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Stealth trolling is turning some of Reddit’s worst corners into funny, harmless delights

r/WhitePolitics is now devoted to discussions of paint colors and laundry sorting — and that’s just the beginning.

Media Day for the Hollywood Sign's Month-Long Makeover Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images
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.

Fans of the color white have had enough. On Reddit, they’re joining forces to resist the takeover of their color by racists.

You might say they’re throwing shades.

As the Daily Beast reports, trolls on Reddit have gotten fed up with the encroachment by right-wing extremists onto the site’s more mainstream areas. So they’ve taken over a few dormant white supremacist subreddits themselves — and filled them with topical debates about colors.

Reddit’s r/WhitePolitics and r/Whites subreddits have both been taken over and turned into havens of color discussion. For example: The link described as “why whites must be separated from blacks” above directs to an article on laundry sorting.

The takeover is part of an established trend among Reddit users to hijack or preemptively create pernicious subreddits and turn them benign. For instance, in the murky online world of white supremacism, the word “stormfront” refers to the largest online community of neo-Nazis. On Reddit, however, proactive users created r/Stormfront before it could be created by racists, and now that subreddit routinely looks like this:

How did we get here? Basically, this is one delightful byproduct of Reddit’s larger, rampant troll culture.

On Reddit, it’s hard to gauge where the trolling ends and serious discussion begins

At some point over the life of Reddit — thanks to the site’s constant interplay of ideological clashes, ironic use of the term “trolling,” and actual attempts to derail discussions intermingling with ironic attempts to pretend to derail discussions — it became pretty difficult to distinguish a “troll” takeover of a topic from, well, just a topic.

For instance, there’s a popular “troll network” of subreddits devoted to memes, reaction GIFs, and jokes — but unlike countless other similar subreddits on the site, this network’s defining trait is that its subreddits are attempting to be fundamentally safe spaces for women and other marginalized users.

Suffice it to say that this cheeky but benign side of Reddit’s troll culture is so ingrained into the website at this point that for every “serious” community providing a legitimate space for white supremacists to express themselves, there’s a trolly alternative.

Case in point: r/WhitePolitics. The takeover of that subreddit comes thanks to a dedicated group of users like Ianna Urquhuart, who uses the handle awkwardtheturtle.

Urquhart moderates hundreds of subreddits, including troll subs like r/The_Donaldd — dedicated to celebrating Donald Duck — and non-extremist subs like r/Alt_Right, dedicated to “studying the alt-right movement in [a] removed, objective, and at least semi-serious way.” She’s also executed high-visibility “takeovers,” like transforming r/Faggots into a subreddit about bundles of wood.

Urquhart told the Daily Beast she and other moderators like her have essentially moved in and taken over subreddits whose maintainers have gone AWOL. Some previously damaging subreddits, like r/FatPussy and r/PussyGifs, have been taken over and essentially cleared of all content except for a handful of cat memes, while others, like r/Wet_Pussy, are empty but ready at any moment to fulfill their true purpose, in this case as a home for pictures of wet cats.

The work of these and other dedicated Reddit moderators illustrates one thing that media portrayals of Reddit frequently fail to convey: that is, the dedication of “normies” (the alt-right term for people who aren’t proudly racist) to preserving the positive parts of Reddit culture — or, at the very least, mocking the parts of it that can’t be saved.