One of the web’s most virulent incubators of fake news stories about the US election has begun a crackdown on conspiracy theories and “outlandish or unverified claims”.
Moderators on a Reddit group r/the_donald, which became a focal point for supporters of Donald Trump during the election, explained on Tuesday morning that they had been removing some posts about two conspiracy theories because they were “drowning out thoughtful discussion or Trump related content”.
The two theories concern false claims of a pedophile ring run from a pizza restaurant tangentially linked to Hilary Clinton and suggestions that Julian Assange, currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, has disappeared.
In a post addressed to r/the_donald’s almost 300,000 subscribers, referred to as Centipedes, moderator IFIFIFOKIEDOKE explained that those running the subreddit were also concerned about “shills and trolls” posting outlandish claims to discredit the moderators themselves.
“A hot topic lately has been how we as a moderation team have handled some sensitive topics such as pizzagate and the alleged disappearance of Julian Assange. We are well aware that the community wants us to promote awareness of these two topics (among others) and we have heard your feedback and concerns about what is perceived as censorship,” the moderator wrote.
“I will do everyone a favor and be completely transparent – yes, we remove quite a bit of this content. Why? The vast majority of what gets posted here in regards to these topics is simply concern trolling about us not giving them sticky space, outlandish and unverifiable claims, or illegal content. We also allow a portion of it to remain on the sub, though we do not provide it sticky space.”
“Additionally, we have detected (more than a few times) shills and trolls intentionally piggybacking on these controversial topics to slander and attack our community. They want to paint us as lunatics and turn our community against the moderators … This strain of trolls have successfully created a narrative or idea that we are censoring these topics.”
The rise of fake news has become a cause of concern for much of the media, and outgoing president Barack Obama, following the surprise election win for Trump.
Many have focused on the role of Facebook, which recently announced that it was acting to address its fake news problem. But sites such as Reddit often play a key role in seeding stories that find a larger audience on other social networks. Despite being smaller than many of Reddit’s communities, r/the_donald has consistently been ranked as among the most active and less than two weeks ago it helped disseminate false claims that people were being bussed in to attend an anti-Trump protest in Austin, Texas.
Trump himself has taken the sub-Reddit seriously, hosting an Ask Me Anything session for its users in July during which he answered 13 questions.
Though the post on r/the_donald suggests its moderators want to limit the amount of unverified content in that particular group, the moderators are clear they are not objecting to it being hosted elsewhere on Reddit.
In the post they say that they will direct users to threads dedicated to the two conspiracies, and they are also planning to set up a dedicated subreddit with “the overall theme of investigating corruption in politics”.
This article was written by Jasper Jackson, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 22nd November 2016 23.35 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010