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That Trump meme your Facebook friend just shared? It may have come from The_Donald.
What’s on the minds of President Donald Trump‘s supporters during any given week of chaos and missteps from the White House? Look no further than r/The_Donald, or Reddit The_Donald.
The internet community that was home to Trump’s most vocal supporters on the campaign trail hasn’t lost momentum after his election. The subreddit’s following has only grown. In fact, it has nearly 500,000 users, as of this writing. Now The_Donald ranks as one of the most active subreddits on the entire site, regularly ranking above popular mainstream communities r/politics and r/funny.
In short, The_Donald is the online id of the ultra-pro-Trump world. Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know about this influential online community.
What is Reddit’s The_Donald?
Even though a small fraction of Trump voters are active members of The_Donald or have even heard of it, the community represents Trump’s most loyal core group of supporters. Trump supporters and non-supporters on The_Donald can be identified by their flair. Trump’s people have a sign that says “Centipede!” next to their handle, a reference to a YouTube series that intercuts Trump campaign footage with audio from a nature documentary of a centipede killing a tarantula.
On a typical day on The_Donald, you’ll see threads analyzing recent Trump news and speeches and latest policy developments from the White House. Negative Trump news is quickly debunked with questionable accuracy or made light of. Trump campaign rally speeches are showered with praise. Frequent punching bags of The_Donald include: Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, the mainstream media, Black Lives Matter, Muslims, Pope Francis, Catholics, undocumented immigrants, former FBI Director James Comey, “antifa,” celebrities who speak out against Trump, food stamps, climate change, the Democratic Party, and the state of California.
How The_Donald influences online conversations
Ideas have a way of originating on The_Donald or 4chan’s /pol/ board, then spreading to Facebook, and then somehow ending up on Fox News or even parroted by Trump himself. A Republican Capitol Hill staffer even crowdsourced ideas for anti-Clinton legislation from The_Donald. When Trump retweeted a GIF of himself symbolically beating up CNN at a professional wrestling match, the source was traced back to The_Donald.
The subreddit has proven to be capable of doing more damage than its usual meme mischief. Conspiracy theories centered around murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich and Pizzagate rapidly gained steam on The_Donald. Back in May, one member of The_Donald dumped the personal data of thousands of people who signed an anti-Trump petition on the subreddit’s Discord server, known as Centipede Central.
Reddit’s The_Donald perhaps first gained national attention after helping rig online polls to declare Trump the winner of several 2016 presidential election debates. In short, redditors organized in the forum and shared links to unscientific polls that could easily be botted or corrupted, giving the appearance that Trump won the debates, despite controlled focus groups strongly disagreeing.
In addition to memes, The_Donald was also instrumental in digging up dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent in the 2016 election, and other Democrats. Anytime WikiLeaks published emails leaked from the Democratic National Committee or former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, The_Donald was there to sift through the emails and post what they found. This crowdsourced investigative tactic quickly led media outlets to pick up the damning stories.
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The_Donald’s troubling relationship with race
The_Donald community’s penchant for racist, inflammatory rhetoric, its craftiness with memes and GIFs, and unbridled enthusiasm for all things Trump sets it apart from the rest of the site. All those things, if spread outside the safe space of The_Donald, have the ability to provoke outrage and calls for the subreddit to be kicked off Reddit altogether. However, attempts to control the hatred and vitriol on The_Donald is like fighting fire with gasoline. Cries of censorship and complaints of First Amendment rights being taken away by the “PC police” or Reddit’s liberal bias are frequent among the The_Donald crowd.
Moderators who make sure comments follow Reddit’s guidelines on hate speech are often harassed or met with death threats or calls for their resignation. The turnover rate for The_Donald’s moderators is notably high; Reddit has removed The_Donald moderators, and moderators have also resigned in frustration.
In the wake of violence at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, moderators of The_Donald expected racist rhetoric to actually increase. The subreddit’s moderators were ready with a post reminding users to stay away from terms like “white genocide” and “sub-human,” and not to refer to Black people as apes. The_Donald’s only standing restriction on racism and anti-Semitism is written in fairly loose language that is open to interpretation:
One of the starkest examples of The_Donald’s blatant bigotry arrived in the aftermath of the Oct. 2, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas. Immediately after news of the massacre—the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history—commenters on The_Donald began calling for widespread aggression against Muslims based on pure speculation that the shooter was an Islamic terrorist. Once news broke that the shooter was instead a 64-year-old white man, The_Donald members quickly shifted their tone, calling into question media reports about the shooting and spreading the conspiracy theory that the attack was a “false flag” operation meant to further a left-wing, anti-gun agenda.
Defenders of The_Donald insist that the subreddit does not promote racism and bigotry and often point to its many users who are of different races, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds. Some argue that a few “bad apples” among The_Donald’s users spoil the bunch. For such arguments to fall flat, one has to merely take a simple look at the subreddit. It seems futile to monitor racism and bigotry on a comment-by-comment basis when entire threads are devoted to discussing such topics, most frequently in thinly veiled coded language—but sometimes not.
One moderator admonished members for reporting incidents of Islamophobia. “Jesus Christ people, stop reporting Islamophobia. We don’t fucking care about our ‘Islamophobia problem’ AT ALL!” is the topic of the thread.
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The_Donald vs. the rest of Reddit
Many blame The_Donald for ruining Reddit—a social news site known for its free flow of ideas and discussion—and made it a safe haven for white nationalism and trolling. The irony of Reddit banning two prominent “alt-right” subreddits back in February is that The_Donald likely grew more racist as a result; the followers of the banned subreddits had only one other place to call home. Gizmodo’s Bryan Menengus argues that Reddit’s weak user protections and commitment to free speech have resulted in “nationalist trolls” taking the rest of the site hostage.
No other subreddit is the subject of more fascination or has stirred more hatred and outrage, both inside and outside Reddit, than The_Donald. Members of r/TheoryofReddit have posed the question of what makes The_Donald so popular so frequently that the topic is permanently banned from the discussion.
Other say the habit of “shitposting,” or posting nonsensical threads and comments or unfunny memes, became ubiquitous due to The_Donald. Such behaviors are the stuff of internet buffoonery seen on 4chan, and not reflective of Trump’s wider base. On the other hand, The_Donald is the ideal platform for such internet buffoonery to spread among those who could care less about ethics in video game journalism or men’s rights.
“[T]he sub is basically inducting your conservative uncle Jed into the meme cult of 4chan and teaching them to game reddit, essentially weaponizing regular conservatives who find their way here by way of genuine support for Trump,” wrote Reddit user punkinfacebookleg pie.
Reddit user The_Blazer argued on a r/TheoryofReddit thread that The_Donald was ruining Reddit and that the paranoia of “fake news” and downvoting of dissenting opinions was spreading to the rest of Reddit. Before The_Donald, Reddit was a variety of opinions and little prejudice.
“It was not like this before the election,” The_Blazer wrote.
Few things were.
The_Donald’s relationship with Russia
On March 2, the Daily Beast dropped a report claiming that Russian trolls used r/the_Donald to spread disinformation during the 2016 election.
An internal leak from the Internet Research Agency, the Russian “troll farm” at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s indictments last month, showed how they used websites they created to post content on r/The_Donald and r/HillaryForPrison ahead of the election, generating thousands of upvotes, the Daily Beast reports.
The leak also showed that the IRA ran 21 Tumblr accounts and listed “American proxies” for Reddit and 9Gag, a meme website.
Read the Daily Beast’s report here.
Petition to ban r/The_Donald
In the wake of the revelation that Russian actors shared misinformation on the subreddit, redditors started a petition to ban r/The_Donald.
The poll said the subreddit “has committed blatant violations of pretty much every Reddit-wide rule” and had become a nefarious den promoting “racism” and “sexism.”
In a response to the poll, where he discussed banning accounts linked to Russian actors, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said the subreddit wouldn’t be banned, arguing that banning them “probably won’t accomplish” what people want, saying it would be better to instead let “them fall apart from their own dysfunction.”
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Amrita Khalid is a technology and politics reporter who specializes in breaking down complex issues into practical, useful terms. A former contributor to CQ, a Congressional news and analysis site, she's currently a master's candidate in international relations at the University of Leeds.