Reddit said it restricted access Wednesday to “The_Donald,” a controversial subreddit frequented by some supporters of President Trump, after some of its members posted threats against police officers.
Reddit’s policies prohibit content that “encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm.” The company “quarantined” the The_Donald forum after Media Matters published a story with screenshots showing several users discussing a political showdown in Oregon in which Gov. Kate Brown ordered state police to retrieve legislators who fled the capitol to avoid voting on a climate-change bill.
“No problems shooting a cop trying to strip rights from Citizens,” one such post said. “None of this gets fixed without people picking up rifles,” read another, while a third user wrote, “I have seen my beloved state turn into North California. The only way to get it back is to burn Portland and Eugene to the ground.” The posts have since been removed by a Reddit moderator.
“We are clear in our site-wide policies that posting content that encourages or threatens violence is not allowed on Reddit,” a Reddit spokesperson said in a statement. “Recent behaviors including threats against the police and public figures is content that is prohibited by our violence policy. As a result, we have actioned individual users and quarantined the subreddit.” Reddit did not specify what actions were taken against individual users.
Last week, Reddit also banned r/frenworld, an alt-right subreddit with 60,000 members, for engaging in hate speech that violated its policies on violent content. During the past two years, the site has banned other communities for similar reasons, including /r/altright, /r/nationalsocialism, /r/farright, /r/Nazi, and /r/cringeanarchy.
For years, Reddit has struggled to balance its passion for free speech with behavior that violates its policies. In 2012, then-CEO Yishan Wong wrote to Reddit employees, “We stand for free speech. This means we are not going to ban distasteful subreddits. We will not ban legal content even if we find it odious or if we personally condemn it.” Since then, the polarized political rhetoric in the U.S. has tested that resolve.
Last September, Reddit revised its quarantining policies “to prevent its content from being accidentally viewed by those who do not knowingly wish to do so.” Quarantining a Reddit forum doesn’t ban the subreddit, but requires a verified email to view it and limits its ability to generate ad revenue.
One longtime moderator of the The_Donald forum told NBC News that the move didn’t come as a surprise. “They’ve wanted us gone. Pretty much the rest of Reddit wants us gone,” the moderator said. “I want to be unbiased when I say this, but the fact is that we aren’t treated the same way other subs are treated.”
More than 750,000 accounts are members of The_Donald subreddit, described by its moderators as a “never-ending rally dedicated” to Trump, who held a Q&A with its members during the 2016 Presidential campaign. Last year, Buzzfeed reported that Russia’s Internet Research Agency appeared to be targeting the forum with propaganda.
While the quarantining of The_Donald may defuse the current controversy, it’s unlikely to keep the subreddit from being a lightening rod. Earlier this month, CEO Steve Huffman and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden staged a joint Q&A with Reddit users, during which Wyden said, “The_Donald is home to messages that cross the line toward inciting the hatred that is eroding our democracy and it would be good to see Mr. Huffman and Reddit to do more work to moderate such behavior.”
Huffman replied that Reddit had removed several moderators of The_Donald in recent years. “We watch them closely,” he wrote. “I wish there was a solution that was as simple as banning the community—certainly it would make some things easier—but the reality is that 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.”
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