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/r/The_Donald

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/r/The_Donald is an Internet forum on Reddit where the participants create discussions and memes supporting Donald Trump, the president of the United States.[2][3] Initially created in June 2015, following the announcement of Trump's presidential campaign, the community has grown to over 460,000 subscribers and in November 2016 was ranked as one of the most active communities on the website.[4][5][6]

/r/The_Donald
The Donald.png
Type of site
Subreddit
Available in English
Founder(s) /u/jcm267
Website www.reddit.com/r/The_Donald
Commercial Yes
Users ~460,000 (as of July 2017)[1]
Launched June 27, 2015; 2 years ago (2015-06-27)

Activities by members and moderators of the subreddit have been controversial, and site-wide administrators have taken steps, including an overhaul of the Reddit software to prevent the subreddit from manipulating the algorithms that select content to be displayed on Reddit's /r/all forum, which the company's motto describes as "The front page of the Internet".[7]

The subreddit has been criticized by news outlets of hosting conspiracy theories, and hosting content that is racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, or white supremacist. Described by NBC News, its "anti-PC ethos made them popular, but it also made it hard for moderators to draw lines between garden-variety trolling designed to provoke and blatantly white supremacist material."[8][9] The site has been repeatedly accused of providing a "safe-harbor" where racists, white-nationalists, and white supremacists press their views.[10] However, the subreddit's moderators have notably attempted to remove some of the site's antisemitism.[11][12]

Contents

History

On June 27, 2015, immediately after Donald Trump announced his campaign for the presidency at Trump Tower, the subreddit was created to be a place for "following the news related to Donald Trump during his presidential run".[13] The subreddit has grown to be known for frequent posting of memes, especially Pepe the Frog, and frequent use of slang terms such as "centipede" (a reference to a popular Trump highlight reel featuring the Knife Party song "Centipede"),[6][12][14][15] "MAGA", "nimble navigator", "no brakes", "cuck", "4D Chess", and "SJW".[6][16][17] Furthermore, users on the site refer to Trump as "God Emperor".[12] For a significant period of time, the subreddit repeatedly posted an image of Hillary Clinton kissing Robert Byrd, a former member of the KKK.[18][19] The image was accompanied by a photoshopped picture of an aged Byrd in KKK garb, which was meant to dishonestly portray Clinton and Byrd as KKK supporters (Byrd severed ties with the KKK in 1952).[18] On June 12, 2016, the day of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, the /r/news subreddit began to remove content that discussed the shooting, and was subsequently accused of censorship.[20][21] Forbes reported that, in a "staggering" effect, /r/The_Donald was featured in 13 of the top 25 posts on "/r/all" that day and that it gained over 16,000 subscribers during the weekend of the shooting. Forbes also reported that /r/news lost more than 85,000 subscribers.[21]

Due to deliberate[22][23][24] manipulation by the forum's moderators and active users, the algorithm that dictated what content reached the "/r/all" page of Reddit resulted in a significant portion of the page being /r/The_Donald content. In response, Reddit administrators made changes to its algorithms on June 15, 2016, in an attempt to preserve the variety of /r/all.[13] In April 2016, /u/jcm267, the founder of the subreddit, attributed the popularity of the subreddit to moderator /u/CisWhiteMaelstrom. /u/jcm267 told MSNBC that /u/CisWhiteMaelstrom told him "we'd have hundreds of thousands of readers there and I was very skeptical about that, not because I thought Trump can't win, because I think he's the only GOPer with 'landslide victory' potential, but because Reddit is not a conservative place."[25] Subsequently, /u/CisWhiteMaelstrom deleted his Reddit account.[8] On November 2016, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman reported that the subreddit's moderator team had changed "at least four times" due to the community revolting.[6]

The subreddit has hosted "Ask Me Anything"s (AMAs) of notable Trump supporters including Scott Adams, Ann Coulter, Alex Jones, Helmut Norpoth, Curt Schilling, Peter Schweizer, Roger Stone, Milo Yiannopoulos,[26] Tucker Carlson,[27] and Corey Stewart.[28] Furthermore, Trump hosted an AMA on the subreddit on July 27, 2016.[29]

In September 2016, Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR, introduced a 501(c)(4) organization on /r/The_Donald called "Nimble America" with the stated purpose of creating and spreading pro-Trump Internet memes through "Facebook ads, billboards, and 'website ops'".[30] Luckey stated that he had donated $10,000 to the organization and offered to match contributions from /r/The_Donald users for 48 hours after the announcement.[31] Luckey later apologized for any negative impact his actions had on public perception of Oculus, and stated that he acted independently, not as a representative of Oculus VR.[32]

On November 22, 2016, the moderators of /r/The_Donald announced that they were going to start removing posts about some conspiracy theories such as the debunked[33][34][5] Pizzagate conspiracy theory, citing that such content was "drowning out thoughtful discussion or Trump related content".[5] The next day, Steve Huffman admitted to editing the comments of /r/The_Donald users by replacing expletive-laden comments directed at his username to be directed at the usernames of /r/The_Donald moderators instead.[35] Huffman said of the change that "I had my fun with them, they had their fun with me, but we are not going to tolerate harassment for any others."[35] One week later, Huffman apologized for his actions, and offered a filter feature to the website, allowing users to exclude subreddits from their /r/all page.[36] Starting on February 2017, the subreddit was notably excluded from Reddit's updated homepage, /r/popular, along with other "narrowly focused politically related subreddits".[37][38][39]

In the beginning of January 2017, after BuzzFeed published an unsubstantiated 35-page document alleged to be a dossier of controversial but unverified information about then-President-Elect Trump,[40] members of the subreddit spread theories that the document was "fan fiction" sent to Republican political strategist Rick Wilson by members of the 4chan forum /pol/.[41] On January 11, 2017, Wilson denied the claims.[42] Later that day, Republican Senator John McCain confirmed that he had sent the dossier to FBI director James Comey several months earlier.[43]

On May 18, 2017, a moderator named /u/OhSnapYouGotServed posted a message claiming that the subreddit has been treated unfairly and that Reddit could not exist without /r/The_Donald. /u/OhSnapYouGotServed also suggested that all of their subscribers should move to Voat.[44] The next day, after three other moderators got banned from the site, the subreddit was temporarily set to "private" in a sign of protest. According to the lock message, the admins did not warn the three moderators before banning.[45] The admins also claimed that they "refused to comply by a special set of rules that were solely imposed on this subreddit to marginalize the only community which doesn’t conform to the echo chamber of Reddit and corporate media." The subreddit was made public again the next day.[44]

On May 31, 2017, after Trump wrote his infamous "covfefe" tweet, many users on the site speculated that "covfefe" was an Arabic phrase for "I will stand up." The Daily Dot and The Raw Story noted that the translation provided by Google Translate was faulty and that a different spelling, "Cov fe'fe", was used.[46][47] In an interview with The New York Times, Ali Adeeb Alnaemi, a professor of Arabic at New York University, could not find the source of mistranslation.[48]

The subreddit also maintains a Discord server called "Centipede Central", which has about 2,000 active users as of May 2017[49] and was among the largest servers on Discord.[50] The server was criticized for leaking personal information of anti-Trump activists.[49][51]

Relationship to Trump

External image
  Donald Trump preparing his AMA on his private jet before landing in Toledo.[52]

The Trump campaign's digital director, Brad Parscale, stated in June 2016 that he visits the subreddit daily.[53] Throughout the election, members in Trump's war room at Trump Tower monitored the subreddit to see new trends.[14][54] During the 2016 Democratic National Convention on July 27, 2016, Trump hosted an AMA on the subreddit.[29] Moderators of the subreddit stated that they banned more than 2,000 accounts during Trump's AMA session.[55]

Throughout Trump's 2016 campaign, as well as the beginning of Trump's presidency, journalists noted that several of Trump's tweets contained images that originally appeared on the subreddit.[56] On July 6, 2016, in response to his deleted tweet containing the Star of David, Trump accused Disney of anti-semitism on Twitter, which was accompanied with a photo of a sticker book based off the Disney film, Frozen. Justin Miller of The Daily Beast noted that the image Trump used in his tweet originated from the subreddit less than 24 hours ago.[13][57] Similarly, on March 3, 2017, Trump tweeted and image of Chuck Schumer posing with Vladimir Putin to allege hypocrisy. According to Buzzfeed, the image was posted less than 24 hours ago on the subreddit.[58] On May 11, 2017, after firing James Comey, Trump responded to Rosie O'Donnell's 2016 tweet calling Comey to be fired with "We finally agree on something Rosie." Brandon Wall, a reporter for Buzzfeed, alleged that Trump browsed /r/The_Donald because O'Donnell's tweet was posted on the subreddit 20 minutes before Trump's response.[59][60][61] Although The Washington Post acknowledged that Trump tweeted images previously viral on the subreddit, they also noted that O'Donnell's tweet did not go viral until Trump responded.[54] In July 2017, a video tweeted out by Trump was noted to appear on the subreddit about four days earlier.[62] However, the White House denied that the video directly came from Reddit.[63]

Prominence on Reddit website

Algorithm

Through the use of "sticky posts" the moderators of the forum were "gaming" the algorithms[64] in order to dominate the content on the /r/all page, which is a representation of the most popular content on the website.[3] Additionally, users are often apt to flood the website with waves of identical images or posts, a direct violation of site-wide policies regarding spam. In response, Huffman rolled out a change to the /r/all algorithm; he noted that /r/The_Donald was among several Reddit communities over the years that "attempt to dominate the conversation on Reddit at the expense of everyone else".[13] Ongoing problems with members of the subreddit brigading and harassing other subreddits forced Reddit staff to modify the site's software algorithms to limit the offending posts to the subreddit. It has been removed from /r/popular and so it no longer shows on the front page.[65][66] In February 2017, Reddit overhauled their algorithms even further to prevent content from the subreddit (among other communities) from ever being seen by logged out users or people who do not have a Reddit account.[37]

Conflict with Reddit management

The subreddit received additional coverage on November 24, 2016, when Huffman admitted to editing /r/The_Donald users' comments that were critical of him, in response to harassment[67] by the community.[68][69][70] On November 30, 2016, Huffman announced that sticky threads from /r/The_Donald would no longer show up on /r/all.[7] Huffman's rules were criticized by some Redditors, including both Trump and non-Trump supporters,[35] while others felt the sanctions did not go far enough and called upon Huffman to ban the subreddit entirely.[3] While members of the subreddit claimed they were the victims of censorship, Huffman said the actions were about "banning behavior, not ideas".[3]

The harassment directed at Huffman by /r/The_Donald users led to changes in the manner in which Reddit deals with problematic communities and users. Since being harassed by the community, Huffman stated that Reddit is going to start actively policing problematic users: "We're taking a different strategy now. We are focusing more on, like, taking care of the individual users instead of doing it at the community level which was largely our strategy before."[71]

In March 2017, users of /r/The_Donald accused Reddit of discriminating against them when Reddit's advertising platform portrayed /r/The_Donald as having 6,000,000 subscribers instead of the 385,000 displayed on the subreddit live counter available to the public.[72] The Reddit Director of Communications stated that the subscriber discrepancy was a simple labeling error wherein the count for "Daily Unique Visitors" was mistakenly labeled "Subscribers" and that the error would be partially fixed by the end of the day.

Controversies

Pizzagate conspiracy theory

A conspiracy theory involving the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, John Podesta and the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria attracted attention on /r/The_Donald. Several members of the community created the /r/pizzagate subreddit which was subsequently banned by Reddit administrators for breaking site rules regarding sharing personal information of others.[73][74] In December 2016, the subreddit gained media attention when it linked a knee injury sustained by NBA player Andrew Bogut to the conspiracy theory.[75]

Seth Rich murder conspiracy theory

The reddit group was additionally involved in promoting the Seth Rich murder conspiracy theory,[12][76] with several members planning a march on Washington D.C..[77] In July 2017, The Economist noted that there has been over 10,000 posts dedicated to the conspiracy theory.[12]

CNN wrestling video

On July 2, 2017, Donald Trump tweeted a video of himself wrestling Vince McMahon with the CNN logo over McMahon's face. Various sources, including the New York Times, NBC News, BBC, and The Washington Post, noted that the clip appeared on the subreddit about four days earlier.[62][78][79][80] However, on July 3, the White House denied that the video directly came from Reddit.[63]

The Washington Post also noted that the Reddit user who posted the video, /u/HanAssholeSolo, also wrote about stabbing Muslims[81] while Vox added that the poster attempted to remove his racist comments, including many that said the N-word and an image of Jewish CNN employees, each being labeled with a Star of David, in a post titled "Something strange about CNN...can't quite put my finger on it."[2][82] Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League referred to the user as an "extremist" after analyzing the user's posts.[83] The ADL also identified the user as "a parent and a veteran in his 40s living in Tennessee."[84] Based on the aforementioned posts, Vox reported that some members of the forum have interpreted the tweet as support for their racist beliefs.[2] Eventually, after being identified by CNN's Andrew Kaczynski, the user posed an apology in the subreddit on July 4.[85] Immediately afterwards, his apology was locked and deleted by the subreddit's moderators[85][86][87] while the user deleted his Reddit account.[88][89] CNN was accused by Julian Assange, Jack Posobiec, and Mark Dice of blackmailing the user, while the hashtag, #CNNBlackmail, trended on Twitter.[90] Kaczynski responded by stating that his line was "misinterpreted" and that the user said that he was not threatened prior to his apology.[91] In response to the controversy, /u/ShadowMan3001, one of the moderators of the subreddit, told Kevin Roose of The New York Times that CNN's intent in possibly releasing the user's identity was "a glaring example of their absolute lack of not only journalistic integrity, but basic morality."[92]

Similar subreddits

In response to the popularity of /r/The_Donald, similar subreddits regarding other politicians have been created.[93]

/r/AskTrumpSupporters

/r/AskTrumpSupporters is a subreddit dedicated to answering questions from non-Trump supporters.[94] Although the subreddit was created by moderators of /r/The_Donald, /r/AskTrumpSupporters eventually broke off from /r/The_Donald and revamped its rules. According to one moderator, the goal of the subreddit is to "[not] promote an echo chamber, but to combat misconceptions by media and 80 percent of Reddit." As a result, the community has been accused by users of /r/The_Donald of being "CTR shills". Despite this, the subreddit was part of a pro-Trump network that included /r/The_Donald and /r/AskThe_Donald.[95] The subreddit also compiled a list of questions for Trump during his AMA in 2016.[96]

/r/The_Schulz

/r/The_Schulz was a subreddit created for Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament and a member of the SPD. According to Spiegel Online, /r/The_Schulz was created as a satire against /r/The_Donald.[97] Like /r/The_Donald, the subreddit frequently uses slang terms, most notably "MEGA", or "Make Europe Great Again",[97][98][99] and "keine bremsen" (German for "no brakes").[99] Since its creation in November 2016, the subreddit was featured in many articles, both within and outside of Germany.[99][100][101] On January 30, 2017, Schulz shouted out the subreddit on his YouTube channel.[98][102] As of January 2017, /r/The_Schulz has over 10,000 subscribers.[98]

Others

Other notable subreddits include /r/Le_Pen (for French National Front leader Marine Le Pen),[100][103][104][105] /r/The_Farage (for former British UKIP leader Nigel Farage),[9] /r/The_Wilders (for Dutch Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders),[100] and /r/The_Hofer (for Austrian politician Norbert Hofer).[104]

There were also anti-Trump subreddits that were created in response of the subreddit, most notably /r/EnoughTrumpSpam.[8][13][106][107] While changing the /r/all algorithm for /r/The_Donald, Huffman noted that "/r/EnoughTrumpSpam was hit harder than any other community when we rolled out the changes. That's Reddit for you."[13] Along with /r/The_Donald, /r/EnoughTrumpSpam was also excluded from /r/popular.[37][39] Other notable anti-Trump subreddits include /r/MarchAgainstTrump[38][108] and /r/esist.[108][109][110]

Online media reception

The subreddit was criticized by Vice as being anti-choice, pro-Russia, authoritarian, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, a hypocritical "free speech" rallying point, and censoring any differing opinion.[13][111] The publication Slate described /r/The_Donald as a "hate speech forum"[112] and The Verge has described it as a "notoriously fetid troll swamp".[113] According to The New York Times, "Members respond to accusations of bigotry with defiant claims of persecution at the hands of critics. It is an article of faith among posters that anti-racists are the real bigots, feminists are the actual sexists, and progressive politics are, in effect, regressive."[26] The subreddit was also criticized for spreading fake news promoting conspiracy theories,[5][35] such as "Pizzagate".[68] In February 2017, Medium analyzed how the subreddit was able to spread fake news throughout similar subreddits and conspiracy sites.[93] The subreddit is also connected to the alt-right[2][114][115][116] while an article by The Washington Post connected the moderators of closely related Trump subreddits to racist subreddits such as "/r/Quranimals" and "/r/Rapefugees".[9] The National Memonoted that "moderators have made the occasional attempt to rid /r/The_Donald of overt racism and anti-Semitism"[11] and The Economist emphasized that the moderators "at least try" to remove anti-semitism from the subreddit.[12] Meanwhile, Motherboard interviewed a moderator of the subreddit, who said "The people from /pol/ who can behave, which is probably most of them, stay. The people who don't behave usually wind up getting banned for rule 3."[13] The New York Times also noted that, in addition to the subreddit's "no racism/anti-Semitism" policy, the subreddit also warns "no dissenters or SJWs" and that "concern trolling" is also banned.[6] Gizmodo commented that the subreddit "revealed how easy the site's ageing algorithm is to game", comparing their actions to the profitability of fake news posted on Facebook.[117] Gizmodo also referred the subreddit as "Trump supporters’ de facto base of power on Reddit."[118] Politico described the subreddit as "a message board that acted as a conduit between 4chan and the mainstream Web".[14]

In November 2016, the subreddit received media coverage for reportedly mobilizing readers to leave one-star reviews on Amazon.com for Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly's autobiography, Settle for More, in response to what users considered biased reporting.[119] Amazon later removed many of the negative reviews.[120]

In February 2017, after Kellyanne Conway brought up the false Bowling Green massacre, SFGate noted that the subreddit's response to the incident was "varied – and rather muted". Some users shared the video uncritically while others thought that the incident was an intentional part of a larger strategy by the Trump administration.[121] Similarly, in May 2017, users on the subreddit began reposting memes that alleged that Seth Rich was murdered in Washington D.C..[76] Mashable described the postings as a distraction since the users began posting just hours after "The Washington Post broke the news that Trump had divulged classified intelligence to Russian representatives."[122] It was later reported by Gizmodo that, at one point, 20 of the top 26 posts on the subreddit pertained to Seth Rich conspiracies.[118]

Using latent semantic analysis, FiveThirtyEight analyzed the relationship between the /r/The_Donald and 50,323 other active subreddits based on 1.4 billion comments made over a two-year period from 2015 to 2016, and found the community was related to a number of "hate-based subreddits", such as the respectively banned /r/fatpeoplehate and /r/coontown.[123]

See also

References

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