Reddit bans controversial forum The_Donald as it revises hate speech policies

Sweeping changes to the platform's content policy mean many problematic subreddits have been now been banned.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read

The_Donald is no more.

Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Reddit banned controversial forum The_Donald on Monday as it makes sweeping changes to its hate speech policies. The subreddit sprung up as a forum for supporters of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign, but soon became known for playing host to racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic and other problematic content.

"All communities on Reddit must abide by our content policy in good faith," said CEO Steve Huffman in a Reddit post announcing the changes. "We banned r/The_Donald because it has not done so, despite every opportunity."

Huffman has previously taken action against The_Donald -- banning threads from appearing on Reddit's homepage in 2016 and then finally quarantining the subreddit in July 2019. The quarantine meant that the subreddit wouldn't appear in search results and that only users with a verified email could click to opt in and view it. In February 2020, Reddit banned a group of the subreddit's moderators and the community was placed in restricted mode, effectively making it read-only.

But Huffman was called out by his predecessor Ellen Pao earlier this month for not taking firmer, quicker action against the subreddit.

Huffman later admitted that he had regrets about the way he had handled the subreddit. "I fear we let being technically correct get in the way of doing the right thing," said Huffman earlier this month, speaking specifically about the_Donald. "Clearly, we should have quarantined it sooner."

On Monday, as he announced changes to Reddit's content policy, he said the subreddit would finally be closing altogether. "The community has consistently hosted and upvoted more rule-breaking content than average (Rule 1), antagonized us and other communities (Rules 2 and 8), and its mods have refused to meet our most basic expectations," he said. "Until now, we've worked in good faith to help them preserve the community as a space for its users -- through warnings, mod changes, quarantining and more."

The move comes as Twitch announced a temporarily ban against President Trump's channel, citing "hateful conduct." The suspension was issued due to a rebroadcast of a 2016 campaign rally as well as his recent rally in Tulsa, according to the streaming platform. 

Since its earliest days, Reddit has always kept its rules minimal. Even now, its updated content policy includes only eight rules in total, followed by a list of actions the company will take against individuals and communities that break them. The ultimate punishment for repeat offenders is the banning of entire subreddits -- and The_Donald is far from the only victim. Reddit also banned 2,000 other communities from across the political spectrum on Monday, most of which it said were inactive.

ChapoTrapHouse, a very active community for fans the popular left-leaning podcast, was one of the banned subreddits. Like the The_Donald, it had been quarantined. 

Reddit has always valued free speech, but has gradually become more rigorous about policing hate speech over the years. The banning of so many subreddits is the most dramatic step the company has taken yet in cracking down on problematic content.

Huffman said in a Reddit post earlier this month, in which he first promised changes to the content policy, that he was keen to close the gap between the company's outward-facing policies and its internal values. As well as changes to the company's policies, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the board earlier this month in order to make room for a Black person to take his place. Reddit recruited Michael Seibel to the board shortly after.

Huffman admitted on Monday that the company had previously "fallen short" when it came to supporting moderators of Reddit's communities, and pledged to do better in the future. "We are committed to working with you to combat the bad actors, abusive behaviors, and toxic communities that undermine our mission and get in the way of the creativity, discussions, and communities that bring us all to Reddit in the first place," he said.

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