Part of Reddit’s continued success is in no doubt due in part to the near-endless range of subreddits (the name of topic specific sub-communities across the site) available for users to engage with, but with that breadth comes the fact that every r/wholemsomememes is opposed by an r/incels. Enter r/The_Donald, long an extremist breeding ground of pro-MAGA rhetoric ever since Trump first announced his presidential aspirations that may have finally reached its expiration date.
The fate of the subreddit is in question following the community’s reaction to Oregon’s Democrat Governor, Kate Brown, sending state police after 11 of the state’s Republican senators who fled its borders in order to disrupt voting on a major climate change bill. Brown and Oregonian authorities are within their rights to seek out the fleeing senators – for each day they prevent a quorum from being reached, each can be charged up to $500 – but r/The_Donald had a much more different reaction to how things should be handled.
Reporting for MediaMatters.org, Alex Kaplan noted a handful of users, seeing Brown’s actions as an example of “state tyranny,” making promises of violence toward both her and Oregon authorities in reaction to their pursuit of the Republican senators. A number of pro-gun threats were posted in reaction to the news, including comments such as “none of this gets fixed without people picking up rifles,”and “rifles are the only way we’re going to get any peace in our lives ever again,” accompanied by calls to “burn Portland and Eugene to the ground.”
These threats, in clear violation of Reddit’s community guidelines, prompted the site to announce that after years of violations, r/The_Donald had been placed in “quarantine.” The announcement from the site’s moderators read: “The reason for the quarantine is that over the last few months we have observed repeated rule-breaking behavior in your community, most recently in the form of encouragement of violence towards police officers and public officials in Oregon,” adding, “we are troubled that violent content more often goes unreported, and worse, is upvoted.”
Though a “quarantined” subreddit is not outright banned, the action renders its posts virtually invisible from site-wide searches and recommendation algorithms, also requiring users to opt-in should they wish to access its content. Should a quarantined subreddit continue to violate the site’s rules – much like the aforementioned r/incels – it is removed from the site entirely.
While r/The_Donald seems to be hanging onto its URL for now, Reddit’s CEO Steve Huffman seems to think it deserves one more chance before a more definitive decision is reached: “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.”
Despite Huffman’s temporary show of mercy, only time will tell – especially with the 2020 United States Presidential election throttling full speed ahead at us – whether r/The_Donald can finally find a way to stay in line.