Orlando Shooting Sparks Reddit Exodus Amid Censorship

Thousands of users abandoned the r/news subreddit after moderators scrubbed its coverage of the Florida rampage

Jun 12, 2016 at 7:05 PM ET

The deadly rampage at a popular gay nightclub in Florida has ignited a firestorm on Reddit, with legions of users alleging that the gatekeepers of one of the site’s largest channels are censoring news coverage of the event.

Thousands of Reddit users are abandoning the r/news subreddit amid accusations that its moderators deleted dozens of posts containing vital information about the rampage and its aftermath. The suspected gunman, identified by authorities as Omar Mateen, opened fire inside the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando early Sunday, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more in what is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Hours later, ISIS officially claimed responsibility for the deadly shooting, saying that “a soldier of the Islamic State has carried out the attack.”

Records of deleted mentions from the “Orlando Nightclub shooting—Megathread” show posts that identified Mateen by name, cited news outlets reporting an Islamic State connection to the attack, or contained other details that don’t appear to violate r/news’ stated rules, were all scrubbed clean from the thread. But what sparked fury among hundreds of users was the revelation that the subreddit’s moderators even removed links that provided locations where volunteers could donate blood in the Orlando area.

“Fucking despicable. r/news mods even censoring someone asking FOR BLOOD DONATIONS TOWARDS THE SHOOTING VICTIMS!” wrote user British Pretender in a post that quickly rose to the top to prominent Donald Trump subreddit, r/The_Donald.

As the anger among redditors simmered, r/news’ moderators tried to push back. “Only comments breaking our rules are being deleted,” they wrote. “If you think its more productive to cry about censorship than it is to discuss this horrifying event, we suggest you try another subreddit.”

They have. En masse. More than 15,000 people unsubscribed from the r/news subreddit—which boasts nearly 9 million subscribers—during a two hour period monitored by Vocativ on Sunday afternoon. Between 3:54 p.m. EST and 5:54 p.m. EST, the number of users plummeted by nearly 130 a minute, from 8,948,749 to 8,933,148. Some appeared gleeful as they watched the defections unfold in real time.

“We’re watching the Free Market response to censorship happening live,” wrote user AzrealLPW.

TrumpAlreadyWon chimed in: “Honestly I hope this spectacle where there was censorship all over Reddit is the beginning of the end of this website.”

At the same time, the shooting appears to have given a boost to the number of subscribers on the r/The_Donald subreddit. On Saturday, the group had 144,270 users. That number had surged to 152,370 by Sunday evening, a more than five percent increase.