Jun 29, 2020 - Technology

Reddit bans The_Donald forum as part of major hate speech purge

Photo Illustration: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Reddit says it is banning its controversial subreddit channel r/The_Donald, one of the company's largest political communities and a longstanding hub of support for President Trump, along with 2,000 other subreddit groups and users that violate new content policies aimed at hate speech.

Why it matters: Reddit becomes the latest social media platform, in the wake of George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests, to take action against Trump or his supporters for violating rules or misleading users.

What they're saying: In a conversation with reporters, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said that the company tried everything it could to avoid outright banning The_Donald subreddit channel for years, but the group continued to violate the site's content policies.

  • He said the company tried to approach The_Donald users in good faith over the years, but they continued to break Reddit's rules, like upvoting more rule-breaking content and antagonizing Reddit and other Reddit communities.
  • "It was becoming clear that the company's values and the way discourse was playing out on the platform was one of the main things we wanted to fix in our content policy update," Huffman said.

Reddit is initially banning about 2,000 subreddit groups and users, the vast majority of which are inactive.

  • It's also banning the subreddit r/ChapoTrapHouse, a popular channel for left-oriented users, citing the same issues that led to the ban on The_Donald.
  • About 200 of those groups have more than 10 daily users
  • Some of the other subreddits being banned include r/darkhumorandmemes, r/consumeproduct, r/darkjokecentral, r/gendercritical, r/cumtown, r/imgoingtohellforthis2, r/wojak, r/soyboys.

Details: With the bans, Reddit has also announced changes to its content policy, including more explicit rules barring hate speech to ensure that the platform is "welcoming" and not weaponizing.

Changes include limits on the ways Reddit channels and users upvote or post content that:

  • mocks people with physical disabilities;
  • describes a racial minority as sub-human and inferior to the racial majority;
  • argues that rape of women should be acceptable and not a crime;
  • expresses revulsion that people of color have the right to vote.

Reddit also expanded one of its rules to more explicitly prohibit attempts to organize spammy or inauthentic efforts to manipulate the platform.

  • Reddit's other 6 rules will remain the same in spirit but have been rewritten for clarity and inclusiveness.
  • Reddit says it made these changes after conversations with its subreddit moderators as well as third parties in the social and racial justice communities.

The big picture: Reddit has for years faced intense pressure to take action on The_Donald. But scrutiny against its inaction has intensified in recent weeks around the racial justice protests sweeping the nation, forcing it to finally change its rules.

  • Backlash against Reddit has been building ever since Trump was elected in 2016. Critics say its become a haven for hate and bigotry. Huffman argues that "Reddit is home to the most authentic conversation online."
  • Huffman notes that political conversations "have always been a huge part of Reddit," saying that "politics was among one of the company's first communities."
  • But he did concede that he has personally struggled with balancing his own values around free speech and free expression with his values and the company's values around common human decency and safety.

Between the lines: The removal of r/The_Donald follows numerous calls by activists to push Reddit to take action against far-right and extremist groups on its platform.

  • Earlier this month, former Reddit president Ellen Pao ripped Huffman for "amplifying" racism and hate and called on him to ban r/The_Donald.
  • Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the company's board two weeks ago, and asked that his seat be filled with a Black board member.

What's next: Expect Republican lawmakers to push back. Earlier this month, Republicans in Congress wrote a letter to Reddit threatening to take action against the tech company if it tried to censor the r/The_Donald.

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