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Reddit's Subreddit of the Day highlighted a white supremacist alt-right forum

Users weren’t happy.

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Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Thousands of Reddit users were outraged this week to see that Subreddit of the Day (SROTD) — a popular subreddit with more than 125,000 subscribers that promotes a different subreddit each day — had highlighted one of the site’s most blatant white supremacist forums.

Amid the shock felt by many Americans in response to Donald Trump’s win in the 2016 presidential election, a key mantra among progressives has become to warn against normalizing the president-elect. Additionally, many have argued that Trump’s election effectively normalizes the alt-right and the racist white nationalist extremism that played a major role in both his campaign and, potentially, the new White House.

Thus, Redditors who share this fear of normalizing white supremacy were understandably shocked to discover on November 13 that the subreddit r/AltRight had been chosen by SROTD as its featured daily subreddit.

In its welcome post, r/AltRight states that it is “full of white nationalists, racial realists, and fascists. That is what we are and we really do not give a shit about tax cuts or other policy issues.” The subreddit openly promotes hate speech, reframes its racism as “racial realism,” and has featured Ask Me Anything sessions with neo-Nazis and known white supremacists like blogger Vox Day.

However, that didn’t stop SROTD from featuring r/AltRight after one of the SROTD moderators nominated it for the honor. The moderator in question is also a member of popular Gamergate-related subreddits and various political and news subs, but has promoted primarily neutral subreddits like r/pureASOIF (a Game of Thrones-free subreddit for the series the show is based on) since joining the SROTD team in August.

SROTD’s main purpose is to provide an introductory promotional overview for the subreddit being featured. Each daily SROTD post is written by the SROTD moderator who nominated it. That moderator interviews one or more of the moderators of the featured subreddit and then writes up the overview post with his or her own introduction and the interview included. Typically, the overview post reads like an invitation to join the subreddit and offers a positive take on the community.

Though the promotional treatment of r/AltRight was more low-key than that of other subreddits, the post’s writer did not immediately identify the subreddit’s ideology as being linked to white supremacy, instead describing it as “a community dedicated to an alternative form of right wing ideology” that “takes pride in fairly analyzing all aspects of modern society.”

Most of the redditors who engaged with the SROTD post reacted with horror to the subreddit’s selection for featured site. At one point the overview post was downvoted into negative numbers, while “Are you fucking kidding me...?” was the post’s most upvoted comment. “Keep spreading the hate, Reddit!” wrote a poster to another subreddit about the incident. Within hours, the post had become one of the most controversial and most commented in SROTD’s history. And others noticed.

Reddit has traditionally had a hands-off approach to the daily operation of its many subreddits. Each subreddit has its own team of moderators and is essentially its own mini kingdom, free to do what it pleases within the boundaries of Reddit’s rules and community guidelines, which prohibit inciting violence and harassment but don’t explicitly prohibit racist language.

Reddit avoids stepping in over such issues. But CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman told Vox in an emailed statement that the site took the incident seriously and that it was “disappointed” in the subreddit’s decision:

Reddit is home to some of the most authentic conversations on the Internet. r/subredditoftheday is a community, like all communities on Reddit, that was created by and is moderated by volunteers. The volunteer moderators of r/subredditoftheday make decisions about what content or subreddits to feature each day, and these decisions are not affiliated with Reddit, Inc.

As a company, we are disappointed that r/altright was chosen for a feature in this community, especially at a time when political tensions are high. We take the responsibility of making Reddit a welcoming place very seriously. We will continuously assess our role in ensuring that our platform allows authentic engagement and conversation to take place at a time when it's needed most. We know we have more work to do on this front, and look forward to sharing our progress.

This isn’t the first time Subreddit of the Day has featured a controversial subreddit with ties to the alt-right movement. During a week-long look at political subreddits in May, pro-Trump subreddit r/The_Donald was featured along with other left- and right-leaning political subreddits in a sort of town hall approach to the election. In April, the alt-right anti-feminist subreddit r/TheRedPill was featured, which also proved highly controversial.

SROTD mods insisted to Vox that the subreddit was neutral. Moderator ZadocPaet told Vox that “there's no vast right wing agenda here on SROTD,” and pointed out to Vox that its town hall of the site’s disparate political subs had given SROTD its best traffic ever.

Moderator jaxspider told Vox the subreddit was committed to upholding freedom of speech, even, quoting Noam Chomsky, “for those we despise.” Asked if the subreddit could be seen as endorsing the alt-right community given its prominent promotion, jaxspider responded, “Cherry picking what is/isn't allowed to be featured defeats the purpose of freedom of speech. Although I may personally not endorse or support a particular subreddit, it doesn't give me the right to censor it when others want to feature it.”

Regardless of the intent of SROTD in featuring the subreddit, its decision to do so definitely made an impact. At the time the promotional post for r/altright was made, it had a reported 5,617 subscribers.

After being featured as the Subreddit of the Day, that number jumped to 6,297.

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