Reddit administrators’ decision to “quarantine” r/The_Donald, a subreddit forum for fans of President Trump and Reddit’s largest conservative community, is a recent and egregious example of social media sites meddling in political affairs.
It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is overwhelmingly left wing. For every $1 that employees at the world’s biggest technology companies donated to Donald Trump, they gave $60 to Hillary Clinton.
But tech CEOs assure conservatives that their company’s overwhelming partisanship somehow has no effect on the content they publish. They claim that because their sites are run by algorithms, not people, they’ve managed to uphold a Spockian political impartiality. What a bunch of baloney! Many of tech companies’ editorial decisions are made by people, and ultimately their algorithms were created by a group 99% opposed Donald Trump’s election. Tech CEOs may imitate Spock’s empty gaze, but they’ve strayed far from his actual disposition.
The original r/The_Donald “quarantine” was put in place for what site administrators described as “repeated rule breaking behavior.” Some of r/The_Donald’s 770,000 users commented “encouragements to violence” after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called on state police to corral Republican representatives back to the statehouse following a skipped global warming vote.
The comments in question were reprehensible and clearly violated Reddit’s rules. The problem is that Reddit, with its 330 million users, was and is rife with similarly disgusting rhetoric. After the controversy in Oregon, a commenter in the liberal subreddit r/Politics had the following to say about Republican legislators: “Shoot these f*ckers. In the knees. For running like pieces of sh*t.” I’m not going to belabor my point and list the thousands of unaddressed, rule-breaking comments on left-wing subreddits. The point is, when such comments are posted in apolitical or left-wing subreddits, nothing happens. Reddit has a responsibility to ensure that it applies its rules equally to all political content.
Reddit’s decision to quarantine r/The_Donald is not just unfair — Reddit’s size ensures that it will have far-reaching political effects. Although CEO Steve Huffman touted his small staff during a recent House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing, the truth is that Reddit is an online behemoth. It is the third biggest social media site in the U.S. based on overall web page visits, with a larger reach than Facebook. Reddit’s political forums are important hubs of discussion, debate and organization.