On Monday, Reddit — a site oft regarded amongst the internet’s dirtiest ditches, barred a pro-Trump fanbase.
The latest development in Trump’s now very public disputes with multiple tech giants involves Reddit, a veteran of US pop culture, and a staple in almost every other Netflix highschool drama. In tandem with their peers at Facebook, the social discussion platform made the bold decision of shutting down its largest community in an attempt to revamp their hate speech policies, which have become increasingly important in the current political climate.
The_Donald, which boasted a massive 790,000 members was brimming with viral content, and rants with thousands of upvotes from some of the Whitehouse incumbent’s most ardent loyalists. I’d love to share some with you, but as Trump’s salty tears after his failed rally in Tulsa, unfortunately, they are no more.
Employing a decentralized approach to content moderation, Reddit has managed to save a multitude of time and resources, by relying on its users to aid with content moderation. In this case, that backfired, and the lopsided majority of white moderators are said to have censored outposts pertaining to the increasingly prevalent Black Lives Matter movement, which has gained global traction with the recent murder of George Floyd in the US’s ongoing struggle with police brutality. Sidestepping their roles, moderators are said to have condemned posts citing the movement as ‘off-topic’ or ‘apolitical’, whilst other users consistently broke rules by targeting and harassing others with hate speech.
“Political speech is amongst the most sacred in our country, and we do believe that, and removing a community that represents political views of a large percentage of our population I think is deeply problematic,” remarked Steve Huffman, the site's co-founder & CEO. “But at the same time, it doesn’t mean a community can use that as a shield to behave dangerously.”
How Reddit became A Trump Tram
In the three weeks since the start of the Black Lives Matter protests, several other forums have been forced into permanent quarantine with the new policy update alongside the Trump subreddit. The update marked a sharp U-turn from the company’s formerly soft approach towards regulating content, a platform that once allowed users to share stolen nude photos on their website.
“I have to admit that I’ve struggled with balancing my values as an American, and around free speech and free expression, with my values and the company’s values around common human decency,” Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said in a call with Verge reporters.
Viewing their platform as a space for community and belonging, the company issued a statement, distancing itself from content "mocking people with physical disabilities" and "describing racial minorities as sub-human and inferior to the racial majority," and reassured users that it had no place for such content on its website.
Trump, who appears to have been a keen consumer of the community’s content frequently tweeted memes from The_Donald. Sharing his free-spirited approach to endorsing falsehoods (no, injecting bleach will not protect you from coronavirus), and the combative nature with which he confronts dissent, the community has long been a magnet for conspiracy theories and sharp attacks on the president's critics.
Trump-loving and hate breeding on Reddit
Not unfamiliar with intense public scrutiny, supporters of the president on Reddit have previously faced backlash. Members of the alt-right movement amongst its Trump’s fanbase co-opted Matt Furie’s Pepe the Frog as a far-right racist hate symbol. Appropriating the character, internet users altered the cartoon in a plethora of ways. So many, that variations of this meme earned the esoteric status of ‘rare Pepes’ and even sold for thousands of dollars.
The meme has vastly been used in non-bigoted tropes, nonetheless, it quickly proliferated online venues such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, marking the beginning of the end for what started as a crudely drawn internet sensation. Mobilized in thousands of memes propagating racism, Pepe the Frog died a sad death when the internet’s key arbiter listed it as a hate symbol in 2016.
Banished from the world of SEO, The_Donald was relegated to the lower tiers of an internet celebrity in June 2019. As it stopped showing up in search results and lost its ability to monetize ad-placements. However, facing steep resistance from Reddit’s Huffman, it was only recently that the platform succumbed to mounting pressure to terminate the subreddit for good.
Other platforms against Trump
Most of the prominent memes about Trump have been shared consistently on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms that originated on The_Donald sub-Reddit. These social media giants have often regarded themselves as neutral sites that feature people’s posts and videos, although users are now demanding demand they act against hateful and abusive content.
More recently, platforms like Twitter have taken charge of dealing with these matters with Twitter’s recent decision to highlight Trump’s tweets exalting violence. Snapchat also announced it would stop endorsing Trump’s account after taking the view that his public comments on the platform could stir violence.
YouTube also recently announced that it was banning a few channels for breaching its policies. They included those of two famed white supremacists, David Duke & Richard Spencer, and American Renaissance, a white fanatic publication.
On Monday, Twitch, the popular streaming website ceased Mr Trump’s account for defying the website’s policies against hateful conduct, as Trump’s channel had live-streamed his campaign rally from 2015, in which he demeaned Mexicans and immigrants, among others.
"Hateful conduct is considered a zero-tolerance violation," said a Twitch spokesperson.
While the subreddit The_Donald is not officially connected to Trump, Reddit’s action may spark outrage from the president and conservationists.
Critiqued from inside and out, former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, tweeted earlier in June stating that The_Donald should have been banned long ago. “You should have shut down the_donald instead of amplifying it and its hate, racism, and violence,” she said in a tweet directed at Huffman. “So much of what is happening now lies at your feet. You don’t get to say BLM when Reddit nurtures and monetises white supremacy and hate all day long.”