The Open Letter Still Works

Our final year-end Tedium award honors an open letter that hopefully encourages more creator-economy activism in 2024.

By Ernie Smith

There was a period earlier this year when I blinked. I shouldn’t have. I was nervous, and my career path had suddenly changed.

In April, I wrote a piece in which I talked up Substack Notes, admitted that I hated having to rely on them for their network effects, and then … suggested I would start working around their moat by posting content there.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you: Blinking. Platforms leverage the blink. They take advantage of it. That’s how they pull you in.

Best Blog Post 2023

My blog post earlier this year was not the best blog post, to be clear.

Honestly, I gave Substack too much credit. In my nine years of writing Tedium, I do not regret a post more than that one. I wasted time caring about Substack that I should have spent on other things. While I think the platform discussions I raised in that post were important, I quickly realized that Substack’s leadership was problematic in some serious ways. CEO Chris Best flubbing a layup of a question about moderation from Nilay Patel? It was only a hint at what was coming.

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But the right direction was set by writers like Marisa Kabas, who saw a lot of success with Substack in 2023 thanks to buzzy articles like a piece interviewing the owner and publisher of the Marion County Record in the wake of a high-profile police raid, and a lament about the death of women’s media. Kabas, however, was not afraid to question the company that gave her words a platform, and in the wake of an Atlantic article that directly implied Nazi users were openly posting there, she helped launch a campaign, Substackers Against Nazis.

My pick for best blog post is the Substackers Against Nazis open letter, which was posted on a variety of platforms, including Kabas’. As it states:

In the past you have defended your decision to platform bigotry by saying you “make decisions based on principles not PR” and “will stick to our hands-off approach to content moderation.” But there’s a difference between a hands-off approach and putting your thumb on the scale. We know you moderate some content, including spam sites and newsletters written by sex workers. Why do you choose to promote and allow the monetization of sites that traffic in white nationalism?

It is the sound of the writers shouting down the platform that gives them access to money and distribution, and it forced the company to outline its true feelings on freedom of speech. If this company refuses to stand up to the most vile of language and messaging, what will they do in the long run?

Already, we’re seeing a number of prominent Substackers looking for an exit, just as many have left (or tried to leave) Twitter throughout 2023. (Kabas, as she announced Thursday, is going to be one of them. “When we become so convinced that there is only one true platform, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: We excuse the flaws and forgive bad behavior from the people in charge,” she wrote. Well-said.)

A lot of petitions don’t go anywhere. This one did. If we hope to maintain a semblance of control over the platform system, this is what we need to do.

Not everyone is in a position to self-host. But bringing together like-minded people to speak out against a corporate structure not speaking out for their interests or defending their businesses? That’s easy.

The result is the very definition of a great blog post.


TikTok’s enshittification”: If we’re going for “most influential” blog post of 2023, this wins, big time. Cory Doctorow’s breakdown of “enshittification,” a much better choice for word of the year than “rizz,” has started to shape policy and made us rethink our relationships with technology companies. “Once you understand the enshittification pattern, a lot of the platform mysteries solve themselves,” he wrote.

Bitcoin Whitepaper

An open letter and an anonymous manifesto in the same newsletter. Huh, funny that.

The Bitcoin Whitepaper Is Hidden in Every Modern Copy of macOS”: Andy Baio, an old-school blogger just like Doctorow, has had more than a few great posts this year—I also recommend his post about modding Weird Al’s voice. But his piece highlighting the hidden PDF buried in each version of macOS is truly one-of-a-kind, the kind of wild finding some writers wait their entire careers to uncover. He, of course, found it by chance.


Have any favorites of your own? I’m highlighting my year-end faves in a thread on Mastodon. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal—and thanks again for reading!


Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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