Reddit’s The_Donald has been billed as the biggest online community of Donald Trump supporters, but during the 2016 election, it also appeared to be one of the internet’s biggest hubs of Russian-based propaganda and conspiracy theories.
This week, Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation announced a series of 13 indictments against Russians for illegally attempting to disrupt the election. These Russian propaganda efforts were largely focused on social media, and the New York Times noted that one of the biggest offenders was a fraudulent Twitter account claiming to represent the Republican Party of Tennessee. The account was called @TEN_GOP and was one of the most popular sources of anti-Clinton posts and conspiracy theories.
As one Reddit user found, there was quite a strong relationship between @TEN_GOP and Reddit’s The_Donald subreddit. The user compiled a list of hundreds of times that the Twitter account was linked to The_Donald, some of which garnered thousands of user upvotes.
There have already been plenty of warning signs that the users of The_Donald were falling for Russian propaganda during the presidential election. Last month, Twitter sent email warnings to all users who had interacted with accounts proven to be operated by Russians interfering in the election, and Newsweek noted that a sizeable contingent of The_Donald users discussed receiving such a message.
Many believed that Twitter was unfairly targeting them for being conservative and supporting Trump, echoing the president’s sentiments that the allegations of Russian interference were made up. But the latest research is more confirmation that The_Donald has often fallen prey to Russian propaganda, even as its users fight back against the allegations.
There has been a movement among some of Reddit’s left-leaning subs to have The_Donald banned for fostering hate speech and sometimes even active calls for violence (which was the case last year when the sub actively promoted the protests in Charlottesville, even as some of the organizing entities spoke openly of potential violence there).
But Reddit is unlikely to ever pull the trigger on banning The_Donald, Vox noted. While the site has taken action to close down other subs that promote violence or publicly identify users — which was the case when it banned the sub for “involuntary celibate” men known as Incels for promoting violent misogyny — it has done nothing to curb the influence of The_Donald.
One user even came up with a list of 45 instances where users on The_Donald broke site rules against inciting violence including one calling to “shoot Muslims on sight,” sharing the evidence in an open chat with site co-founder Steve Huffman. But because the sub’s moderators were cooperative in removing these instances, Huffman said the sub would be allowed to remain on Reddit.