Could Substack Chat be the new Twitter?

“Put my Twitter followers on my sub-pile like Noah’s Ark,” the reporter told The Intercept Ken Klippenstein tweeted to his 471,000 followers days after Elon Musk took over Twitter.

Klippenstein is just one of many writers to say — jokingly or with all their chest — that they’ll be leaving Musk’s Twitter for newsletter platform Substack. Writers, many of whom have turned their Twitter communities into real job prospects, feel they need a new place to go in light of the app’s new management. Some have threatened to move their most disturbed content to the Create tab on instagram Stories; others asked their supporters to greet them at the gates of Mastodon; and others, perhaps against their better judgment, cheerfully informed their followers Twitter followers that they could join them on the sub-stack.

Sub-stack is not without problems. Twitter has launched hateful content, such as that of British anti-transgender writer Graham Linehan. And while Linehan has been permanently suspended from Twitterhis harassment, transphobia and hate speech continue thrive on your Substack account, which has thousands of paying subscribers. And the two places are so different: Twitter gives writers the opportunity to share their stories; rapid and reactionary analyses; and also the dumbest thoughts they ever had. Substack is a platform for long newsletters. As one of my subscribers on Mastodon succinctly, “There seems to be a big chasm in effort between ‘shitpost’ and ‘writing a newsletter that people will subscribe to and read.'” (I haven’t fully moved to Mastodon, but I embrace Alternatives to Twitter.)

Walk in: the chat function, a space for Substack writers and creators to host Twitter-like conversations with their followers. Sub-stack spear November 3 – about a week later Musk brought a sink to Twitter headquarters — and described it as “having your own private social network where you make the rules,” a note that meshes well with their whole ethos of owning your own list of followers.

Rayne Fisher-Quann, a feminist cultural critic who writes the newsletter internet princessstarted using the chat function, which feels a bit like AOL Instant Messenger or a group chatand looks much like Reddit. If you subscribe to his Substack and have the app on your iPhone, you received a notification on November 5 that took you to Substack Chat. “omg guys its like twitter only has nice people on it,” she wrote. This first post contains 285 heart emoji replies, 15 laughing and crying face emojis, and 6 shocked face emoji reactions. There are 177 replies – many of which she also replied to – and she has since started a dozen more threads.

“I think he’s trying to capture some of the fallout from Twitter in a really effective way,” Fisher-Quann told Mashable, adding that it’s cool to have a way to instantly communicate with followers. “I’m very active on other parts of the internet: I’m on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. But I’ve found that my favorite place is in the new chat. [or] in the comments section or in discussion posts on my [newsletter]. There is something that really feels good about a community of people who all choose to be there and choose to engage in good faith with each other. [who] love and care about each other. It’s very different [from] other places on the Internet.”

The chat function is similar to that of Substack discussion threads. You can leave a comment and have a discussion in both spaces, editors control both spaces, and both can be completely separate from what an editor produces on their newsletter. But Fisher-Quann admits the cats “seem very different.” Unlike threads, people can share images in chats, and the chats format seems a lot lower because it’s subscriber-only, and you can have a quick chat before moving on – much like a Reddit thread. Fisher-Quann compares this to sending a text rather than posting a comment on a website.

Thanks to chats, “people feel much more connected to other followers,” Fisher-Quann said. “You see their profile picture and their names, and very quickly I saw people – I feel cheesy, a bit – but it was cool to see people really identifying with the space and the community. People were doing collaborative playlists, and they were trying to organize themselves based on location so they could find each other on Instagram, and honestly, it felt really good to see them.”

Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie told Mashable that he thinks “people are tired of all this in the public brawl of social media, and the idea of ​​having a space where you can spend time with people who really want to be hanging out with you and talking about the things you have a common interest in…having that greater control. It’s just more fun. He said the chat feature “is more like the old Internet. It’s not about trying to earn points in a status game. It’s more like classic, old-school Internet fun.”

McKenzie is right, on this front. As Aimée Morrison, Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Waterloo, says Mashable in a previous postat first we were on these platforms to “have fun and be silly and post stuff for what you probably understood to be a limited audience”.

“The content was plentiful, but the audience was not plentiful,” Morrison said. That’s what makes these threads so nice – you have a few thousand people who can read what you’re commenting on, and far fewer who actually would. Compare that to the hundreds of millions of people who can find your public tweets. The stakes are low on the Substack chat, and that’s part of what makes it work.

But the stakes are not non-existent. We always deal with human beings on the internet, which is a group notorious for being unworthy of our faith. This is why content moderation is so important. On the Substack chat, the Substack creators are in charge of this moderation. Creators have complete control over the types of conversations and interactions that occur on their threads, whether good or bad.

“It’s going to be a huge shock, but I’m pretty neurotic,” joked Fisher-Quann, who has spoken and written at length about his mental health. “Especially after growing up as a young woman on the internet and knowing that there are a lot of very young women on the internet, I was very concerned about the potential for negatives to occur in any type of chat room. “

For this reason, Fisher-Quann has decided not to create a thread to help people share their locations – despite some of her followers demanding to know where each other lives and even though she thinks a lot of people would benefit from it.

“I felt too anxious to deliberately create a space like that,” she said. “It’s a big responsibility to be like, ‘I’m like the sole arbiter of this space.’ It’s not like Twitter, where there’s this security blanket of having a content moderator who can relieve you of heavy moral decisions.”

Substack has no intention of becoming the next Twitter. Substack is, by nature, made up of small communities of little freaks like me who like to read very specific blogs on the internet. Substack has been embroiled in controversies over content moderation – like their Lineham platform decision – but the platform has always been criticized the differences between it and other social media platformsmainly that unlike Twitter, readers are in complete control of what they see on Substack.

“The major problem, in our view, is that engagement-based business models have created a class of hugely successful media products that distort online discourse,” the company wrote in 2020, to defend against refusing to censor content that some people describe as hateful. “It is increasingly difficult to participate in reasonable discussions on these platforms.”

Some other writers really appreciate that too. You don’t have to love the chat feature to happily use Substack as Twitter dissolves into madness.


Sub-stack rushes as Twitter mayhem continues

Rebecca Jennings, Senior Correspondent at Vox, recently started publishing her Beccacore newsletter on Substack. She didn’t do it in direct response to Twitter’s downfall, but she has her biggest following on Twitter, and she told Mashable that there’s a “cynical aspect to knowing that if Twitter goes down, it’s the only platform where I have an audience.” She said it was helpful to have “an email list of people who actually care about what I write and possibly care about what I do in the future.”

Beccacore is also something she has thought about throughout her career as a journalist. She missed blogging and writing about fashion. Now she can do both of these things in a light-hearted way in her own newsletter.

“I’ve only done two editions of it, but I’ve found a niche where it’s a very, very short intro to something and then the rest of the newsletter is me shopping for d ‘other people,’ Jennings said. “And to me, it’s just pure fun. I wouldn’t call it crap or anything because it’s not super funny, but it’s definitely fun to do.”

Substack will not replace Twitter. But it has the potential to replace some of the things we love about Twitter, including writing light-hearted messages and finding a community.

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