Today is a big day for /r/the_Donald, the largest community of Trump supporters on Reddit. The Republican presidential candidate himself will be holding an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on the subreddit at 7PM (EDT), where any Redditor can ask him questions.
Like the man himself, Donald Trump’s fans on Reddit have been subject to smears, faux outrage and misrepresentation in the mainstream press. The Washington Post, a paper that, as revealed by the WikiLeaks dump of DNC emails, has a close relationship with the Democratic National Committee, recently ran an article bearing the extraordinary headline “The People Running This Trump Fan Club Also Promote Eugenics And Call Muslims ‘Animals.”
The article initially focused its attention on /r/PURE_TRUMP, a minor Trump-supporting subreddit that currently has just over 600 subscribed users. The article’s author, Caitlyn Dewey, later admitted on Twitter to making a mistake about the popularity of Trump-supporting subreddits.
Deleting my last tweet, bc it wasn't accurate. r/DonaldTrump2016 is far smaller than I thought — so that headline was wrong/I'm an idiot.
— Caitlin Dewey (@caitlindewey) July 20, 2016
The same article called /r/the_Donald the “second-largest” Trump-supporting community on the site, when it is in fact the largest. Its nearest rivals, in fact, don’t come close to its total of more than 186,500 subscribed users.
By focusing on /r/PURE_TRUMP, a fringe subreddit, Dewey drew detailed connections between its moderators and a Reddit community dedicated to “anti-semitic” and “anti-Zionist jokes,” as well as a homophobic community called “/r/f*gworldproblems.”
Following uproar from /r/the_Donald, The Washington Post later amended the piece to note that “As Trump subreddits go, r/PURE_TRUMP, with its 600 subscribers, isn’t particularly large.”
Of course, the correction begs the question — why run an article about such a small, fringe, practically unheard-of subreddit the first place? Much less tie it to the wider community of Trump supporters on Reddit.
The eventual statement on the article from the moderators of /r/the_Donald was scathing:
I am not going to spend more time than I have to with these morons. They made a mistake and could have done the right thing and deleted the article, but they only edited it. Their web site still features a story trashing Trump supporters on all of reddit that is centered around a subreddit that, as of the time of the article being published, had a whopping 276 readers and with stuff on its front page that was a month old. /r/the_donald, by comparison, has more than 177,000 readers and it is not only very active but it has been so successful at hitting the front page of all of reddit that reddit’s Admins had to change their /r/all algorithm to stop us from dominating the web site.
Caitlin Dewey was the “journalist” who published this hit piece. When I saw it I immediately sent an email to Caitlin and CCed a higher up at the Post who is working on the Trump campaign. None of my emails went answered, but the article was edited and the “journalist” did accurately tweet that she is an idiot.
Another recent piece, published in VICE, at least had the good sense to actually focus on /r/the_Donald, where most Trump supporters on Reddit can be found. But its tone was little different.
“If you check out the_donald now” wrote the article’s author, Jason Koebler, “it’s a disconcerting melting pot of posts that run the gamut from InfoWars-style conspiracies, men’s rights activist- and GamerGate-style real and faux outrage, memes and shitposts (basically, jokes that are only meant to be understood by those in the community), and, yes, Donald Trump news.”
Inevitably, the writer also accused the community of harbouring “coded racism, misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia, and a hypocritical “free speech” rallying point.”
But here’s the kicker — after that accusation (for which the author provided no immediate evidence), he went on to admonish the subreddit for being hypocritical on free speech. Why? Because, as it happens, the subreddit does ban racism and bigotry.
“For all its users’ talk of “free speech” (a stance the moderators do not share), the_donald has rules that are among the most strict on all of Reddit. In October of 2015, the slowly growing subreddit of about 1,000 users had rules that noted “trolling, bigotry,” and, most notably, “anti-Trump sentiment” were bannable offenses.”
In fairness, the author does quote a 4chan researcher from Mercer University (yes, that’s a real job title) who says that anti-bigotry rules are “important” to foster free speech. But Koebler then goes on to attack the subreddit anyway — for allowing “coded” bigotry.
“The moderators of the_donald have a long history of banning people who overtly break “rule three,” which is the community’s “no racism” rule, but allow coded racism that has long been used by white nationalists.”
Unsurprisingly, it seems that /r/the_Donald simply can’t win with the media. Even when they ban racism, they’re still accused of it.
They can’t win with the administrators of their own site. Despite the fact that they represent one of the site’s biggest sources of content and user activity, the progressive, Silicon Valley-based administrators of Reddit recently made an adjustment to Reddit’s algorithm to make it harder for posts from the community to appear on the site’s frontpage.
Ironically, by engaging in smears and uneven treatment, both the technology elites of Reddit’s upper management and the liberal tech journalists at VICE and The Washington Post are probably just reminding Trump’s Reddit-based fans why they supported the candidate in the first place.