Donald Trump

The Troll Campaign

Behind the Trump surge on Reddit


Pepe wants to build a wall.

Bernie Sanders may have to relinquish his title as the Reddit candidate. The site has seen a sudden surge in attention for Donald Trump, with its Trump-fan forum leaping from 12.6 million pageviews in February to almost 52 million in March. The Trumpkins pulled this off by embracing a tactic with a long history both on Reddit and in the Trump campaign: trolling.

One of Trump's Reddit fans, who goes by the handle CisWhiteMaelstrom, explains his growth strategy to MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin:

The question was how to bring like-minded users along. The most important step: Picking fights with people they hate.

"I had to get SJWs talking about us," Cis said.

A favorite tactic was to direct Trump fans to push deliberately dumb or offensive posts to the front page of Reddit and then laugh at the backlash when users took them seriously….

Anything that branded the subreddit in opposition to the cultural left drew the attention of anti-PC Redditors, who recognized the site's prankish ethos as their own even if they had no prior interest in Trump and didn't think of themselves as conventional conservatives. Whenever the site turned up on groups like r/AgainstHateSubreddits that oppose offensive speech, Cis celebrated. He fanned the flames by sending outlandish messages to left-leaning forums demanding they stop talking about r/The_Donald [the Trump forum], which of course had the opposite effect.

"It's so systematic and so predictable and so easy," he said. "We practically own several SJW communities."

All of this would be recognizable to anyone following Trump, who has acknowledged pushing opponent's buttons as part of a broader strategy to attract attention.

I taught Roger Stone everything he knows.
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Cis may underrate people's ability to tell when someone's yanking their chain—if you follow that link from "opposite effect," you'll mostly find people saying things like "Obvious trolling is obvious"—but then, I suppose that calling out trolls is a form of attention too. In any event, the amount of pranking and play-acting here is high enough that Sarlin feels the need to note that that's not all there is to Trump Reddit. "Despite the circus atmosphere, r/The_Donald's moderators stressed that support for Trump was earnest even if the tactics were ironic," he writes. "Even a cursory look at the subreddit suggests this is true—for every post covered in five layers of Reddit in-jokes, there are plenty more that are simple rah-rah expressions of support."

Something I've been wondering: Do Trump's ironist fans ever show up in meatspace? I wore my reporter's hat at a Trump rally up in Albany a few days ago—more on that later—and I should be be heading to another one in a different city in a few days' time. I spoke with a lot of sincere Trump fans, and I spoke with a lot of sincere protesters; I even encountered a couple of sincere undecideds. And yes, I ran into some pure curiosity-seekers too. But no one, with the possible exception of the candidate, showed any signs of being in it for the lulz.

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  1. “It’s so systematic and so predictable and so easy,” he said. “We practically own several SJW communities.”

    That’s the problem with mindless outrage addicts. They can be as easily led from outside as from within their own echo chamber.

      1. I’m guessing buckets of cat puke….

  2. “Something I’ve been wondering: Do Trump’s ironist fans ever show up in meatspace?”

    If you move beyond the realm of little effort into real world, it is no longer irony.

  3. Sometimes I despair that I’m not doing much with my life, but then I think, at least I’m not a redditor/tumblrer/4channy.

  4. The question was how to bring like-minded users along. The most important step: Picking fights with people they hate.

    “I had to get SJWs talking about us,” Cis said.

    “…and its so crazy it just might work”

    my impression is that this ‘new strategy’ of Trolling…. wasn’t it what these sort of people were already doing *anyway*?

    Its not that Trump people suddenly turned to trolling. Its that the Trolls turned to Trump.

    What concerns me about all this stuff… (and its – ugh – “Meatspace” parallel of, “Point cameras at each other and yell until someone gets punched then post the video on YouTube and declare moral superiority“-form of ‘debate’)… is that it seems to be coming to represent the “new normal” of how people engage each other politically.

    There’s no direct tete-a-tete; there’s no earnest-but-boring college students going door to door to “talk about the issues”; there’s no Rock The Vote optimism that democracy ‘basically works’….

    …its become more like a bloodless terrorist campaign, characterized by perpetual psychological warfare, hysterical propaganda, fraudulent-false-flag-events, juvenile screaming matches…

    Maybe politics was always like this and i just never cared enough to pay attention. But the impression i get is that the Social Media thing has really ‘devolved political discourse’ in such a way to make coked-up shit-throwing-monkeys look like the McLaughlin Group.

    1. Sounds about right.

    2. The Coked-Up Shit-Throwing Monkey Defense League would like to have a word about your prejudiced rhetoric.

    3. The internet is pretty well launching the decline of our civilization into hyperdrive.

  5. Something I’ve been wondering: Is man aware of his sinful nature?

    1. Not until God reminds Him.

  6. I’ll go gay for Jesse for including that second picture and alt-text.

    1. Let me clarify: I’ll go gay for Jesse Walker.

      1. awww? mean

      2. Too late, man, the other jesse’s already on his way to your house. He has a 55-gallon drum of lube and no pants. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  7. “…coked-up shit-throwing-monkeys look like the McLaughlin Group.”

    Odd, I stopped watching the McLaughlin group long ago because the cast reminded me of coked-up shit-throwing-monkeys.

  8. Martial arts masters teach us: “if you want the opponent’s arm to go up, push it down. “

  9. “Something I’ve been wondering: Do Trump’s ironist fans ever show up in meatspace?”

    Perhaps not at Trump rallies, but I think most of that chalking of Trump 2016 on college campuses can be laid at the feet of the ironists trying to get a rise out of their hysterical, reactionary campus colleagues. Of course, it also seems to be taking place anonymously.

    1. Of course, it also seems to be taking place anonymously.

      …and I’m therefore not sure I’m willing to count it as “showing up.” Though I think you’re right that there’s at least an element of trolling there.

  10. “But no one, with the possible exception of the candidate, showed any signs of being in it for the lulz.”

    It’s possible to be both sincere and sarcastic at the same time.

    You can be in it for the lulz on the interwebs and reasonably intelligent about being for the same thing in meatspace.

    Different medium, different rules. So you’re not going to find many trolls in real life–unless they’re trying to invade some kind of digital medium. This is what it looks like when that happens:

  11. In other words, you’re not going to find many libertarians standing around with woodchippers in real life.

    On the internet, every libertarian is standing at the ready with their own personal woodchipper.

    Different medium. Different rules.

  12. Austin Petersen for president, 2016

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