Future Tense

The_Donald Was Over Before Reddit Banned it

The Reddit logo displayed on a phone screen
This Snoo bans trolls. Nick Ansell/Reuters

Reddit announced on Monday that it is banning about 2,000 subreddits including r/The_Donald, the site’s largest pro-Trump community, as a result of updates to its policy banning hate speech. The subreddit, which had more than 790,000 members, was notorious for hosting violent threats, racist content, harassment, and conspiracy theories. “All communities on Reddit must abide by our content policy in good faith. We banned r/The_Donald because it has not done so, despite every opportunity,” Reddit CEO Steve Huffman wrote in a statement.

Reddit is introducing eight rules that more clearly and forcefully define behaviors that are not allowed on the site. Huffman specifically accused r/The_Donald of violating rules having to do with identity-based harassment, inauthentic behavior (that is, coordinated troll campaigns) that disrupts other Reddit communities, and interfering with the site’s functions. Reddit’s Monday purge also included a subreddit dedicated to the left-wing podcast Chapo Trap House, which had about 160,000 users, because its moderators had allegedly failed to rein in rule-breaking. Most of the other banned communities were fairly obscure and inactive; only 200 of them had more than 10 daily users.

Among the larger banned subreddits were r/gendercritical, which focused on trans-exclusionary feminism, and r/wojak, which was associated with the Wojak meme popular among incels.

The r/The_Donald subreddit was founded in June 2015, right around when Donald Trump first announced his run for the presidency. Since then it has been home to inflammatory memes and fringe conspiracy theories like Pizzagate. Though it’s not directly associated with the president, Trump has shared content that originated in the subreddit and once participated in an “Ask Me Anything” session with its members in 2016. After Media Matters for America revealed that members had been posting violent threats against Oregon police and officials last June, Reddit quarantined r/The_Donald, meaning that users would have to click through a warning message before being able to access the subreddit. The site also removed the subreddit from search results and recommendations. No surprise: These days The_Donald is a ghost town.

Reddit’s ban is only the latest in a wave of decisions by social media companies to moderate content put out by Trump, his campaign, and his supporters. In May, Twitter began attaching warning labels and fact-check alerts to tweets that Trump had sent about mail-in voting and the police brutality protests in Minneapolis. Since then, Facebook has also deactivated a Trump campaign ad that featured a symbol once used by Nazis and implemented stricter rules for what politicians are allowed to post on the platform. And on Monday, shortly after Reddit’s announcement, the Amazon-owned video streaming service Twitch temporarily suspended an account belonging to the Trump campaign.

Republicans have predictably chafed at this spate of bans. Indiana Sen. Jim Banks said to Axios of Reddit’s decision, “R/The_Donald played an outsized role in helping Trump win in the 2016 election. With 2020 fast approaching, they just can’t help themselves.” Trump and other conservative lawmakers have threatened to target Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives legal protections to platforms that moderate their own content. Pro-Trump supporters are also vowing to decamp to other platforms. (These days, many far-right internet users are flocking to the alternative social media network Parler, which purports to have much more lax rules for what users can post.) Members of r/The_Donald had actually already created a new forum called thedonald.win last year, and the subreddit itself has become much less active—it’s only had one post in the last 100 days.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.