Less than three weeks after President Trump’s decision to bomb Syria created unprecedented division among his previously steadfast base on the influential forum site Reddit, some members of subreddits that host pro-Trump threads are troubled by yet another development. This time, it’s the Federal Communications Commission’s plans to end Obama-era regulations on internet service providers.
“Definitely experiencing regret,” Reddit user Fatimia_Spanky told The Outline about their vote for Trump, in light of the FCC news. “Convinced we need a third party.”
On Wednesday, Ajit Pai, Trump’s pick to head the FCC and a former attorney for Verizon, announced his intention to roll back net neutrality — the principle that ISPs like Verizon and AT&T must charge the same price and offer the same speed regardless of what data is going through their pipes.
Pai is in favor of deregulating the industry, a move that many worry will result in a less democratic internet. If an ISP can charge a startup more for an internet “fast lane” of better speed, for example, free speech and competition will be negatively impacted.
Reddit has typically been a space where users believe strongly in net neutrality, but it has also more recently hosted a vocal base of Trump support on the subreddit r/The_Donald, which has nearly 400,000 subscribers. The_Donald has a long history of banning members for criticizing the president, which led many to turn to the somewhat more lenient r/Ask_TheDonald, a spinoff forum that has nearly 17,000 subscribers.
Trump approaches the 100-day threshold with record low approval ratings among all Americans. Posts on r/Ask_TheDonald and private messages with several users suggest he may also be alienating his Reddit base, which seems to be realizing that Trump is not quite following through on his oft-repeated promise to “drain the swamp” with his repeated giveaways to corporations and the rich. Net neutrality is the latest example. The current law protects the proverbial “little guy” by keeping costs down for startups and providing every citizen with access to a fair and equal internet. Deregulation helps big businesses like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T by allowing them greater opportunity to profit at the expense of everyday Americans. For example, nothing would stop Comcast from making content from NBC and the other companies it owns or has a stake in, such as BuzzFeed, cheaper or free to access while charging more to access content from its competitors.
“There's a lot of reasons why I supported Trump, but this is definitely not one of them.”
As of Thursday morning, there did not seem to be significant discussion on r/the_donald about net neutrality — hardly surprising, given that sub’s rules — but r/Ask_TheDonald had a thread called “Do you support the repealing of net neutrality?”
While some users said that they did support it because of a belief in free markets, many others were troubled by the administration’s latest move. “No, I don't,” user endswitheggnogg wrote in a representative post. “It's so incredibly infuriating when these companies continue to be able to push their customers around. There's a lot of reasons why I supported Trump, but this is definitely not one of them.”
Though not every member of the sub was willing to elaborate on their feelings regarding net neutrality (“prove who you are,” jdovejr told The Outline, “and once you're done....go blow a goat”), several others shared nuanced thoughts and disappointment with Trump.
Fatimia_Spanky said in a DM, “I don't believe the GOP actually care about free market principles which dictate strong competition … I don't think [Trump will) be independent.”
“Well, I think the group is probably conflicted,” SteelToeShitKicker said in a DM. “I'm conflicted. One one hand, I think it's better for innovation if the internet is basically a free-for-all. On the other hand, I believe that the less regulation there is, the better … I mean, on one side, you have the ISPs and on the other netflix, etc. They are both jerks and I don't trust either.”
StirlingG, addressing the issue of fast lanes, or “throttling,” said in a message, “I tend to take a more liberal stance that internet should be open and fair (I think these rules made it fairly working) ... I'd say I would not like ISPs to have throttling capabilities that those rules prevent.”
Though Trump did not make net neutrality a campaign issue, his FCC chair’s attack on it yet another example of the administration surprising his base by taking a more traditional GOP position. Also on Wednesday, the president said he would not pull out of NAFTA, after making criticism of the trade agreement a major theme in his campaign last year. The action against Syria contradicted prior isolationist rhetoric on the topic.
Reddit user Fatima_Spanky also noted disappointment in Makan Delrahim, Trump’s choice to head the Justice Department’s antitrust division — and a former attorney for a Washington, DC firm that lobbied for Comcast and AT&T. To this user, the appointment “indicates clearly to me that Trump is not guided by free market principles but rather improve the fortunes of the current status quo. I'm convinced now that we no longer have a free market capitalist society.”
It remains unclear how issues like these will impact Trump politically; a recent poll showed that only 2 percent of people who voted for the president regret their choice. But Trump-friendly subreddits were a highly visible segment of his base during the campaign, and the tone there is clearly shifting.