Reddit moves against 'toxic' Trump fans

Donald Trump has supported the r/The_Donald subreddit Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Donald Trump has supported the r/The_Donald subreddit

News-sharing community Reddit is taking action against what it calls its “most toxic” users.

Hundreds of members of the site have been identified, Reddit’s chief executive Steve Huffman wrote.

Specifically, attention is being directed at /r/The_Donald, a subreddit - section - of the site created and used by supporters of the US President-Elect.

Mr Huffman, who posts as “spez” on the site, said he would not ban the section entirely as he wanted to push a “spirit of healing” on the site.

But he has been under heavy criticism after he admitted he had personally edited comments left by users.

"More than anything, I want Reddit to heal, and I want our country to heal, and although many of you have asked us to ban the r/The_Donald outright, it is with this spirit of healing that I have resisted doing so,” he wrote on Wednesday.

"If there is anything about this election that we have learned, it is that there are communities that feel alienated and just want to be heard, and Reddit has always been a place where those voices can be heard."

‘Antagonistic'

Reddit is a site which lets people share web links, or sometimes just plain text posts, to subreddits that typically revolve around subject matter or geographic location.

Users of the site are then able to vote links up or down. In theory, the best content should rise to the top and be more prominent, and the less interesting or relevant will drift away into obscurity.

Image copyright Reddit
Image caption Users on r/The_Donald did not take the news well

The most popular items across all the subreddits will appear on Reddit’s front page, gaining an audience of several million. This page is generated partly by an algorithm tailored to each user based on their interests.

Another major section, “r/all”, is a more organic representation of popular content and is the same for all users.

Mr Huffman accused users posting on /r/The_Donald community of abusing some of the site’s functions in order to “slingshot” posts to appear on r/all.

This was done "often in a manner that is antagonistic to the rest of the community”, he said.

r/The_Donald was supported by Mr Trump. During the campaign, he carried out an "AMA" - Ask Me Anything - session with supporters.

Eroded trust

However when it emerged that Reddit's chief executive was personally editing posts by r/The_Donald users, some saw it as firm evidence the site's administrators were working underhand to diminish their support.

Mr Huffman said he understood if users felt his actions would cause lasting damage to Reddit's reputation.

"While many users across the site found what I did funny, or appreciated that I was standing up to the bullies (I received plenty of support from users of r/The_Donald), many others did not.

"I understand what I did has greater implications than my relationship with one community, and it is fair to raise the question of whether this erodes trust in Reddit."

Reddit has taken steps to censor subreddits in the past, though this has generally been limited to sections which reasonable people would find grossly offensive or could constitute harassment.

At the time, the site said it was "banning behaviour, not ideas”.

While /r/The_Donald has not been banned, this latest move could have an impact on the subreddit’s popularity and marks the first time Reddit has sought to take action against what can be considered a mainstream political view.

Users on the site criticised Reddit for implementing new rules that applied only to r/The_Donald and not other subreddits.

"Where does it end, though?” wrote one (non-Trump supporting) Reddit user in response to the announcement.

"Who sets the parameters for what is 'unacceptable' speech, and for which speech is allowed to be visible?"

On the subreddit itself, the news been met with anger. Several users discussed ways to circumvent the measures, and a petition calling for the sacking of Mr Huffman gained 5,000 signatures in the first hour following the announcement.

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