Welcome to the Bizarro World of Trump Supporters on Reddit
For a presidential candidate who hasn’t pursued a sophisticated tech strategy, Donald Trump has a huge base of support online. Facebook and Twitter have helped to showcase the Republican nominee’s incessant self-promotion. But it’s on Reddit where his supporters are fully in charge.
During this crazy election season, the pro-Trump subreddit /r/The_Donald has emerged as a hub for some of the Republican candidate’s most Internet-savvy supporters. Today, those people claim the greatest Reddit reward: Trump himself will drop by tonight at 7PM Eastern for an AMA—the “ask me anything” question-and-answer session that has become the site’s signature attraction. (Though after calling on the Russians to hack your opponent’s emails, what else is there to say?)
To hear denizens of /r/The_Donald tell it, Trump won’t be addressing the stereotypical crowd of supporters. They insist that the subreddit’s core constituency extends far beyond the core demographic of older white men, resentful of globalization, who form Trump’s base. In fact, these redditors say everyone misunderstands them. They consider themselves quite comfortable with the digital world, and say their ranks include—gasp!—liberals who voted for Obama. But Trump’s message has convinced them to change sides.
“We know for a fact that our community is extremely socially libertarian—and culturally as well,” said one subreddit moderator, a 30-something business consultant who goes by the handle Viking83. He asked that his real name not be used because he says he might be harassed, a reasonable concern for many who post to Reddit, much less a subreddit devoted to so divisive a candidate. That’s precisely why Trump supporters say they need /r/The_Donald. Appropriating the language of the disenfranchised, Viking83 says they need a safe space to support Trump online.
“We’ve taken a stand and said, there are thousands of other subreddits where you can hate on Donald Trump,” he says. “In our subreddit, we are like a 24/7 Trump rally.”
Safe for Some
The irony isn’t hard to see. Trump’s brazen bigotry directed at Latinos, Muslims, and others have left many dreading the possibility of a Trump presidency. But Viking83 insists that the moderators reject racism and homophobia. “We do not tolerate it, and you can’t find it on our subreddit,” he says.
That’s not entirely true. Casual reference to “cucks,” a racist insult used to deride liberals and moderate Republicans, are plentiful. The forum’s “report” button for flagging potentially offensive content has been skinned to read “deport.” Popular threads include “So if you jump the fence to the Democrat Convention, you get arrested. If you jump the fence on the Mexican border, you get invited to speak at the convention” and “Couldn’t find a single American flag at the DNC. But I did find a Palestinian flag.” Although racism is ostensibly not tolerated, Viking83 makes it plain that criticizing Muslims is OK.
“What we have said is that we don’t believe religion is a race. I know that’s controversial to some,” he says. “But we do ban people and even posters who have been with us for a long time, if they cross the line on African-Americans or Jewish-Americans.”
Whatever you think of /r/The_Donald’s standards of decency, the online community’s attraction for Trump himself is clear. The subreddit didn’t always get much attention, but it’s now the third-most active on Reddit, even more popular than the subreddit dedicated to Pokemon Go. It has more than 180,000 subscribers, compared to roughly 21,000 for Hillary Clinton’s subreddit. Fifty-two moderators from around the world monitor the activity of 3 million unique visitors every month. Redditors refer to Donald Trump as “God Emperor” in the forum.
Along with reaching out to his most dedicated supporters, Trump almost certainly hopes the AMA, which will occur midway through the Democratic National Convention, will throw him back into the news cycle. (The campaign did not return our request for comment.) It also fits with Trump’s strategy of making a splash while spending as little money as possible. Media outlets (WIRED is complicit as well) will cover the AMA, spreading Trump’s message without his campaign spending a cent.
Meanwhile, the AMA presents a dilemma for Reddit. The site prides itself on the ideals of free speech and the wisdom of the crowd. But as no shortage of incidents have shown, that crowd often turns into a mob. To put it another way, Reddit has a troll problem—as does the Trump campaign.
Reddit is not hosting the Trump AMA on its official /r/iAMA forum, where many Q&A sessions have occurred, including a hugely popular session with President Obama. The company and /r/The_Donald both say it’s not about keeping up appearances. “In many cases, AMAs take place in communities that are more specific to the topic at hand,” Reddit spokeswoman Diana Chow says.
Viking83, meanwhile, said the group wanted to ensure Trump was received in the manner he deserved for his AMA. The subreddit is coordinating with the Trump campaign for this and future events—which is mutually beneficial. The /r/The_Donald subreddit gets the cachet of the candidate’s presence, while the Trump campaign gains a committed online community it can theoretically use to boost its broader digital campaign efforts.
As for the message those Redditors would spread? “We know Trump embraces everyone who is within the law,” Viking83 says. As a gay man, he says the danger homosexuals in the Middle East face is abhorrent. And the GOP has been pushing the line that because Trump will be more aggressive in fighting ISIS, he’ll be a better champion for LGBTQ people abroad. That’s despite a GOP platform that even some LGBTQ Republicans call the most anti-gay ever. But such parsing isn’t the point of /r/The_Donald. If Trump’s not good enough for his critics, Viking83 says, his online army has one firm message: “It’s generally, ‘tough luck,’ to be honest.”
If nothing else, that’s nicer than Trump would put it.
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