On difficult choices for our collective digital wellbeing
It’s been a while since I posted on Substack – over a month. My last post felt like a natural end to one natural cycle of this newsletter, so I paused for a while to think carefully about the future of this space. In a way, last November marked the end of a book project I decided to write openly about here on Substack. A book, which hopefully, when put together “on paper,” will help inspire people to reconnect with Nature and digital technologies more organically.
I needed to pause and allow myself time to reflect on this space. And just as I was doing that, news emerged that Substack has an ethical issue with content moderation (I am purposefully avoiding some keywords here, so please check the link for context). So, things got complicated for me. I work as a liberation practitioner, and making informed choices about my platforms is incredibly important for me. My initial feeling was to leave – I feel uneasy when my virtual “home” amplifies voices I find harmful, even more so when their financial support is involved (aka subscriptions). However, immediate, rushed decisions are not always helpful in such complex, large-scale platforms.
So I waited to see what the Substack response would be. There was some movement in early January, but the response was deemed inappropriate. Leading, established voices on this platform started leaving elsewhere. Early in January, I realised that I wanted to continue with my Nature and Digital Wellbeing diary simply because I love this weekly/fortnightly ritual I have developed for myself. In fact, for 2024, I feel it may be helpful to move to the Slavic calendar – starting in January and ending in December and on the way, exploring each month with its beauty but also meaning in various cultures aligned with this annual rhythm. I have so many annuals and almanacs on my shelf; it’s enough to inspire a few posts each month. This year, I am actually working on the land, offering Nature therapies to people in need, so sharing my learning feels so close to my heart.
I wrote down a few drafts, and as snowdrops started peaking out of the autumn leaves, I was ready to start. Yet, I still hesitated. I explored my own feelings about this space and just kept coming back to the overall unease: I do not like the fact that I am inviting people to a platform that ignores harm; I feel complicit by default – which causes me a small but significant sense of moral injury. It feels like an emotional noise I do not need in my life and work. It bothers me. When something bothers me this way, I wait. I do not decide until I fully understand my feelings and the situation. So I continued writing down what bothers me, what the benefits and challenges of being here are, and what I need from this space for it to align with my goals and, more importantly, my values.
Substack is a huge platform, powerful and leading in the newsletters space. Unique. Different from MailChimp. It’s a wonderful blend of newsletter distribution, social networking and crowdfunding. It works for so many. It works for my readers – easy-to-read posts in their inboxes. It works for me, even though I do not need a paid subscription. So, one important question for me is this: do I need to be on Substack? I feel that maybe, yes, for the people who are following me here. However, truth be told, my company blog can do so much more for me, and it is my space, one I can design and moderate. The only benefit of Substack for the content posted here is the distribution mechanism.
On the other hand, let’s look at the bigger picture around the ethics of this platform. Many major social media platforms battle with the same moderation issue. Spotify has a problem, and I have just launched our company podcast there. Twitter has a problem, and I have used it for so long and still have to recommend it to my clients. TikTok is still new to many clients and is already battling content moderation issues. I will not even spend too much time talking about Meta’s history of meddling with political events like Brexit and now our intellectual property, too. Across the Internet, as users of those affordable publishing tools, we face exactly the same dilemma: do I want to offer my content and my digital footprint while the company owning the platform not only benefits from the harmful publishers but fails to take a strong ethical stand?
Aware that I really should send you an update; towards the end of January, I was still drafting posts for the new annual cycle, but I still didn’t know where to publish them. I wanted to stay true to myself, so I didn’t rush it. Crocuses came out in our front garden announcing the hope for emerging spring (I love how early those Nature announcements come in the U.K.!). Feeling the rhythm of Mother Earth speeding up before it burst into the spring flower magic, I was getting a little bit worried about you all. However, when making decisions about an entire year of what effectively blogging, I needed to be 200% certain that I was doing the right thing. I saw established and respected friends and colleagues of mine deciding to stay on Substack, and I was super happy for them to make that choice – this is an absolutely unique, incredibly hard choice for each and every one of us. I wholeheartedly respect that.
My heart was becoming very clear on what I must and can do. As a liberation practitioner, I value healthy resistance to unhealthy, risky environments while also advocating for strong agency in making informed choices, choosing wellbeing over stuckness in harm and – most importantly – dreaming and aiming for a thriving future. Now, when I think about Subtack as a company, I do not like their moves. I do not think they are doing enough. I feel incredibly uneasy that their engine and structure facilitate harmful content and help harmful organisations make money to increase their power online and offline. Given a choice, I do not want to be a part of it. I feel limited and uneasy here. And that is at the core of my final decision: I actually do have a choice. I have no choice but to use Spotify, Instagram or Twitter (although I have slowed down on posting on Twitter specifically). I do have a choice in moving away from Subtack. So this is what I can do: I can move all my content from here to my company blog and keep using the Substack distribution engine to send you all updates each time a new post is up – you will still receive it in your inboxes with the link to the full post. I will post a summary here on Subtack so you can decide if it’s worth making this additional click-over to my company blog. I promise it will be worth it;) And every time you do, you will also make a statement about supporting liberation from harmful behaviours online.
As January was ending, I was still drafting posts you will see on my company blog soon (I will shamelessly backdate them, as that is what that option is for;)). Daffodils came up in our local park, and their full, unopened heads reminded me of the importance of waiting, collecting energy, moving forward with the right pacing and steading ourselves. I announced the move back from Substack to our company blog in our MailChimp newsletter this week. I started drafting the January posts on the VoxelHub blog for you – this is coming soon.
In the meantime, something interesting happened in the Subtack community. Stephen Fry, a powerful UK influencer, joined Substack with a super interesting post about technology pioneers. It’s a great post, and Fry is a wonderful advocate for mental health and tech optimism. The only issue I have with this post is its timing. It makes me feel so uneasy that such a powerful voice comes into this space during the Substack crisis. I would love to think the platform crisis and this arrival are completely unrelated. At the same time, I worked in the social media industry long enough, and I was, hands up, one of those people who would invite a powerful voice to fix a reputation problem. So this makes me feel uneasy and, in a weird, quiet way, validates my move to step away (at least in terms of my focus) from Substack.
I really hope that Substack leaders will prove pioneers indeed. In 2024, pioneering tech means factoring in its ethical impact on the future of this planet, so let’s see how this space shifts in the next few months. Increasingly, we face complex but also pretty clear decisions – to support health and wellbeing or harm. I chose health and wellbeing, especially digital wellbeing. I feel that by moving the focus on this newsletter to a space I can ensure to be ethical, I am practising my liberation. Thus, I am stepping away from Substack as much as I can. I cannot fully support this platform if I have a choice to be elsewhere.
I hope those who have been with me for a while will understand my choice. I thank you for your incredible patience with those few weeks of silence. I am going to share my January drafts on the Voxel Hub blog, and I will send them to you all in my next weekly update. I will send you short blog post summaries via Substack and welcome you with open arms on our independent company blog hosted on WordPress with Tubu – an American company I have found supportive and ethical for many years now.
I know this post is unusual. However, I would like to leave you with one reflection:
- What are the choices you have regarding where you post online? Do you consider the ethical aspects of the platforms you use? In a world that increasingly takes away our agency, how does it feel to have a choice and make it?
(I am off to publish those January posts for you and to enjoy the windy spring in Bristol. Spring is coming, and I need to check in with our allotment to prepare for the glorious tulips, daffodils and muscari planted in our allotment’s raised bed. I so cannot wait to share their photos with you! Wishing you a soft Sunday!)
This post was originally posted on Substack in our Syl’s Liberation Psychologies Newsletter.