Reddit Brings the Banhammer Down on r/The_Donald and 2,000 Other Subs

Image: Mandel Ngan, Getty
Image: Mandel Ngan, Getty

This weekend’s rumours were true: Reddit has swung its mighty banhammer, taking out 2,000 groups, including r/The_Donald and r/ChapoTrapHouse. A few hours later, the Verge reported that Twitch temporarily banned the Donald himself, namely over video of his racist rallies, with few additional details.

Many have long wondered when Reddit would finally boot r/The_Donald, which spawned the infamous CNN wrestling gif and promoted the Unite the Right rally. In a 2017 AMA with Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman, one user amassed 45 (now-deleted) examples of violent posts advocating for killing “anti-Whites,” gassing male feminists, killing government officials, and shooting Muslims on sight. Reddit since quarantined r/The_Donald (put it behind a wall). At the time, Huffman said r/The_Donald “is a small part of a large problem we face in this country — that a large part of the population feels unheard, and the last thing we’re going to do is take their voice away.”

In a post this afternoon, Huffman reversed course, explaining that they had banned r/The_Donald because it “consistently hosted and upvoted” content that violated its rule against inciting violence and promoting hate, that members “antagonized us and other communities,” and its mods “have refused to meet our most basic expectations.” (The_Donald and Huffman go back; Huffman, aka “spez” on Reddit, admitted in 2016 to swapping his username in comments like “fuck u/spez” with The_Donald moderators.) A new set of slightly-expanded rules ban “hate based on identity or vulnerability” and encourage users to post “authentic content into communities where you have a personal interest.”

As of this morning, there were over 79,000 members on The_Donald and around 600 members (“winners”) online, although most of The_Donald activity had since migrated to its own Reddit lookalike festooned with more Donald. Donald Trump is not officially affiliated with this fan club, but he did do an AMA on the subreddit during the last election.

In case conservatives would like to seize on the opportunity to bitch about political bias, Huffman wrote that the r/ChapoTrapHouse, subreddit for a socialist comedy podcast crowned the “Dirtbag Left” by the New York Times, “was banned for similar reasons.” They also banned the podcast r/CumTown, known for shock jock-y antics like joking about sexual assault, as well as the TERF subreddit r/gendercritical. There will probably be a more muted response to those bans considering that Chapo Trap House disavowed the subreddit long ago and celebrated its demise, while Cum Town is so nihilistic that nothing could piss them off.

The list also includes r/darkhumorandmemes, r/consumeproduct, r/darkjokecentral, r/wojak, r/thenewright, and r/imgoingtohellforthis2. Reddit has clarified that only about 200 of the banned subreddits had more than ten daily users.

Last month, Steve Huffman posted a widely-criticised letter professing to make changes within the company in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, but action items didn’t extend much farther than listening, empathizing, hosting AMAs, and supporting voting reform (by unspecified means). “As Snoos,” Huffman wrote, “we do not tolerate hate, racism, and violence, and while we have work to do to fight these on our platform, our values are clear.”

Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao called bullshit on that, specifically for not having banned The_Donald.

“You should have shut down the_donald instead of amplifying it and its hate, racism, and violence,” Pao tweeted. “So much of what is happening now lies at your feet. You don’t get to say BLM when reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long.” Under Pao’s leadership, in 2015, Reddit instituted a new harassment policy and banned forums like r/FatPeopleHate; Pao was subsequently doxxed, received death threats, and resigned.

A few days after Huffman’s post, co-founder Alexis Ohanian stepped down from the board, asking that Reddit fill his seat with a Black candidate.

Reddit has historically protected abuse by declaring itself a free speech bastion, perhaps unwittingly attracting an army of mutinous goblins. It’s moved in spurts over the past five years to weed out its most vile content, starting with a little curtain over its trash in 2015, a “quarantine” warning label over subreddits with “content would be considered extremely offensive to the average redditor.” (That applied briefly to subreddits like r/CoonTown and r/SexWithDogs, before they were banned.) But as the Christine Lagorio-Chafkin wrote in We Are the Nerds, it took the white supremacist killing of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, V.A. for Reddit to turn a corner on Nazis and incels.

Judging by his Twitter feed, nobody seems to have told Donald Trump about the Twitch ban yet, and I can’t imagine who wants to be the bearer of the news.