Reddit restricts its biggest pro-Trump board over violent threats

Trump merchandise for sale in 2016.

The subreddit r/The_Donald is in digital detention.

On Wednesday, Reddit “quarantined” a popular pro-Donald Trump forum on its site. Although the move was prompted because the “r/The_Donald” subreddit was hosting violent threats and violating other site policies, it’s likely to add to Republicans’ complaints that social media companies are biased against conservatives.

Reddit put the message board, which is a popular place for Trump fans to gather and stir up support, in a sort of virtual detention due to what the company called “significant issues with reporting and addressing violations” of its content policy.

According to Reddit, the most recent violations have included threats against the police and public officials in Oregon, where state lawmakers have been engaged in a battle over a climate bill. Reddit officials told the forum’s moderators that they had observed “repeated rule-breaking behavior” on the board in recent months and that violent content there “often goes unreported, and worse, is upvoted.”

A subreddit quarantine means that visitors will see a warning screen when they try to access a forum and have to opt into viewing its content. Quarantined subreddits also can’t generate revenue, appear in non-subscription based feeds, or appear in search or recommendations. Quarantining a forum is, obviously, not the same as banning one, and and this won’t do a whole lot to disrupt this subreddit’s activity.

”We are clear in our site-wide policies that posting content that encourages or threatens violence is not allowed on Reddit,” a Reddit spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Recode. “As we have shared, we are sensitive to what could be considered political speech, however, recent behaviors including threats against the police and public figures is content that is prohibited by our violence policy. As a result, we have actioned individual users and quarantined the subreddit.”

The r/The_Donald subreddit was launched in 2015 and has about 750,000 subscribers. It claims to be a “never-ending rally” dedicated to President Trump.

r/The_Donald quarantine screen
The screen that now appears on the r/The_Donald subreddit when users try to access it.

r/The_Donald subreddit has long been a source of controversy and has been dinged for breaking Reddit’s rules before. As the Verge notes, in 2016, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman announced that posts in the subreddit would no longer appear in r/all, one of Reddit’s main forums. But in the same announcement, he said that rather than banning r/The_Donald, he instead wanted Reddit and the country to “heal” and called for people to “separate the behavior of some of the [message board’s] users from their politics.”

Reddit has attracted both praise and criticism when it’s banned other forums in the past, such as r/incels and those that push QAnon conspiracy theories or promote the alt-right, but it has kept r/The_Donald around. Vox’s Aja Romano in 2017 did a deep dive into the situation:

It’s understandable that Huffman would want to try to work with The_Donald rather than banning it altogether, given the site’s commitment to free speech. But The_Donald has habitually seemed uninterested in integrating into the rest of the community: Moderators routinely suppress opposing views, “ban[ning] hundreds of people a week who are either concern trolls, berniebots, republican shills, spammers, sjws and so on.” Between its hostility to outsiders, perpetual rule breaking, perpetual drama, and perpetual hate speech, The_Donald has become, statistically speaking, the most unpopular community on Reddit.

All in all, The_Donald seems to have done far more to disrupt Reddit as a whole than it has to enhance it. In this case, Reddit’s commitment to free speech has meant allowing a deeply toxic community to actively undermine the general spirit and tone of the site.

Moderators of r/The_Donald are protesting Reddit’s decision to quarantine their subreddit. In a post, they complained over how the quarantine coincides with the first round of Democratic primary debates and said Reddit had set up an “impossible standard as a reason to kill us before the 2020 election.”

The moderators can appeal the quarantine; to get it removed, Reddit would require them to take a variety of steps, including communicating to subscribers “unambiguously” that violent content is unacceptable and taking other unspecific actions to reduce rule-violating content.

The subreddit’s moderators posted a series of tweets about the incident and claimed that threats to public officials on the board are “rare” and have been “actively removed by moderators forever” and that Reddit was, to put it simply, lying.

The right is already seizing this action to bolster its fight against Big Tech

Trump and many Republicans have long claimed that social media companies and other tech firms are biased against them and suppress their content. In an interview earlier in the day on Wednesday on Fox Business Network, the president said the United States should sue tech companies because of bias and accused Google of trying to “rig” the 2020 election against him. But there’s no evidence that there is some sort of anti-conservative censorship embedded in the ways social media companies moderate content.

“All of these companies have algorithmic bias, but the bias is not partisan, the bias is toward extremism,” Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia, told Recode. “There’s a bias against boring.”

Still, some conservatives are already saying that Reddit’s r/The_Donald quarantine is another example of tech companies’ bias, despite the forum’s repeated violations of Reddit’s rules.

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