The popular discussion board Reddit is the internet’s very own hodge-podge – with subreddits dedicated to everything from once-viral Vine videos to political movements. This past election cycle, Reddit has become a sort of virtual meeting grounds for the alt-right.
The alt-right is a white nationalist movement that’s foundation can be traced back to a blog called “The Alternative Right,” written by movement leader Richard Spencer. More recently, Spencer and two cohorts, who share his white power beliefs, launched altright.com according to Slate.
On February 1st, 2017, Reddit banned the subreddits called r/altright and r/alternativeright for violating its rules on “vigilantism.” The site prohibits users from posting other people’s private or personal information on the forum. The Verge reported that the target of the exposure was the man who punched Spencer at an inauguration rally for President Trump.
The privacy clause is an attempt to protect users from being targeted in real life for the views they have expressed in the online forum. Like the criteria for defamation, there is an exception for the business contacts of “public figures” with this policy.
The site prides itself on being a space to share content that is “funny, serious, offensive, or anywhere in between,” but also a place of respect. There has been hot online debate about whether or not r/altright was a victim of censorship. In a statement to Gizmodo, a Reddit spokesperson revealed that the thread was a frequent violator of the site’s policy.
Voat, a reddit-like platform, is welcoming all of the subreddit’s “refugees” who found themselves floundering without an online community. The alt-right thread on Voat continues to make themselves a safe space for white supremacy and currently hosts 712 subscribers.
“The admins are playing a losing game of whack-a-mole here. The internet is (at least currently) a free, open, anonymous, uncontrolled platform for individuals of every stripe and persuasion to speak their mind and grow as part of a community. The more the established political institutions try to maintain the status quo and marginalize us, the more they will drive free-thinking, independent lovers of truth to our side.”
This is not the first time Reddit has been accused of manipulating content that it found discriminatory. CEO Steve Huffman altered defamatory comments posted about him on another alt-right subreddit r/the_donald, according to an article by The Daily Beast.
Here, we see another battle between content and content-neutral regulation. The Constitution was founded upon the ability for individuals to express beliefs and criticize the government. In the spirit of the document, the Supreme Court works to protect the political and social rights of citizens regarding free speech matters and beyond.
Reddit is able to ban these accounts because they violated one of the site’s time, place, manner restrictions. This is a legal loophole that the site could have used to their “political” advantage, but have refrained from doing so. Founder Alexis Ohanian has publicly denounced the actions of President Trump, but other alt-right subreddits still exist on the site. This is a gesture that solidifies the site’s commitment to freedom of speech.