Reddit, the popular news and discussion site, has become an important hub in the real-world resistance against Donald Trump. The recent March for Science, for example, came about in part from an idea generated in a single Reddit thread.
But now, there’s a civil war brewing among Reddit’s anti-Trump communities.
The MarchAgainstTrump subreddit, which has more than 54,000 subscribers, is being accused of deploying bots—non-human accounts—to spread spam throughout Reddit. Not only is that one of the site’s more significant breaches of protocol, it also could undercut the real organizing work being performed by real humans, say the members of the subreddit AntiTrumpAlliance, which has some 2,351 subscribers and the subreddit r/esist, which boasts nearly 85,000 followers.
“MAT [MarchAgainstTrump] is a wart in the anti-Trump community. We need to dig it out and eradicate it before we’re smeared,” reads one post from a leader of the AntiTrumpAlliance.
The rift, between pages with thousands of subscribers, highlights the difficulties of knowing who to trust behind anonymous usernames and how to navigate the online wilderness filled with trolls.
“We have decided it’s time to make it clear we are completely disavowing any connection to and directly denouncing MarchAgainstTrump,” a moderator for r/esist wrote in a post on Friday. “Not only do we not like their approach and feel it harms the reputation of the entire Anti-Trump movement, but we also have real suspicions about their moderator team.”
A recent post by AntiTrumpAlliance moderator niqueSnowflake fingered MarchAgainstTrump and its leaders for all kinds of “suspicious activity,” including “botting [the use of bots], manipulation of Reddit’s algorithms, and admission of coordinated upvote brigading.” In other words, the hijacking of Reddit’s core promise: that people will get to “upvote” what they like and help determine what becomes popular as a result. (Pictures of dogs often make it to the homepage). What’s more, niqueSnowflake wrote, posts on MarchAgainstTrump are driving spam to Reddit’s homepage without doing the actual beneficial work of helping to organize people off-line.
In a series of private messages with The Daily Beast, niqueSnowflake described MarchAgainstTrump’s tactics as being similar to the those of the enormously popular pro-Trump subreddit called the_donald, which prides itself on an unending stream of (sometimes offensive) memes.
“It seems more like [the MarchAgainstTrump subreddit] just want to recreate the_donald’s success with the anti-Trump sentiment,” niqueSnowflake said. “However, I believe that’s actually harmful to the community. The sub[reddit] does nothing to help organize or educate. It just fans the flames, drives more divisions, and spams anti-Trump porn to the front page. We’re better than this.”
The allegation that MarchAgainstTrump is using bots to spam the site with anti-Trump stories and posts has made the rounds to right-wing subreddits. The_donald has called attention to it as has a popular Men’s Rights subreddit. And for people who are supportive of the president or at the very least anti-liberal, this appearance of impropriety adds fuel to the idea that Trump resistance is overblown; that it could be orchestrated by an outside force using money to make the ideas seem more popular, akin to the unproven argument that Trump protesters have been paid to march in the streets.
Above and beyond their alleged tactics, some anti-Trumpers on reddit contend that the person behind MarchAgainstTrump is in fact a Trump voter who has switched usernames multiple times. In an extremely long thread of alleged private conversations, the original creator of MarchAgainstTrump appears to joke that he/she in fact voted for Trump. And if that is the case, they’re worried that the page could be used as a kind of false flag to sow chaos and division.
“Given the history of the sub and its creator, I’d rather see the sub wiped out than continue to post so-so memes,” niqueSnowflake said.
In a private message conversation with The Daily Beast, barawo33, who currently runs MarchAgainstTrump, said that the subreddit had no nefarious intentions and claimed that other anti-Trump users were conducting a “witch hunt” against them.
“I have personally never used a bot, and just found out that you use two fingers on my Mac book pro to right click,” barawo33 claimed. “MAT (MarchAgainstTrump) is against vote manipulation and actively reports such items to Admins (administrators) so they can take action. They have even banned users that we reported.”
“The user you mentioned and 4 others are on a Witchhunt to stop MAT,” barawo33 claimed. “Unfortunately for them it’s not working and we will be heard in 2018 and 2020.”
The internet, and particularly forums like reddit and 4chan, have been rife with this kind of suspicion and allegations throughout the 2016 election and onward. Sometimes, it’s for good reason. In May of last year, some 4chan users plotted to use fake Twitter accounts to pit fans of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton against each other. It didn’t really pan out but that’s not to say it can’t in the future.
While the site has experienced enormous success in growth and has functioned as a haven for political supporters on both sides of the aisle, there are always pitfalls when anonymous people are thrown into one big internet bucket.
“Overall, MAT makes the anti-Trump community look just as bad as the pro-Trump community,” niqueSnowflake told The Daily Beast. “That could be the goal, or it could be a side effect of extreme karma whoring (someone looking to raise social standing by pandering to popular stereotypes). I don’t know. Either way, MAT is bad for us.”