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By Robert McMillan and Deepa Seetharaman
The online platforms Reddit Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.-owned Twitch suspended channels used by President Trump and his supporters, saying content there violated the companies' policies, widening a clampdown by social media sites that has fueled a backlash from the White House and its defenders.
Reddit, which hosts discussion forums, said it has permanently banned a community on its platform called "The_Donald" that has been an unofficial but influential gathering place for Trump supporters to post memes and other messages backing the president and bashing his opponents. Many of the messages and memes that President Trump shares on his Twitter account can be traced back to The_Donald.
But the community had also been home to racist content and -- on occasion -- calls for violent action that violated Reddit's policies, said Adrienne Massanari, an associate professor at University of Illinois at Chicago who has studied the site. "The virality and what it was producing was incredibly powerful in terms of shaping the online conversation in a conservative sphere," she said.
Twitch, a popular video-streaming platform that Amazon acquired in 2014, said its suspension of Mr. Trump's streaming account was temporary, and stemmed from comments made by Mr. Trump during broadcasts of his campaign events that violated Twitch's policies.
Internet platforms are grappling with intensifying and competing pressures in recent months over the norms and limits of political speech. Twitter Inc. recently incurred the ire of Mr. Trump for labeling his tweets for various violations of its policies. And Facebook Inc., amid pressure from employees, outside groups and advertisers, said last week it would tighten rules over political speech as it faced an advertiser rebellion over hate speech.
The White House, angered by the companies' moves, earlier this month proposed to roll back legal protections that online platforms have enjoyed since the 1990s.
The_Donald, a Reddit community known as a subreddit, had been put on notice a year ago for violating the platform's antiviolence rules. In June 2019, Reddit put the community under "quarantine," making it more difficult for casual readers to view. In recent months Reddit had removed moderators from "The_Donald" because of their reluctance to eliminate content that Reddit considered a violation of its policies. [
"All communities on Reddit must abide by our content policy in good faith," Reddit said Monday. The_Donald "has not done so, despite every opportunity."
Reddit is known for its "ask me anything" online town halls with celebrities and politicians, but also its freewheeling message boards that are strewn with provocative posts from anonymous users.
Like other technology platforms, the company has struggled to rein in political content. In 2017, Reddit banned a number of alt-right communities from the site, but allowed The_Donald to remain because of its political nature, the company said.
Earlier this month, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from his board seat with the company, urging that it be filled by a Black candidate. Reddit then named Michael Seibel, a partner at startup accelerator Y Combinator, to the board.
On Monday, Reddit outlined a new content policy that banned communities that "promote hate based on identity or vulnerability" as well as groups that try to interfere with other communities.
Reddit said it was banning about 2,000 subreddits, or groups focused on narrow topics, most of which were inactive. About 200 of those groups had more than 10 daily users, including The_Donald, which had just under 800,000 users before it was banned, according to Reddit. Activity in the community had dropped off recently as participants had moved their discussions to other sites, Reddit said.
Mr. Trump had been using Twitch since October as a way to broadcast rallies and rebroadcast video footage from past events.
"Hateful conduct is not allowed on Twitch," a spokeswoman for Twitch said in an email. "In line with our policies, President Trump's channel has been issued a temporary suspension from Twitch for comments made on stream, and the offending content has been removed."
The spokeswoman pointed to two recent examples, one from a live broadcast of Mr. Trump's rally in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20 and a rebroadcast of a 2015 campaign event.
A spokesman for the Trump campaign said, "To hear directly from the President, people should download the Trump app and text 'Trump' to 88022."
Twitch has an average of more than 1.5 million people tuning in to broadcasts at any given moment and more than 17.5 million daily average visitors. Though most people come to Twitch to watch other people play videogames and compete at esports, in recent years politicians, including former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, have also used it to reach prospective voters.
--Sarah E. Needleman contributed to this article.
Write to Robert McMillan at Robert.Mcmillan@wsj.com and Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 29, 2020 18:37 ET (22:37 GMT)
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