Net Neutrality Is Dividing Trump Supporters on Reddit

Trump supporters on Reddit argue over whether FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is a free market champion or a corporate shill. 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Net neutrality is dividing pro-Trump Redditors, at least according to conversations on the /r/The_Donald subreddit, where some of the president’s most ardent computer-savvy supporters reside. Though members usually use the space to collectively mock “social justice warriors” and justify Trump’s positions, Hill editor Will Sommer pointed to a cluster of threads on Tuesday and Wednesday demonstrating how the community is struggling to balance competing political values in the net neutrality debate.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai released a plan on Tuesday that would kill Obama-era regulations preventing internet service providers from controlling the speed at which certain websites load or from charging websites for faster speeds—a principle commonly known net neutrality.

The Reddit community at large appears to be ringing alarm bells over Pai’s move; the site’s front page has been flooded with calls to organize against the plan and promote a more egalitarian internet.

Posters on the /r/The_Donald, however, appear to be debating with one another about the matter. The arguments presented in related threads reflect different factions within the president’s base, including libertarians, populists, and conspiracy theorists.

While Trump hasn’t said much recently on the debate, he did post a tweet in 2014 criticizing Obama’s support of net neutrality as an “attack on the internet” that “will target conservative media.” A considerable number of people in the subreddit use the very fact that the president opposes the regulations, while his detractors support them, as a heuristic. For instance, a commenter with the handle Bump-4-Trump writes, “Its a Soros thing. He has launched a campagin on it. Bernie Sanders and Obama are for it. … Rand Paul/Ted Cruz and president Trump is against it. Pretty easy choice.” The pro–net neutrality advocacy from Silicon Valley institutions, which some Trump fans see as leftist enemies of the president, is taken as further evidence of net neutrality’s shortcomings.

Other Trump diehards employ traditional small-government conservatism to argue against net neutrality, which mirrors Pai’s free market logic. As one commenter noted, “The internet was the one platform not regulated by the government. That right there is why net neutrality is bad … ”

Trump’s more populist Reddit supporters, however, seem to be more skeptical of giving ISP corporations even more power and characterize net neutrality as a policy to protect everyday consumers. One wrote, “I’m all for the free market but this may be an instance where telecomms who already have local monopolies are simply looking for yet another advantage over their customers.” A handful of posters construe Pai’s history as a lawyer for Verizon and long career in government as the mark of a swamp-dweller.

This line of thought can flirt with conspiracy, as some suggest that the fairly liberal leanings of many internet service providers could open doors for censorship of conservative outlets. There are fears that internet service providers like Comcast, which owns MSNBC, could resort to heavy-handed political policing by blocking Infowars and other similar sites, or at least charging costumers more to visit them.

A person with the handle TrumpDeportForce1 even proposes that net neutrality was key to Trump’s climb to political prominence: “Free and open internet contributed BIGLY to Trump’s rise. No way a controlled internet would have allowed for someone like him to become this popular.”