On June 29, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman banned the nearly 800,000 strong, pro-President Trump forum, “r/The_Donald” and a variety of other communities, citing an update to Reddit’s content policy “to explicitly address hate.” Meanwhile, the internet platform continues to host a variety of forums, or “subreddits,” specifically devoted to glorifying rape and the degradation of women.
Following the ban of r/The_Donald, Reddit reportedly continued to host subreddits with titles including r/StruggleFucking, r/AbusePorn2, r/DegradedFemales, r/AbusedSluts, and r/PutInHerPlace for more than 10 days, before finally banning them on July 10 after a public outcry from members of r/The_Donald citing a double standard based on political motivations.
“We were r/rapingwomen but Reddit took it without our consent. Rape fantasy videos for the discerning con non-con connoisseur,” the r/StruggleFucking subreddit description read, while other descriptions for subreddits r/AbusePorn2 and r/DegradedFemales read “All our videos feature girls who appear unhappy with what’s going on” and “Degrading females” respectively.
Similarly, subreddit r/RapeConfessions describes itself as, “A place for former and would-be rapists and sexual abusers to discuss their urges and misdeeds,” and as of this publication remains up on the site, along with subreddits r/RapeWorld and r/RapeStories. These subreddits were quarantined on July 10 in lieu of being banned outright, meaning the forums require additional restrictions to view, including an account with a verified email address and requiring users to opt-in to see content.
I reached out to nearly 30 Reddit advertisers to gauge their thoughts on the platform’s rape-content issue during the weeks leading up to the July 10 ban, including Amazon, Disney+, Pandora, Sony, and Samsung, but only received one response from the car manufacturer Audi. Microsoft and TD Ameritrade declined to comment.
“We want to be very clear that we do not in any way support such content you’ve listed below and in fact support the equal and respectful treatment of women in our society as a whole. Any content you’ve listed below is absolutely reprehensible and deplorable,” a spokesman for Audi said, specifying that the automotive company hadn’t advertised on Reddit for over a year.
Reddit remains a highly influential facet of the web with more than 430 million active monthly users. According to a study examining Reddit’s reach across the United States, nearly a quarter of adults aged 18-29 and 14 percent of adults aged 30-49 were using Reddit as of February 2019, and the number is growing daily.
Simply put, Reddit holds undeniable sway over public opinion in its ability to regulate the content that users see on a regular basis. Reddit CEO Steve Huffman gave voice to this fact in a New Yorker story published in March 2018. “I’m confident that Reddit could sway elections,” he said.
“We wouldn’t do it, of course. And I don’t know how many times we could get away with it. But, if we really wanted to, I’m sure Reddit could have swayed at least this election, this once,” Huffman continued, referring to the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.
Despite Huffman’s denial of attempting to sway elections, is it possible that banning r/The_Donald was an attempt to do just that under the guise of combating “hate?” Those speculating along this line of thinking are not alone, with prominent Republican lawmakers openly accusing Reddit of attempting to influence the 2020 presidential election.
“Since 2016, r/The_Donald has been an important forum for supporters of the president to gather and discuss the issues of the day. Its users have meticulously self-moderated their community under Reddit’s guidelines and terms of service, yet they face continuous harassment by the website’s Chinese-backed ownership group. It is deeply unsettling that Reddit selectively targets Trump supporters while allowing the Left to operate with total impunity even when violating the site’s policies,” Representative Jody Hice (R-Ga.) declared on May 28.
“The closer we get to the 2020 election the more aggressive Big Tech has become about suppressing conservatives,” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) echoed, while Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) said, “The political double standard that exists on some social media platforms is appalling. Given the power and influence that these sites have, it’s totally inappropriate that they get to choose which viewpoints receive more eyes or more scrutiny. It’s high time these social media sites are held accountable.”
I reached out to former moderators of /r/The_Donald, who now reside on an independent site, TheDonald.win, to get their perspective on why they were finally banned from Reddit.
“Ultimately why /r/The_Donald was banned after so many struggles, was [Reddit] could finally do it and shed the mask of being a free speech platform,” TheDonald.win moderator “lalicat” told me. He pointed to the cultural upheaval in the wake of George Floyd’s death as Reddit’s opportunity to act.
“In long form, that is why /r/The_Donald got banned. Because the Left is desperate to silence us and they are betting the farm that there will be no repercussions if their guy wins, which is why this election is even more important than 2016,” lalicat said.
All Americans should be deeply unsettled by the ability of a selective cohort of Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires to control the medium of modern political discourse, regardless of political persuasion. Free expression and discourse remain essential to the survival of the American republic and if these liberties should fall, the rest will surely follow.
After multiple inquiries, Reddit did not respond in time for publication of this story.