TheDonald.win mimics Reddit?s look and feel, minus the threat of so-called censorship
Jul 24 min read
Image: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
On Monday, Reddit banned thousands of subreddits including The_Donald, a conservative community of nearly 800,000 members accused of inciting violence, spreading white supremacist propaganda, and other repeat offenses since its creation in 2015. The takedown marked Reddit?s latest push to curb hate speech on the platform, and The_Donald was a ripe target for moderation.
But while the community was purged from Reddit, its members have been relocating to an alternate website for months now, suggesting that users were expecting the ban ? and serving as a reminder that ?deplatforming? is only so useful.
The offloading of The_Donald to its new home, TheDonald.win, has been in the works since July 2019, when the domain was anonymously registered according to a Whois lookup. By November, members of The_Donald were migrating to the new platform, according to Reddit users. While the size of the TheDonald.win user base is unknown, the website ranks 1,207 in the United States, according to traffic analysis company Alexa. (By comparison, similar Reddit clone Voat ranks 6,726 in the United States.) It was clearly designed to mimic Reddit?s look and feel, but without the threat of so-called censorship.
For social media platforms, moderating abuse can feel a lot like whack-a-mole. Strike down one gathering place and countless others emerge in its place. This becomes even more complicated when mass bans and other forms of moderation lead to the creation of new websites dedicated to unfettered speech, as Reddit has experienced on numerous occasions.
TheDonald.win and other platforms such as Voat ? a Reddit mirror that took off when current CEO Steve Huffman returned to the company in 2015 and banned several racist subreddits ? raise difficult questions about the role of individual platforms in eliminating hateful behavior online.
Elsewhere on the website, commenters have used racist, homophobic, and transphobic language.
Last June, The_Donald was placed under quarantine by Reddit administrators for encouraging violence against police officers and public officials. Reddit slapped a warning on the subreddit and required visitors to opt in before accessing content. The company says it ?worked in good faith to help them preserve the community,? but eventually removed a number of The _Donald?s moderators who ?generally [supported] content in this subreddit that breaks our content policy.? This February, the subreddit was also put into ?restricted mode,? which prevented most users from creating new posts. Since then, The_Donald has remained largely inactive.
Much like its predecessor, TheDonald.win describes itself as ?not politically correct? and says it?s a place for Trump supporters. However, this new version isn?t without rules, either. The website discourages racism, doxing, self-promotion, and ?comments that violate laws in your jurisdiction or the United States.?
Although the website prohibits racism, it does not appear to have or enforce rules around other types of discrimination, such as sexism and transphobia. In one recent post, unearthed by Heavy, a user pretends to comment as Reddit?s Huffman, saying ?I?m sorry I banned /r/The_Donald ? as a gesture of goodwill, I?d like to invite all of you over to my house to fuck my wife.? Elsewhere on the website, commenters have used racist, homophobic, and transphobic language.
Functionally, TheDonald.win is a lot like Reddit. Users can upvote and downvote posts, as well as report content by clicking ?deport,? which requires you to select which rule has been violated (including one that says ?Our community is a high-energy Trump rally?). There are 30 or so moderators; one, who goes by the handle Shadowman3001, appears to be a former moderator of The_Donald, and is believed by some Redditors to have created TheDonald.win.
?With nothing but raw talent, and a patriotic drive to preserve our country, we escaped Silicon Valley censorship and created a new home out of nothing,? Shadowman3001 wrote on the website this week. ?No donors, no outside influences, just us and our message.?
Some suggest bypassing these filters by using non-standard Unicode characters to spell out the domain, or even by redirecting links such as ?Bidenforpresident.win? to the new website.
OneZero reached out to TheDonald.win in an email to its support address but did not immediately hear back.
TheDonald.win has also become a backup for other banned subreddits, such as alt-right communities ConsumeProduct and MetaCanada, and a subreddit dedicated to Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes. Domains have also been registered for Gamergate subreddits KotakuInAction and KotakuInAction2.
Reddit is apparently taking some steps to discourage traffic to TheDonald.win. Users say the company has begun flagging or shadow banning comments that mention TheDonald.win or permutations of the name. Some suggest bypassing these filters by using non-standard Unicode characters to spell out the domain, or even by redirecting links such as ?Bidenforpresident.win? to the new website. TheDonald.win has been promoted in existing subreddits such as Watch Reddit Die, Tucker Carlson, and Reclassified. Alternate social platforms Ruqqus and SaidIt.net have also been proposed as a home for the The_Donald diaspora, as well as Telegram, which CNN recently characterized as a hotbed for white supremacist organizing due to limited and unenforced content policies.
Reddit did not immediately respond to OneZero?s request for comment about actions taken against TheDonald.win.
Voat was similarly embraced by Reddit castoffs in 2016 after the banning of a Pizzagate conspiracy subreddit; in 2017 following the banning of the Incels subreddit; and in 2018 when Reddit banned several Qanon-related subreddits. However, that hasn?t completely insulated the platform from the pressures of running a website. In 2017, Voat was facing a shutdown after business costs became untenable ? a symptom of the website?s inability to secure funding from traditional sources such as advertisers. TheDonald.win claims to be self-funded for now.