The Suppression of r/the_donald by Reddit

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by The_In-Betweener

The Donald was created on June 28th, 2015.

The subreddit gained momentum just as Trump did throughout 2015 and the first half of 2016. The Donald began overtaking all of its political rivals, and quickly shot to being one of the most active subreddits on the site, only being matched by the general political subreddit and AskReddit.

Here’s some quick facts:

  • Reddit’s Director of Communications formerly worked for Diane Feinstein.
  • Reddit’s Head of Policy, the individual who ultimately decides whether The Donald ever gets unquarantined, published an article comparing Trump supporters to a “Caliphate” that must be stopped like ISIS.

June 12th, 2016

On June 12th, Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others inside a gay nightclub in Orlando. Reddit jumped on this topic, until they came to the realization that the killer was a Muslim. At this point, Reddit had to decide what they cared about more: the lives of the 49 dead Americans, or protecting Islam.

All large subreddits started pulling down threads related to the shooting, leaving The Donald as the only subreddit to cover the news. Reddit users who don’t even like Trump flocked to The Donald, as the only community willing to provide a platform to discuss this news.

By subscribers gained, this was The Donald’s highest day ever.

June 13th, 2016

The day after the Orlando shooting, Reddit Inc jumped in to action to censor The Donald. They released an update which effectively disabled sticky posts.

Sticky posts now had to be posted by a moderator, and had to be a text post, rather than links.

June 16th, 2016

Four days after the Orlando shooting, Reddit Inc was clearly unhappy that The Donald could reach the front page with news that other communities wanted to keep quiet.

Reddit’s CEO wrote a post about the /r/all overhaul designed specifically to limit The Donald’s reach.

The post is available here.

Many people will ask if this is related to r/the_donald. The short answer is no, we have been working on this change for a while, but I cannot deny their behavior hastened its deployment. We have seen many communities like r/the_donald over the years—ones that attempt to dominate the conversation on Reddit at the expense of everyone else. This undermines Reddit, and we are not going to allow it.

June 20th, 2016

As the Orlando shooting had cooled off, Reddit was able to re-enable stickies now that the threat of The Donald reaching r/all to provide a platform to discuss the deadly shooting had passed.

The Reddit admins acknowledged that the temporary sticky change was targetted directly at The Donald.

October 28th, 2016

On October 28th, Reddit’s algorithm which specifically targetted The Donald, broke. The front page was filled with only The Donald posts, and nothing from other communities.

The event lasted the better part of an hour, and largely has been swept under the rug by Reddit Inc.

November 23rd, 2016

On November 23rd, Reddit’s CEO took it upon himself to maliciously edit The Donald’s user’s comments so that the comments were harassing The Donald’s moderators.

The edits that Reddit’s CEO made would nowadays get the user’s suspended if they had wrote those comments.

Reddit’s CEO made an apology post which got 50.3K upvotes and a 61% upvote rate. This event proved Reddit’s CEO’s inability to lead the website and failure to separate political opinions from business.

November 30th, 2016

On November 30th, Slack chats between Reddit’s CEO, administrators, and anti-Trump moderators were leaked by an insider. The leaks revealed the intent to get rid of The Donald.

The logs are available for viewing here.

February 15th, 2017

On February 15th, Reddit replaced the /r/all listing with /r/popular.

This finalized Reddit’s plan to remove The Donald from the site’s public listings, essentially quarantining the community.

The Donald was specifically excluded from the /r/popular listing outright, while all other political candidate subreddits were included in the listing.

March 31st, 2017

On March 31st, Reddit released a new ad platform. This ad platform appeared to reveal what many had long believed: The Donald’s community was far bigger than Reddit was reporting.

The ad platform stated that The Donald had over 6,000,000 subscribers, while other communities’ figures were almost entirely accurate. At this time, Reddit had been reporting that The Donald had only 300,000 subscribers.

The 6,000,000 number was explained in various ways, but none of aligned with any other subreddit traffic metrics.

May 19th, 2017

On May 19th, Reddit Inc gave us these special sanctions.

In addition to our site-rules, we expect the following:

  1. No mentioning, linking to, or screenshotting other subreddits or
    • Please re-enable and update the automoderator rules that were removing posts or comments that mentioned or linked to other subreddits and users.
    • One exception is that screenshots may be permitted with the expectation that usernames are blacked out.
  2. No allowing or enabling the incitement of harassment of others, including posting personal information or threats to do so.
  3. Please use good judgement when enforcing these rules. Err on the side of acting in good faith, but do reach out to us if something lacks clarity.

This was not when Reddit Inc applied the special sanctions, however it is the first record that we have at hand. The sanctions were first applied several months earlier.

May 20th, 2017

On May 20th, Reddit removed 3 of The Donald’s top moderators.

To quote The Donald’s 500,000 subscriber thread:

We are but humble janitors who carry banhammers instead of mops. We do this for the love of Trump and our community, we don’t do this for profit. When one of our own is threatened with doxxing and repeatedly harassed not only here on Reddit, but elsewhere, we take a stand. Our stand was not received well by cucked Reddit and they took the opportunity to demod and suspend three of our top mods for sticking up for this domreddit and its users, including the toppest mod we all loved! In honor of her, and in protest of the unfair treatment we received for refusing to follow their special rules for us, we went private.

March 5th, 2018

On March 5th, Reddit Inc revealed that 14,000 posts during the 2016 election could have been posted by Russian-linked accounts.

Only 316 of these alleged Russian-linked posts were in /r/The_Donald, putting to bed rumors and accusations that The_Donald is a Russian propaganda farm.

March 6th, 2018

On March 6th, Reddit’s admins sent their last message to The Donald before closing the established avenues of communication. The relationship was as amicable as it could have been.

This communication was a positive for both Reddit and The Donald, as it meant that issues could be swiftly dealt with in a professional manner, both incoming and outgoing.

Despite numerous requests to re-establish communication, the Reddit admins failed to respond.

March 19th, 2018

On March 19th, Reddit’s CEO claimed that they could sway an election if they wanted to.

“I’m confident that Reddit could sway elections. We wouldn’t do it, of course. And I don’t know how many times we could get away with it. But, if we really wanted to, I’m sure Reddit could have swayed at least this election, this once.”

September 27th, 2018

On September 27th, many concluded that Reddit Inc was preparing for the 2020 elections by revamping the quarantine function.

The quarantine was tested out on multiple other communities before finally being applied to the real target, /r/The_Donald.

April 11th, 2019

On April 11th, Reddit adjusted their algorithm for ranking the most popular subreddits.

The Donald had been bouncing between rank 2 and 3 for over two years.

The new algorithm was effectively the same, with the exception of The Donald falling from #2 and #3 to around rank #300.

May 9th, 2019

On May 9th, Reddit made the decision to follow in Google’s footsteps and hide The Donald from search results.

The Donald reappeared in search results on both Reddit and Google in the following days, amid pressure.

June 4th, 2019

Reddit’s CEO again admits that The Donald is not in violation of any content policies.

While they can be offensive and antagonistic to the rest of Reddit, we have not found them to be in consistent violation of our content policies.

Yes, we do see individual posts and comments that cross the line, but the offending content also gets removed as we ask and expect, and we also take action against those individual users and accounts with suspensions or full bans from the site as appropriate.

I wish there was a solution that was as simple as banning the community—certainly it would make some things easier—but the reality is that banning a large political community that isn’t in violation of our policies would be hugely problematic, not just for Reddit, but for our democracy generally. Political speech is the most protected form of speech in the United States, and we are sensitive to that and take cues from the government when we think about our policies.

June 5th, 2019

On June 5th, a day after Reddit’s CEO’s comment, the top moderator of The Donald has all of his permissions removed, with the exception of the ability to read and respond to modmail.

Reddit Inc left us with this:

We want to remind all of you that your community is under special sanctions from us

June 29th, 2019

On June 29th, Reddit Inc quarantines The Donald for violent comments against police officers… need we say more?

11 tame comments were removed by the Reddit admins. These were comments that got zero attention, on posts that got zero attention.

We receive hundreds of thousands of comments every month, and Reddit Inc used 11 comments that garnered no attention as an excuse for their politically motivated quarantine, and attempt at swaying the election.

Much worse comments can be found anywhere else on Reddit.

In the weeks following the quarantine, Reddit Inc started removing waves of very old content which, at the time, violated no policies.

June 29th, 2019

This is important enough for its own section, as it isn’t to be swept under the rug by the quarantine.

Cornell University found The Donald to be the most efficient at sharing memes. Reddit purposefully hindered the ability to share memes from The Donald by hiding the “share” buttons that are associated with posts on all other communities.

June 29th, 2019

Reddit’s quarantine was designed in such a way that mobile users are unable to find the subreddit, at all. If they search for /r/The_Donald, nothing will come up – it’s as if the subreddit no longer exists.

From Reddit Inc:

The purpose of quarantining a community is to prevent its content from being accidentally viewed by those who do not knowingly wish to do so, or viewed without appropriate context.

This is blatantly untrue. There is no way to access The Donald intentionally through the Reddit app. Nobody accidentally searches for /r/The_Donald.

July 4th, 2019

On July 4th, The Donald’s “users here now” exploded from an average of 10,000 to a huge 408,274. That is, 408,274 users who had visited the subreddit in the last 15 minutes.

Users: 408,274

Subscribers: 769,961

Date: Thursday, 4 July 2019 18:59:33.682 GMT

This “glitch” commonly occurs on The Donald, but we have yet to experience the recurring issue on other Reddit communities.

July 26th, 2019

On July 26th, Reddit’s CEO does a podcast with Vox’s Recode Decode. The topic was largely all about The Donald.

The podcast is worth listening to in order to get the full story, but the general sentiment is that The Donald isn’t getting unquarantined, because of things that don’t violate any content policies.

We saw a YouTube video stickied on the top that was the equivalent of “send her back,” and so I saw that, and me and our policy lead Jessica were like, “Well, doesn’t look like they want to be un-quarantined next week.” So, we’ll see.

You’re right. It’s not in violation of our content policy. It’s gross, and you can play that forward and see how that’s problematic, but I can also play forward how forbidding that sort of language, even though it’s deeply in contrast to my own personal values, is also problematic.

And here’s Reddit’s CEO on banning.

Finding our voice on those issues was a real challenge because we had to really test our values and find ways to justify doing what we knew in our heart to be the right thing, but wasn’t supported by our policies, or wasn’t supported by our previous words.

The final important part of this interview is where Reddit’s CEO states that The Donald has fallen from the second most activity community to not even being in the top 250. As noted above on April 11th, 2019, Reddit overhauled their algorithm for ranking subreddits, which dropped The Donald to not being in the top 250 literally overnight. This was not a slow, organic fall, so it’s very misleading at best.

July 31st, 2019

On July 31st, Reddit Inc released a traffic page for the New Reddit interface.

This shouldn’t be important, but it is. The new traffic page reveals inconsistencies with the old traffic page, specifically and exclusively in The Donald, as far as we can tell.

The New Reddit traffic page consistently reports over 100,000 more unique viewers per day than Old Reddit’s traffic page reports.

When looking at the traffic page for other large communities, we cannot see this same disparity. We’re unaware of what the cause is.

October 18th, 2019

On October 18th, Reddit Inc adjusted the quarantine message for The Donald. The message went from alleging we are a community of police-haters, to instead being a community that faces “significant issues with reporting and addressing violations of Reddit’s rules against violence and other aspects of the content policy”.

The original quarantine message was too laughable, even for them.

November 7th, 2019

On November 7th, Reddit Inc invited The Donald’s top moderator to participate in the zombie subreddit challenge, a month long contest where you take one of your inactive communities, and bring it back to life.

The Donald’s top moderator asked permission to enter /r/Mr_Trump into the contest.

November 13th, 2019

6 days later, Reddit Inc responded confirming that /r/Mr_Trump was eligible for the contest, and with that, the subreddit reopened after 2 years.

November 15th, 2019

2 days after reopening /r/Mr_Trump, Reddit Inc banned the subreddit for quarantine evasion.

The subreddit was as different from The Donald as it reasonably could be, and it had prior consent to reopen.

/r/Mr_Trump disabled comments, and only allowed memes. This prevented any potential for violent comments from trolls to slide under the radar.

Still, the community was banned for quarantine evasion, and the moderators of /r/Mr_Trump were threatened with suspensions.

November 19th, 2019

On November 19th, Reddit Inc sent a threatening modmail message to The Donald’s moderators, demanding that all references of the alleged White House whistleblower’s name be removed from our community, or face consequences.

Normally, this may be okay. The problem arises when Reddit Inc claimed to the media, and continued to claim to the media, that they would be allowing the name to appear on Reddit.

Reddit Inc alleged The Donald was harassing the alleged whistleblower, and that’s why the posts and comments were being removed. We are still waiting for response on where we can find the harassment.

The Donald was the only community which was banned from saying the name. Not only the name, but they removed images of caramel chocolate bars.

Present Day

It’s now December 18th, 2019.

Reddit Inc continues to ignore our attempts at communicating with them.

Reddit Inc refuses to fix the issue with New Reddit where often you cannot press “Continue” on the quarantine screen.

Reddit Inc refuses to give back The Donald’s top moderator’s permissions.

Reddit Inc refuses to allow users to get to The Donald and other quarantined subreddits via the Reddit app without first logging in via the website.

It is clear that Reddit’s CEO has decided to put this to test:

I’m confident that Reddit could sway elections.


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