What Does “Trust in Media” Even Mean?
On Substack and what constitutes trustworthy behavior
The Washington Post published a story a couple of days ago about the fact that Joseph Mercola, who is perhaps the number one purveyor of anti-vaccination disinformation in America (though maybe a little less known to mainstream pro-vaccination people than Robert Kennedy Jr.) has recently found a platform for disseminating his dangerous propaganda, and it is the newsletter platform Substack, where he is among the top 20 most popular writers in the “political” category.**
This is not terribly surprising since Substack has not shied away from content that’s been embraced by the right wing, and anti-vax content increasingly fits the bill. (A few prominent writers on the left have decamped elsewhere as a result.)
The anti-vax movement was at one point a fringe movement you could point to as an extreme that existed at both ends of a political spectrum but in the wake of the covid pandemic and the demonization of vaccines and preventative covid measures by Republicans under the Trump administration for political ends, anti-vaccine resistance is overwhelmingly more prevalent on the right. So now Substack has to deal with the problem of what to do with this content, which is very, very popular on their platform.
Content moderation is complex and difficult for platforms that allow for the publications of a range of topics and viewpoints, and Substack is not the only company that has struggled to formulate some consistent response to things like disinformation, hate speech, and use of their platform for the harassment of individuals. Some have opted for denial at first: we can’t control what’s on our platform. When it’s inevitably shown that their terms of services agreements specifically seek to do that and they often ban specific types of content on an ongoing basis that affect commercial considerations (porn, for example) they usually produce a set of guidelines that more definably articulate what they will and won’t publish. Sometimes these are simply boundaries in the shape of loopholes.
For example: I made notes for this post a couple of days ago and in the interim, the discussion over what Spotify should do about covid misinformation on Joe Rogan’s show heated up, so I wrote…