, they are less able to produce compelling works of fiction.

"I’m not just talking about Summer of Floyd level of woke being poisonous to art. Even quite well accepted ideas about gender and sexuality, if taken to their logical conclusion, can wreak havoc.

"Morality and ideals are inherently gendered. Men and women are so psychologically different that you should expect different kinds of stories to appeal to each sex. We also expect characters to behave in ways consistent with what are now called “sexual stereotypes.” One template of a male story is a hero goes out in the world and, through bravery and strength, tries to overcome some obstacle or challenge. At the end, through this process he finally saves or wins over the girl of his dreams … The female template is more passive. A girl wants to be pretty, and win over the hero."

I think you get the gist of it from these excerpts. His ideas are nothing but biological determinism through which power structures are justified by people who claim to be the interpreters of a "natural order", thus denying that social hierarchies are to a great degree human-made, political and transitory.

In May 2023, Hanania tweeted:

It doesn't get much clearer than this. Anybody can see that this guy is just another right-winger saying the same things in different ways while pretending to be more nuanced or original than some other hardcore extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene.

As The Racket reported, Hanania's Twitter account was briefly banned in 2022 but was later restored by - of course - Elon Musk. Shortly after his reinstatement, Hanania posted tweets accusing African-Americans of having violently chased white residents out of American cities, describing it as "quasi-ethnic cleansing."

In another tweet he wrote:

"If I owned Twitter, I wouldn’t let feminists, trans activists, or socialists post. Why should I? They’re wrong about everything and bad for society."

The question is: why did Hamish McKenzie use the influence he wields as a Substack co-founder to promote this guy, of all the thousands of creators on the platform?

I have noticed that far right accounts routinely appear on my timeline, although I don't follow them. Is an algorithm involved in promoting this type of content?

On his own website, Hamish McKenzie says that he is the author of "Insane Mode: How Elon Musk’s Tesla Sparked an Electric Revolution to End the Age of Oil." I haven't read the book, but it sounds pretty much like a hagiography of Musk. McKenzie has also worked as the lead writer for Tesla. If he's an admirer of Musk, does he also share some of his political views? And does he also want to use his platform to promote them?

In April, Substack CEO and co-founder Chris Best gave a quite embarrassing interview on Nilay Patel's podcast Decoder. Asked about whether Substack would allow racist statements on the platform, Best fumbled. Give a listen to the short excerpt below:

A lot of great writers whose work I enjoy — such as Ruth Ben-Ghiat —, are on Substack. And with the demise of Twitter, it seems like a good platform for creators to publish their articles and essays. 

But maybe it's time for people to ask themselves if Substack has an agenda, and if that agenda is the promotion of far right propaganda.
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