The biggest online Trump community has officially been censored and is on the brink of collapse after Reddit, the country's sixth largest website, decided to purge the site of the President's supporters.
Reddit.com is arguably the biggest news and content aggregator in the country, providing a home for 'redditors' of all backgrounds to share and discuss the issues that matter most to them. When redditors find content on the site that they enjoy, they can 'upvote' it, which in turn makes it more visible to other users.
The website is broken up into 'subreddits,' user-created groups that focus on different niche topics and issues. Some subreddits are designed to focus on deliberately broad topics, like "pictures" or news." Others are more hyper-focused, seeking to create a community of like-minded individuals. Since subreddits are user-created, they are also user-run. With the exception of a few "official" subreddits, practically all communities on the site are moderated internally by volunteers.
The_Donald, the subreddit devoted to supporting the President of the United States, is no exception. The_Donald is the only subreddit on the site that has hosted a Q&A -- known as an 'Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) -- with Trump himself. The subreddit has also worked directly with the Trump campaign and many of the memes that you see on President Trump's social media pages originate on The _Donald.
The_Donald bills itself as a 24/7 online Trump rally and according to Reddit's official numbers show that the subreddit has over 791,000 subscribers. The community has long believed that those statistics are deliberately being underreported by the site.
On a website that is full of Liberal and Leftists, this subreddit serves as the one place that Trump supporters could talk about what they wanted to talk about. Despite how they preach tolerance and acceptance, leftists on the site have waged a years-long campaign to pressure Reddit CEO Spez to shut the community down.
When the subreddits users realized they could use their power to take advantage of the sites algorithm to send Trump memes to the front page for all to see, Reddit changed its algorithm to specifically stop outside users from seeing the content. When The_Donald figured out a way to get around these changes, Reddit adjusted its algorithm again… and again… and again until the it was next to impossible for non-members to see what was going on in the subreddit.
That apparently wasn't enough. During the cap and trade fight in Oregon, where Republicans fled the state to deny the Democrat majority a quorum necessary to pass their environmental legislation, users on The_Donald decried the Oregon Governor's threat to use police force to compel Republican legislators to return to the state. When Sen. Brian Boquist told the Governor to "send bachelors and come heavily armed," insinuating that such an act would be met with lethal force, some users on The_Donald reiterated that government officials who abuse their power to infringe on the people's rights should be met with force.
Reddit used this event as the pretext to "quarantine" The_Donald. While not a total ban, a quarantine prevents any content on the subreddit from reaching other areas of the website. Visitors to The_Donald were also served a warning that the subreddit was being quarantined for its users "encouragement of violence towards police officers and public officials in Oregon." Considering that the community reveres law enforcement, this was just the technicality that the site needed to begin shutting the subreddit down.
Reddit's corporate office told The_Donald's volunteer moderator team to get stricter with enforcing the site's content guidelines. But when the mod team appealed the quarantine, pointing out that there was no longer any anti-police content on the page, Reddit refused to lift the quarantine. Not long after, the warning message delivered to visitors was changed to simply accuse The_Donald of sharing "objectionable content."
The moderator team tried to abide by Reddit's ever-changing guidelines, but it didn't take long to realize that no matter what the community did, the goalposts were always changing. It is impossible to moderate content if the website refuses to actually publish objective guidelines.
This came to a head earlier this year when the community upvoted a meme. The picture showed a NAPA Auto Parts sign that had a message looking fun at political correctness.
"Are we still using tranny fluid? Or is it gender neutral shit juice now?"
Whether you think that is a good joke or a bad one, it is clearly a joke. But Reddit's corporate office believed that this meme violated its terms of service and removed it from the page. When one of The_Donald's moderators re-posted the meme, it was again taken down and he was also banned.
What followed was months of The_Donald mocking Reddit for Chinese-style censorship and trying to challenge the new subjective content regulations. This week, that mockery came to a head. Reddit announced that instead of simply punishing users who post "objectionable" content, the site would begin banning users who simply had upvoted it. It only took hours for the first warnings to hit users' inboxes, accusing them of promoting objectionable content and threatening to suspend their accounts unless they changed their ways. The problem was that these warning emails did not actually include links to the content in question. Reddit ordered thousands of Trump supporters to stop upvoting violative content, but refused to actually explain what that content was (or why it was deemed to violate Reddit's terms).
Within days, the next shoe dropped. Reddit began purging The_Donald's volunteer moderators, removing the subreddit's leaders and leaving the group short staffed and unable to possibly meet the website's demands for well-moderated content. Reddit responded by informing the community that the company would be vetting prospective moderators and giving what is left of the mod team a list of users that, in Reddit's eyes, are worthy of running the subreddit.
The only way that Reddit is able to stay in business is because it presents itself as a platform, not a publisher. Under Federal Law, platforms are not liable for the content that gets posted because the website itself does not play a role in curating it. Imagine if you put up a bulletin board in your office and one of your co-workers posted a lewd joke onto it. You're not responsible for the joke, you just set up the bulletin board.
If a website is deemed a publisher, then it is legally responsible for the content that gets posted. That would be a logistical nightmare for large content aggregators like Reddit.
There is no functional difference between vetting moderators and vetting the content itself, since the moderators are the ones that decide what can and cannot stay on the forum. Reddit is, right now, claiming the authority to install its own like-minded moderators onto the subreddit.
The_Donald is chock full of GOTV information. At one point, past mods even looked into setting up a PAC for parallel advertising. Not only does this sub routinely coordinate with Trump campaign officials, but it is the only subreddit where the President of the United States himself is a member and has done an AMA.
Given the subreddit's unapologetic political advocacy, is it even legal for Reddit to install its own moderators? I get that under the TOS, they can do what they want. But for a corporation to not only control messaging, but also to install its own leadership to moderate this political association, there are absolutely legal issues at play here.
The_Donald has always advertised itself as a non-stop, 24/7 Trump rally. Considering that it is against Federal law for corporations to donate to political campaigns, they are operating in a lot of grey area here by making it their corporate position that they will choose who will moderate this online political association.
Imagine if a political campaign wanted to do an AMA, but Reddit said that they would only allow the AMA to be published if the campaign chose from their list of approved individuals to man the account and respond to questions. That is what is happening here.
If Reddit and other websites want to editorialize and control the messaging posted on their pages, then they need to be reclassified as publishers and held liable for the content that gets posted.
And when these tech companies go after political associations and actually install their own leaders to run the pages, they absolutely need to be investigated for campaign finance violations.