A bunch of meme-slinging Donald Trump supporters are having a party on Reddit. A loud, fun party. You probably weren’t invited. And now, someone just called the cops.
Reddit announced this week that it would tweak the algorithm on r/all, a feed of popular posts across all the site’s subreddits, to stop certain communities from promoting large numbers of their own posts into the top of that feed.
What does r/The_Donald, the unofficial headquarters of Donald Trump on Reddit, have to do with it? When the change was announced Monday, it was widely believed among Redditors — particularly those on r/The_Donald — that the algorithmic change is aimed at stopping the meme makers from one of their favorite pastimes.
That is, filling up the feed of Reddit’s most popular posts with triumphant memes featuring Donald Trump, vicious ones about Hillary Clinton and posts explicitly intended to offend and outrage their “cuck” enemies, i.e., establishment Republicans, liberals and online “social justice warriors.” In recent months, those posts have been extremely visible on Reddit, much to the puzzlement and frustration of the rest of the site.
The posts rise up the ranks of r/all because the subreddit’s subscribers enthusiastically “upvote” pretty much everything posted there. Sometimes, the moderators will “sticky” a post of particular interest to the subreddit to the top of its feed, which has the effect of drawing even more votes. Redditors suspect that the subreddit is engaging in “vote manipulation,” against Reddit’s rules, though r/The_Donald’s moderators deny that accusation.
Reddit chief executive Steve Huffman told Redditors that the change was not entirely attributable to r/The_Donald and that Reddit had been “working on this change for a while.” But “I cannot deny their behavior hastened its deployment,” he added in a town hall post on Reddit on Thursday afternoon.
“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,” his post said. “This undermines Reddit, and we are not going to allow it.”
The Trump subreddit has no official affiliation with the Trump campaign. It’s simply one point in a nexus of the right-leaning Internet literate who have thrown their memes behind Trump’s presidential run.
The subreddit r/The_Donald is generally more sincere in its support for Trump than, say, 4chan’s /pol/boards, where the alt right’s racist meme lords go for anti-Semitic jokes and smear campaigns. While there’s cross-pollination between r/The_Donald and /pol/’s membership, the Reddit community has a set of periodically changing rules that bans activity that might make their chosen candidate look bad — for instance, doxxing or anti-Semitism, one moderator said. On 4chan, Trump’s appeal is more conditional. When Trump talks and acts like a 4channer, he is celebrated.
The change to r/all comes days after Reddit’s news-gathering subreddit, r/news, devolved into chaos during the developing story of the Orlando shooting on Sunday. Redditors looking to the popular subreddit for the latest information on the massacre at a Florida gay club were instead dragged into a storm of accusations and infighting.
Things really kicked off when r/The_Donald accused the moderators of the news community of deliberately censoring their contributions, particularly posts linking to reports that the Orlando shooter was a Muslim. That report was of interest to r/The_Donald, where discussions of Islam and immigration roughly align with Trump’s positions.
To get the rest of Reddit on board with their outrage at r/news, subscribers to r/The_Donald did what they’ve been doing for a few months now: upvoting en masse posts accusing r/news moderators of conspiring in the name of political correctness to hide the religious identity of the shooter until it was unavoidable.
Subscribers to r/The_Donald eventually mass upvoted a post declaring the subreddit the “last bastion of free speech,” after the r/news fiasco, a statement that is funny if you know that the moderators’ draconian rules have also banned all “dissenters.”
While Reddit agreed that something went very wrong with r/news’s moderation on Sunday, the site’s admins and r/news’s moderators denied that the problem was the sort of deliberate, politically motivated censorship r/The_Donald was talking about. Instead, they said, the issue was understaffing, a lack of support from Reddit and a rogue automated moderation system that removed a bunch of posts that it flagged as duplicates.
But the battle was more or less won: Instead of coverage of the Orlando shootings, r/The_Donald managed to get a whole bunch of Redditors to talk about them.
“Does that sound like someone familiar?” asked a moderator of r/EnoughTrumpSpam in an email to The Intersect. The moderator asked to remain anonymous and has a username that is unprintable in The Washington Post. They graciously agreed to be referred to as B. Smack.
The subreddit r/EnoughTrumpSpam has been trying to draw attention to Trump’s dominance of Reddit’s top posts, an effort that caught on with a vengeance after the Orlando incident. “It is really frustrating for redditors to watch Donald Trump supporters vote manipulate Trump‘s racist demagoguery to the front page,” the group said.
Among other things, B. Smack was frustrated with the “extremely low-quality” sourcing of the news articles that have ascended through Reddit’s ranks, thanks to r/The_Donald. Those include “Kremlin propaganda pieces from Sputnik and RT, and unsubstantiated stories from hard, hard right sources like Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Brietbart, the Washington Times, or the Daily Caller.”
“r/the_donald is not letting through any other content,” the moderator added, “People can’t find anything interesting that is trending in the Hot queue because it is just Trump Spam.”
The Redditors trying to stop r/The_Donald might be delighted by the apocalyptic fury about Reddit’s decision that dominated the board this week. But one longtime moderator, dylan_w (formerly CisWhiteMaelstrom), said that while he knows Reddit is trying to directly hurt his subreddit, he isn’t too worried that they’ll actually succeed.
“I’m going to make changes,” the 20-something law student said in a phone interview Thursday, “but that’s not going to be for the worse. It’s for the different.”
While the changes to r/all might make it harder for r/The_Donald to upvote its way into the hearts of the new algorithm as much as it has in the past, dylan_w, characteristically of the subreddit’s namesake, argued that the change is actually great for Trump, great for Reddit and great for the Internet.
The moderator said he’s happy to have his subreddit take the fall for a change that he thinks was a “long time coming,” one for which Reddit was simply searching for the right excuse to implement — i.e., them. And, fresh off the original success of the subreddit, he believes that its moderation team is prepared to adapt to it.
Basically, his plan involves using r/The_Donald’s popularity and enthusiastic base to help others who want to make right-leaning subreddits to get their communities off the ground and into r/all’s top posts.
So, with the new algorithmic change in effect, it might be true that r/The_Donald can’t have it all. But maybe 15 conservative subreddits, all endorsing one another, could.
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