Earlier today Reddit banned r/altright, the primary community on the site for the so-called “alt-right.” And for a variety of reasons, that’s about all we know.
The subreddit had always courted controversy and pushed the bounds of Reddit’s relatively lax policies on speech. Users from r/altright often made inflammatory remarks about a variety of marginalized groups and many espoused views in the white supremacist/national socialist spectrum. Two of the subreddit’s moderators also appear to have been terminated, though it’s unclear if that’s related to the subreddit’s ban.
Because moderators had artificially inflated r/altright’s subscriber count, there’s no telling how large the community was. Like other banned abusive subreddits (r/fatpeoplehate and r/pizzagate to name a few), r/alright have made a new home for themselves on Reddit knockoff Voat. That community presently displays 314 subscribers.
Gizmodo reached out to one of Reddit’s “powermods” who told us via email that he heard “they were encouraging users to go to some kind of ‘bounty’ site, where users collaborate to attempt to gather personal information on targets.” If true, that description matches Chuck Johnson’s WeSearchr, which was recently banned from Twitter. This moderator also suggested the ban might have been planned well in advance, pointing us to a comment left by CEO Steve Huffman on his most recent announcements post—though it could of course be coincidental.
Similar far-right communities—r/the_donald in particular—seemed concerned they’d be next on the chopping block. Considering the subreddit’s penchant for targeted harassment and vote manipulation, they ought to be.
Theories regarding the ban are swirling within a thread in r/subredditdrama. Though nothing concrete has been uncovered just yet, the tenor of posts seems to be that removing r/altright was a good decision for the overall health and sanity of the site’s users.
We’ve reached out to Reddit and former mods of r/altright for details and will update if we hear back.
Update 2/1/17 10:46pm EST: “I’m honestly not sure of the details yet. We anticipated Reddit would terminate the sub soon because they typically don’t allow these types of right-wing groups to get much bigger than 20,000 subscribers, and /r/AltRight was rapidly nearing that point,” Throwahoymatie, a former mod of r/altright told Gizmodo over Reddit Private Message.
We have no way of confirming that the subreddit was that popular. Likewise, the first wave of purges instituted against harassing subreddits under the leadership of Ellen Pao—when r/fatpeoplehate was banned—included several communities considerably smaller than 20,000 subscribers. Likewise, r/the_donald, r/hillaryforprison, and r/kotakuinaction all have well over that number. Throwahoymatie claims the new Voat hub for the alt-right is, counter-intuitively, v/Identitarian, which currently has 893 subscribers.
A former subscriber of r/altright, JohnnyTruthSeed, similarly told Gizmodo the community’s growth was a key reason for its banning, adding that “the administrators of Reddit are cucks [and] we were exposing the truth about Zionism.” Go figure.
Reddit have not yet responded to our questions, but tomorrow is another day.
Update 2/2/17 12:10pm EST: Reddit sent us a vague boilerplate statement regarding their reasons for banning r/altright. A spokesperson told Gizmodo that “posting of personal information can get users banned from Reddit and we ask our communities not to post content that harasses or invites harassment. We have banned r/altright due to repeated violations of the terms of our content policy.”
It was well-known among Reddit users that r/altright had been engaged in harassment since its creation, so this statement does little to clear up why the ban took place now, or if any specific incident was considered beyond the pale.