Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Reddit's decision to shut down a forum for notoriously combative Trump supporters puts a final nail in the coffin of one particular dream of internet idealists: the idea that online discussion spaces could, and should, serve as a universal meeting ground.

Why it matters: There's a dwindling number of environments in news media, social media, and society where Americans across the Trump era's great political divide communicate with one another — or have a chance to hear what the other side is saying.

Driving the news: Reddit announced Monday it was shutting down r/The_Donald, along with hundreds of other subreddits that violated its rules — among them r/ChapoTrapHouse, a gathering spot for fans of a popular leftist podcast.

Flashback: In the social media era, Reddit, started in 2005, has become a bastion of old-school online conversation, with all the advantages of that format, including openness, variety and spontaneity, along with the disadvantages — vapidity, flaming and trolling.

  • Like its predecessors in the long tradition of online forums (from AOL to the Well to Usenet), Reddit assumed that if everyone could join the conversation, everyone would benefit. But also like those predecessors, it had some rules setting the outer legal and moral limits of expression.

Long before Donald Trump entered politics, this model had proven problematic: Reddit, like every previous experiment in open online forums, found that its environment often worked against the voices of women, LGTBQ users, minority group members and anyone else who didn't fit a white-male baseline.

  • The broad anonymity of many users on Reddit further complicated these identity issues.

Reddit's structure, in which groups of users are free to form smaller "subreddit" communities with their own cultures and quirks, aimed to build a big tent with room enough for groups that might not get along.

  • But it also left space for hate, discrimination and nastiness to flourish — and even cordoned off in a subreddit, that behavior offended and outraged others on and off Reddit.

The divisions of the Trump era kicked these dynamics into overdrive.

  • Reddit just wanted everyone to get along. But many users on r/The_Donald — which flourished during Trump's 2016 campaign and early presidency with hundreds of thousands of users incubating memes, conspiracy theories, and racist tropes — wanted to push the service' rules to the limit and beyond.

Reddit acted only slowly against the forum — too slowly, according to critics. But last June it "quarantined" r/The_Donald, removing its posts from the site's home page listings and search results and requiring users who wanted to see posts to click through an opt-in screen.

  • With little sign of change among the users, and a sea-change in U.S. attitudes on race following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Reddit finally closed down r/The_Donald altogether.

Our thought bubble: Commercial platforms never provide absolute free speech since they have legal obligations to prohibit certain kinds of content, including copyright violations and abusive images of children.

  • Every platform has terms of service and content rules that to a greater or lesser degree bar some speech, including in many cases harassment and hate speech.
  • Decisions to enforce these rules ultimately shape who feels welcome, who participates, and who leaves.

What they're thinking:

  • On the right, Reddit's move is seen as the latest in a long line of content-moderation choices that are viewed as censorship.
  • On the left, it's seen as a long-overdue clean-up of a dangerous mess.
  • For Reddit itself, it's an admission that there are some groups that even the web's old-school proponents of openness and free thinking aren't going to be able to accommodate.

What's next: Conservatives have already begun seeking alternative platforms.

  • Parler, a Twitter-like service that Sen. Ted Cruz and others on the right have been promoting, has seen a burst of growth.
  • Parler bills itself as a "censorship-free" zone, left-oriented users are already running afoul of the site's moderators.

The bottom line: Like everything else in the U.S., online conversation will continue to split into blue-state and red-state alternatives.

  • Facebook and Twitter hope that they can continue to serve users across that divide.
  • But the pressures of the moment mean that Trump and his supporters will keep testing the platforms' limits, while Trump's enemies will cry foul and launch boycotts.
  • Neither platform is likely to make both groups happy. Along with everyone else, they will have to pick sides.

Go deeper

Jun 30, 2020 - Technology

Tech finally begins a crackdown on Trump

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Social media giants are no longer giving Donald Trump, his supporters and the alt-right a free pass for inflammatory or misleading speech online.

Why it matters: For years, President Trump and far-right extremists have relied on the loose content policies of tech platforms to reach millions of Americans unfiltered. Ahead of the 2020 election, social media may be turning down the volume on Trump's online megaphone.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 12,009,301 — Total deaths: 548,799 — Total recoveries — 6,561,969Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 3,053,328 — Total deaths: 132,256 — Total recoveries: 953,420 — Total tested: 37,532,612Map.
  3. Public health: Houston mayor cancels Republican convention over coronavirus concerns Deaths are rising in hotspots — Déjà vu sets in as testing issues rise and PPE dwindles.
  4. Travel: United warns employees it may furlough 45% of U.S. workforce How the pandemic changed mobility habits, by state.
  5. Education: New York City schools will not fully reopen in fallHarvard and MIT sue Trump administration over rule barring foreign students from online classes.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: A misinformation "infodemic" is here.

Transcripts show George Floyd told police "I can't breathe" over 20 times

Photo: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Newly released transcripts of bodycam footage from the Minneapolis Police Department show that George Floyd told officers he could not breathe more than 20 times in the moments leading up to his death.

Why it matters: Floyd's killing sparked a national wave of Black Lives Matter protests and an ongoing reckoning over systemic racism in the United States. The transcripts "offer one the most thorough and dramatic accounts" before Floyd's death, The New York Times writes.