How we approach moderation decisions

In December, we published a statement about our philosophy on content moderation. In the time since, content moderation policies across all platforms have become only more consequential and debated. This post is an attempt to offer further clarity on how and why we make our moderation decisions.

We believe in putting writers and readers in charge. Writers own their content and their mailing lists and have full editorial control on Substack. Readers choose for themselves which writers to invite into their inboxes and their minds. And that’s why we have a hands-off philosophy when it comes to censorship.

We believe in the importance of a free press and free expression, allowing writers to explore ideas even when they are unpopular, and empowering readers to thoughtfully evaluate an argument’s merits for themselves. 

Yet our hands-off approach does not mean anything goes. We do have content guidelines, which, narrowly construed, reflect our intent to protect writers’ ability to openly express themselves while prohibiting harmful or illegal behavior.

Our enforcement of these guidelines is not decided by public accusations or pressure campaigns. We recognize that this approach will invite inevitable criticism, but we believe our principle of protecting free expression is important enough to uphold even in the face of strong opposition. All writers on Substack can expect us to give them fair and equal treatment under these rules.

For the official version of the up-to-date rules, you should always refer directly to our content guidelines. To offer more clarity and transparency, we elaborate below on how we interpret these rules.

Interpreting our content guidelines

We do not allow spam or phishing. While challenging technically, these cases are straightforward philosophically: we feel we can fight spam ruthlessly without jeopardizing free expression, and so we do. We even have automated systems that guard against spam to protect the platform for readers and writers.

We do not allow harassment or threats. We believe that critique and discussion of controversial issues are part of a robust discourse, but we draw the line at harassment and threats. This does not include writing about someone unfavorably, even repeatedly, but does include threatening violence or explicitly organizing others to do so.

We do not allow doxxing, defined as the public sharing of private information (such as a home phone number or physical address) without their permission, or threatening to do so. This does not include acts of legitimate journalism, which often involves publishing information that some would rather be kept private, but does include attempts to intimidate people by publishing private information, especially for the purpose of inciting harassment or threats.

We do not allow hate, defined as publishing content or funding initiatives that call for violence, exclusion, or segregation based on protected classes. This does include serious attacks on people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or medical condition. It does not include attacks on ideas, ideologies, organizations, or individuals for other reasons, even if those attacks are cruel or unfair. 

We do not allow impersonation, though we appreciate a good parody.

We do not allow plagiarism. We take a standard approach; see our Copyright Dispute Policy.

We do not allow porn or sexually exploitative content. This does not include artistic expressions of nudity and erotica, and in general we will err on the side of being permissive while excluding outright (you know it when you see it) porn.

As we interpret and enforce these rules, we know that there will always be writers on Substack with whom we strongly disagree or who strongly disagree with us – any writer can feel free to criticize us, and many have. We will continue to support their right to do so, and they can count on the same protection: so long as they haven't broken the rules, we will resist any calls that may come for their own deplatforming.

We will always err on the side of respecting writers’ right to express themselves and readers’ right to decide for themselves what to read. That is what it takes to make Substack the best place for independent writing.