4chan and Reddit now have more power than CNN does in shaping national discourse. That’s the real reason the media are losing their minds. And if truth be told, you will frequently learn of breaking events FASTER from 4chan (sometimes days faster) than you will on CNN.
In November, shortly after the election, the New York Times published a profile of the subreddit calling it, “one of the most influential communities within one of the most significant websites on the internet.” The Times reported that according to its moderators, The_Donald was “the largest, best and closest thing to an official campaign subreddit for Donald Trump 2016.” Analysis of its posts showed that it was “home to copious Islamophobia, trolling of liberals and near constant bashing of Hillary Clinton.”
This week saw President Trump cross yet another line in his use of his Twitter account. Trump tweeted a meme of himself symbolically beating up CNN. While to some it might have appeared to be a funny way to epitomize Trump’s feud with CNN, to many the meme was aggressive, immature and inflammatory. CNN took the attacks seriously and released a statement stating, “It is a sad day when the President of the United States encourages violence against reporters.”
There are lots of questions to be asked about the tweet, not the least of which is what it tells us about the judgment of the president and those who work with him. But the real story here is not about Trump; it’s about the increasing power and presence of alt-right communication on various social media platforms, from Twitter to YouTube to Reddit to Facebook.
What is interesting is the way that rants and memes and other alt-right tirades have major success in shaping public opinion. And while there is a through line between these outbursts and fake news, it is important to point out that the rants are likely far more influential than fake news in shaping political perception.
This means that the real lesson for CNN and other mainstream news outlets is not that the president is immature enough to share a stupid meme attacking the news but rather that their focus on fake news has distracted them from the real story: the rise of emotional, aggressive, inflammatory, bigoted communication on social media and the power these posts have had in shaping the ideas of the Trump-supporting alt-right.
Well beyond the problem of fake news, which at least tried to pose as news, these posts are pure opinion, outburst and excess. There is nothing about these posts that even remotely compares to news reporting — and that’s why they are popular. At a moment in U.S. history where trust in the news is at a record low, we are seeing the growing power of individuals outside of traditional media circuits who have built a following by suggesting that their voices are more authentic and more accurate than those of the so-called liberal, elitist, majority-silencing news.
The key to the story is the connection between Trump’s tweet and its original source. As Vox reported, the source “was discovered to be a Reddit forum known for Islamophobia, racism, and frequently violent hate speech.” It was originally posted on Reddit’s largest pro-Trump community.
The Reddit user HanAssholeSolo released the original GIF version of the clip used in the president’s tweet, posting it to Reddit’s r/The_Donald. As Vox reports, the Reddit community known as The_Donald is both a huge and hugely controversial part of Reddit. It gained in popularity over the course of 2016, as Trump’s presidential campaign gained momentum.