For those of you who’ve never heard of it, Reddit is an online forum and social news platform with an impressive network of communities based on people’s interests, which are separated into different pages called ‘subreddits’. The platform is also infamous for giving freedom of speech free reign, sometimes leading to some pretty shocking statements on there.
But on Monday, Reddit kicked off a surprising day of bans against Trump and the far right. It started by banning the subreddit r/The_Donald, a pro-Trump forum, known for repeated ‘rule-breaking’. As the platform banned more and more subreddits, many wondered why it was doing so only now. Here’s why.
Although The Donald was considered as the most important ban, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman announced that it was just one of 2,000 subreddits banned by the site as it was on a mission to institute rule changes designed to make the platform less accommodating to hateful and abusive communities. As it later turned out, The Donald had been close to inactive for months and most of the other banned subreddits were small or inactive too.
Only a few others were notable, including the subreddit r/ChapoTrapHouse, which was associated with the left-wing podcast of the same name. Another subreddit called Gendercritical, which regularly promoted transphobic views was also banned.
This day of bans reminded many of the similar sequence of bans that took place in August 2018, when conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was banned from many social media platforms in only a few days.
Later in the day on Monday 29 June, the live-streaming video service Twitch announced that it had temporarily suspended Trump’s account for rebroadcasting comments about Mexican immigrants that broke its “hateful conduct and harassment policies.” Could these new bans be specifically aimed at Trump?
YouTube also followed by banning several far-right and racist creators from its video-sharing platform, including white supremacists David Duke, Richard Spencer, and Stefan Molyneux. While these actions should definitely be appreciated, it should also be noted that all three seemed to have been taken a bit too late.
These bans were all preceded by policy changes at Facebook and Twitter, which both shifted how the platforms handle rule-breaking behaviour by accounts linked to the president as well as the far right. The subreddit The Donald once played an important part in the pro-Trump internet community and its organisation. Over the years, it had managed to bring extremist content in front of big audiences.
In 2016, Huffman had limited the reach of the subreddit after it figured out how to get the site’s algorithms to promote pro-Trump content. Members were spreading the Pizzagate conspiracy theory while volunteer moderators had asked Huffman to do something in order to fight the abuse and harassment communities faced from The Donald members.
Some would agree that Reddit’s bans came too late; but then again, better late than never, no? These policy updates come three weeks after Black Lives Matter protests led many Reddit forums to ‘go dark’ in protest of the company’s lax policies around hosting (and therefore promoting) conservative and racist content. Reddit’s change of approach towards free expression on its platform proves that things might finally start to change.