The Wu Train has arrived on a new platform.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who has made online engagement a key plank of her political strategy, last week joined the newsletter website Substack. The platform offers the mayor another opportunity to directly reach her constituents without the time and space limitations — or additional questions and context — of traditional news media. And, she told the Globe, she hopes Substack can be a space free from the vitriolic comments that too often dominate online discourse.
Wu told the Globe she intends to personally author Substack posts at least once a week “with my direct thoughts on what’s happening around the city.” The posts will be free to read, and users can also sign up to receive them via email.
So far, Wu has used the Substack platform for both light announcements and serious policy news. She promoted public movie screenings in Boston parks (“I’m no Nicole Kidman, but we still won’t tell big little lies!”) and explained at length her new three-part plan to address the crisis near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.
As Boston’s first millennial mayor, 38-year-old Wu has pushed city government into new technological spaces, using social media for everything from conducting live video interviews with public health experts to sharing photos of her favorite treats. She’s part of a group of young politicians across the country who have begun using sometimes unexpected online tools as more casual, direct ways to engage with constituents. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat, famously raised six figures for charity in 2020 when she streamed herself playing the online game “Among Us” on Twitch, a platform popular among gamers.
Until this year, Wu was a frequent poster on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, using it to crack jokes, promote policies, and share personal updates. But this year, she has sharply curtailed her use of X, saying in January that the platform had become “more and more toxic.”
Wu said she used to enjoy X as a place where “I could have more direct dialogue with constituents and go back and forth on issues that mattered to Boston.” But “the social media landscape has been changing pretty quickly,” she said.
“Now, fewer and fewer people are engaged in those same spaces. A lot of it has been crowded out by hateful rhetoric or trolling of other people,” she said.
She said she hopes Substack will allow for dialogue, including opposition, without vitriol, and she intends to remove comments that cross the line into harassment.
“I hope that this is much more than just a one-way platform to put ideas out into the world, or even just for me to see what people are responding directly to my thoughts, but to have more of a community space where everyone can be in one conversation,” she said. “And that means protecting some degree of civility as well.”
Wu continues to use X occasionally under her personal handle, @wutrain, while the city uses her mayoral account, @MayorWu, for official business, and she has personal and official Instagram accounts, under the same handles. Wu has also recently revived her LinkedIn presence, she said, to assess whether that platform can foster the kind of online engagement she’s seeking.