The social media website Reddit is facing accusations from a Republican lawmaker of "ideologically motivated election interference" following a decision by those in charge of the website to "quarantine" a highly trafficked forum dedicated to supporters of President Donald Trump.
Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) wrote to Reddit CEO Steve Huffman on Tuesday to demand that he immediately restore access to users of the website's "The_Donald" forum, where over 750,000 users discuss the president and his administration.
The forum has been effectively banned, or "quarantined," in Reddit's terms, due to threats made earlier this year by some users against law enforcement and public figures, in violation of the website's terms of service. When a forum is hit with this designation it becomes much more difficult to find and interact with.
Banks said that while some of the language used may have initially warranted a quarantine, Reddit is now using it as an excuse to keep the forum offline. This behavior, Banks maintained, "amounts to ideologically motivated election interference."
"I'm writing to you to request that you approve the quarantine appeal for the subreddit, r/The_Donald. Although the initial imposition of the quarantine may have been justified, its continuation in the face of r/The_Donald's compliance with sitewide content policies and ahead of the 2020 election amounts to ideologically motivated election interference," Banks wrote, according to a copy of the letter shared with the Washington Free Beacon.
"To this point, the same content-policy violations that led to r/The_Donald's quarantine take place regularly and egregiously in numerous left-wing subreddits. These subreddits have faced no repercussions," Banks wrote. "As long as r/The_Donald is quarantined, this double-standard completely discredits any claim Reddit has to political-neutrality."
The pro-Trump forum has emerged as one of the largest online forums for Trump administration supporters.
"R/The_Donald is a subreddit for fans of President Trump that describes itself as a 'never-ending rally dedicated to the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump,'" Banks wrote. "R/The_Donald was started in the run-up to the 2016 election and has since grown to a user base of 777K—making it the largest conservative political subreddit by a wide margin."
Banks acknowledged in his letter that the threats made on the forum in June may have warranted action, but says Reddit is continuing to quarantine the forum because of its support for Trump.
"Reddit administrators first quarantined r/The_Donald on June 26, 2019, for 'repeated rule-breaking behavior.' The most recent of which consisted of 'encouragement of violence towards police officers and public officials in Oregon,'" Banks wrote. "Interestingly, the announcement came a few weeks after Senator Ron Wyden asked you, during a joint Q&A on Reddit, why you had not yet banned r/The_Donald. Additionally, just two days before the announcement, the Democratic party's media watchdog, Media Matters, ran a piece about content violating comments on r/The_Donald. The comments in question were repugnant, and I do not aim to defend them nor deny that they violated Reddit's content policy."
However, Reddit routinely hosts content that is offensive and sometimes violent in nature, Banks said.
"I would point out the indisputable fact that Reddit, with its 330 million users, was and is rife with similarly disgusting rhetoric," Banks wrote. "When such comments are posted in apolitical or left-wing subreddits, your administrative team has declined to take substantive action. Even when they have been posted at the same time and concerned the same subject matter as the comments that led to r/The_Donald's quarantine. After the controversy in Oregon, a commenter in the liberal subreddit r/Politics had the following to say about Republican legislators: 'Shoot these f*ckers. In the knees. For running like pieces of sh*t.' Not one of the comments that led to r/The_Donald's ban reached such a staggering level of vitriol."
While Reddit forums supporting some of the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders remain active, the pro-Trump forum remains in exile.
"The effect of your continued quarantine of r/The_Donald extends beyond unfairness to conservative Reddit users," Banks wrote. "By quarantining r/The_Donald you have clogged a wellspring of conservative media content and damaged an avenue the President may well have used to communicate with his supporters ahead of the 2020 election."
"You have failed to apply Reddit's content rules in a politically impartial manner," Banks wrote.
The letter to Reddit reflects broader concerns on Capitol Hill, particularly among Republicans, that conservative online users are treated differently than their liberal counterparts.
"Many of my Republican colleagues and I are concerned by an apparent left-wing bias in California technology companies," Banks wrote. "It's clear that the decision to quarantine r/The_Donald was based on a standard of conduct that you failed to apply to left-wing subreddits. Given the original double-standard, and r/The_Donald's demonstrated commitment to Reddit's rules, I urge you to approve their quarantine appeal request. If you deny the request and fail to provide a transparent and thorough explanation as to why, my colleagues and I will have to assume that you're biased against conservative content published on Reddit."