Why Reddit Quarantined a Popular, Hate-Driven Message Board

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In August 2019, Reddit quarantined the r/The_Donald message board in an effort to curb hate speech on its platform. Reddit’s decision to act against the subreddit stemmed from a growing concern about bigotry and hate-filled threats, as Ali Breland reported for Mother Jones.

Many of the threats that target minority groups or political figures violate Reddit’s community values.

As Breland wrote, “the subreddit offers a distilled version of the president’s most toxic, troll-prone supporters.” This intensified, following the Christchurch shootings in March 2019, when r/The_Donald members began condoning violence against Muslim communities. This led to heightened scrutiny of the message board, and ultimately, its quarantining.

By quarantining r/The_Donald, Reddit hopes to quiet the group. The quarantine makes it impossible to link to or search for the subreddit. This significantly reduces the spread and impact of hate speech from the page, by making it accessible only to subscribed users or those who directly visit its URL.

The message board’s users clearly understand the quarantine’s impact. As Breland reported, one user posted, “We NEED to stay on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter! If we have our own site or forum, we lose our voice to others!” Her Mother Jones report noted that those using r/The_Donald have yet to find an alternative site with more lax community guidelines that can house their membership while having the same recruiting potential as Reddit.

Quarantining Reddit pages often leads to their being banned altogether. Although deplatforming hateful Reddit groups might seem like an effective way to stop hate speech, Breland noted that completely removing r/The_Donald would mean Reddit could no longer keep track of the group and its plans. According to Rishab Nithyanand, a professor at the University of Iowa who has researched far-right extremism on Reddit, the value of tracking online hate may explain why the page has only been quarantined and not fully banned.

CNN also covered Reddit’s decision to quarantine the r/The_Donald message board, in a June 2019 article. CNN’s coverage  discussed the quarantine and explained why the subreddit was not fully banned, but it neglected the issue of tracking online hate and glossed over the complexity of allowing hateful discussion groups to remain on a platform in order to monitor them. This nuance (which Mother Jones covered in depth) is important for the public to understand Reddit’s actions, helping the public make better sense of why Silicon Valley sometimes seems aloof when it comes to restricting online hate.

In February 2020, the Daily Dot reported that member of the r/The_Donald message board believe that Reddit officials are staging a coup against their community.

Source: Ali Breland, “Users of a Major Online Trump Hub Expect They’ll Be Kicked off Reddit—and They Don’t Know Where to Go,” Mother Jones, August 29, 2019, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/08/the_donald_reddit_ban_quarantine/.

Student Researchers: Megan Candito, Toni Mulligan, and Chanel Keenan (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)