Reddit has announced a change to its algorithm on /r/all, the page that is meant to rank the most popular posts trending across the site’s user-run communities. According to Reddit, the algorithm will be changed to promote more “diversity” on the subreddit.
The change is an explicit response to the Islamic terrorist attacks in Orlando, Florida. In their aftermath, /r/all was dominated by posts from /r/The_Donald, the primary community for Trump supporters on the site.
/r/all collects and ranks posts on Reddit according to how many “upvotes” they receive from users. A post typically requires several thousand upvotes to reach the front page of the site.
In the aftermath of the Orlando shootings, mass censorship on /r/News, Reddit’s main forum for discussing breaking news, led to a massive user exodus to /r/The_Donald, a community known for its commitment to free speech. According to The Daily Beast, more than 11,712 subscribed to the Trump-supporting subreddit on Sunday alone, making it the most successful day in the community’s relatively short history.
As concerns about censorship mounted, users began to use /r/The_Donald as their primary source of news about the shootings. At one point, 18 of the 25 highest-rated posts on /r/all were from /r/The_Donald.
Posts from /r/undelete and /r/uncensorednews, communities set up by Reddit users who were concerned by growing censorship on the rest of the site, also reached the front page of /r/all in the aftermath of the shootings.
None of these subreddits have any great level of trust or love for the owners and administrators of Reddit. And it turns out the owners and administrators don’t have any great love for them either. After /r/the_Donald’s domination of the frontpage, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman announced the site would introduce changes to ensure more “diversity” on /r/all.
In an announcement entitled “Let’s Talk About Orlando,” Huffman began by denying that any censorship had occurred in the wake of the Orlando shootings, despite swathes of deleted comments recorded by users and archiving sites. Huffman said it was standard behaviour for Reddit mods to remove “duplicate posts” and posts with “speculative”
He also announced that the /r/news moderator who told a user to kill themselves after receiving criticism for his heavy-handed moderation had been removed from the team.
After the attempts to placate critics were over, Huffman went on to outline changes that would turn the previously user-driven algorithm on /r/all into something that will likely make it much harder for Trump’s army of Reddittors to use their size and popularity on the site to dominate the frontpage.
We are working on a change to the r/all algorithm to promote more diversity in the feed, which will help provide more variety of viewpoints and prevent vote manipulation.
Details about the algorithm changes have yet to be released, but they will almost certainly make it harder for posts on Reddit to rise to the top of /r/all based on popularity alone.
Earlier today, Huffman clarified in an announcement that the algorithm change was not intended to target Trump supporters, instead saying that the changes were being introduced to prevent “any one community” from dominating the listings. But given that the change was announced as a direct response to the Orlando Shootings, during which /r/The_Donald dominated the listings, many Redditors aren’t buying it — including the founder of /r/The_Donald, who claims he was told by an admin that the change was specifically intended to curtail them.
Speaking to Breitbart Tech, /r/The_Donald founder “CisWhiteMaelstrom,” who now goes by the name Dylan-W on Reddit, said that admins confirmed to him privately that the algorithm change was because of the popularity of his subreddit. Furthermore, he claimed that the admin was extremely upset by /r/The_Donald’s success.
“I actually had an admin [confirm] this over Skype” said CisWhiteMaelstrom. “The admin I spoke to sounded extremely emotional and downright unstable. It was honestly a bit uncomfortable just to be talking to someone who was in such a bizarre state of mind.”
“These site owners are afraid of running a site where people say things that will make them look bad. It needs to be a commitment to the userbase and an understanding of who uses their site. The_Donald absolutely not reddit’s base by any measure, but most users do feel repressed or censored in some way and it’s got a lot to do with the admins feeling embarrassed by them.”
On the censorship of Orlando-related posts, CisWhiteMaelstrom condemned the admins. “I think the admins have a lot to be ashamed of” he said, adding that Reddit users felt they had nowhere else to rely on for uncensored discussion other than the pro-Trump community.
“I’m not sure if users did trust us, to be honest. *Our* users did, since we’ve always let them speak, but I think there was a large population of people who didn’t but just had nowhere else to turn.”
Bizarrely, further down in his latest post on the subject, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman appeared to confirm that the algorithm change is a response to /r/The_Donald.
We have seen many communities liker/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.
Like Facebook’s “Trending News” feature, which was presented as a reflection of the most popular news stories on the site, but turned out to be a top-down system managed by left-leaning editors, the balance of power on Reddit is about to once again shift from the site’s liberty-loving, anti-censorship users to its progressive administrators.
As with Facebook, Reddit’s move to exercise more control what appears at the top of /r/all has significant implications for political discourse on the web and beyond. Millions of readers, including journalists, visit /r/all every day to find out what’s popular on Reddit. Right now, it’s Donald Trump’s subreddit. After the algorithm change, it might still be Donald Trump’s subreddit — but visitors to /r/all might not be able to tell.
Reddit did not respond to a request for comment.