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Ron Paul Rebellion Breaks Out On Reddit

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, December 16 2011

Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Rep. Ron Paul's vociferous supporters have a long history of organization on the web. Going back to the 2008 election and beyond, the Republican of Texas has always found a loud bloc of support online.

On the link-sharing site Reddit, though, their ability to act in concert has ruffled some feathers. Fed up, some redditors are organizing a counter-insurgency against the Ron Paul Revolution.

This movement percolates in a subsection of the site — a subreddit — simply called "EnoughPaulSpam." Its goal, apparently, is to counter what some redditors view as an organized spamming campaign on the site in favor of the Texas congressman.

The formation of the community, along with a couple of other tinier anti-Paul subreddits, appears to be part of a wider back and forth between Paul supporters and redditors who appear to be a little overwhelmed by their zeal.

Sometimes, that vigorous defense of the small-government champion manifests itself in the least likely of places.

For example, in the more-than-a-million-strong "AskReddit" sub-community, someone with the account name "Ahyesclearly" asked members of the Occupy Movement why they don't plan to open up voter registration booths at protests, and then "have everyone vote for Ron Paul or whoever may be the best candidate to make some serious changes."

In other instances, supporters simply submit multiple versions of the same post to
various subreddits, all of which are, of course, about the Texas congressman.

Some redditors have also been complaining that any positive posts about Paul get vigorously upvoted, while other negative ones get downvoted or reported to moderators in a bid to get them removed.

Under Reddit's guidelines, this kind of activity is considered "cheating." The site's management frowns upon organized cliques of people who vote posts up and down in this way. It's also considered unethical to create multiple accounts to simply ghost vote on posts.

Paul's supporters are certainly organized on Reddit. They've created a community for themselves at the Ron Paul subreddit, which almost uniformly contains material that either expresses support for the Texas congressman, or attacks his competitors. One of Paul's supporters has gone so far as to create a Mitt Romney subreddit dedicated to trashing the former governor of Massachusetts. ("I have created this subreddit," its description reads in part, "for the sole purpose of criticizing Mitt Romney.")

The creation of anti-Ron Paul-spam subreddits is an interesting tactic, and it stands in contrast to the reaction of some other web sites, which have in the past banned Ron Paul supporters outright from commenting at all.

To be sure, Reddit does ban "spam" and "spammers," but as its own rules on the subject state, spam is a "gray area."

This latest development is an example of how orchestrated supporter campaigns can backfire online, and cause more resentment in an influential community than cultivating support.

It's also an example of Paul's continued strength online, which was also on display Thursday night during a Fox News debate. The debate asked viewers to tweet whether they thought each candidate actually #answered or #dodged a question; the gentleman from Texas consistently earned far higher ratings than his competitors.

Reddit gets a million unique visitors a day, and two billion page views a month, according to its general manager, Erik Martin.

Messages requesting comment sent to the EnoughPaulSpam subreddit's moderators and to "robotevil," one of the more active members of the group, were not returned.

The growing community of 500 subscribers collectively accumulate links to articles, and editorials that are critical of Paul, as well as to links to the congressman's positions that people may have overlooked as his campaign rises in the polls.

For example, redditor "ieathostages" provides a long list of links to legislation co-sponsored by Paul related to abortion — like this bill defining life as beginning at conception — on immigration — like this bill to start building a border fence between Mexico and the U.S. — privacy — like this bill, which the poster says would allow states to once again to enact and enforce anti-sodomy laws — and, of course, Paul's desire to abolish the Federal Reserve.

Then there are redditors who complain about being down-voted for posts critical of the Texas congressman.

"As punishment for the mods of r/Politics adding EnoughPaulSpam to the sidebar for an hour, Paulbots downvote every post ever made," writes "robotevil." "This is what a downvote brigade looks like. This is why this subreddit exists."

Compared to older peers, such as the "funny" subreddit, which has 1.2 million subscribers, "World News," with a cool million, or the general "politics" subreddit, with 932,000 subscribers, "EnoughPaulSpam" is relatively small, but some of the link submissions have made it to the front page. Perhaps as an indication of the level of irritation that certain members of the community are feeling, "robotevil" and other redditors went so far as to sponsor a front-page link to the subreddit for three days, which as one commenter noted is ironic given their own complaints about spam.

What appears to be driving the irritation at the community news web site is some of the Ron Paul supporter community's standard MO of submitting positive news about their candidate, organizing upvoting campaigns and downvoting any conversations and links that might be critical of the candidate -- campaigns that have appeared to be successful at other news web sites running online polls, but heresy and grounds for banning and ridicule on Reddit, where the sense of community is fiercely cultivated and guarded both by its members and by Martin.

While the tit for tat campaign on a web site visited by mostly engineers and other techies in the male twenties to thirties demographic might seem like a topic of esoteric concern, events unfolding on Reddit can end up wielding tremendous influence -- witness Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and its charity drive, for instance, or the viral phenomenon of the more recent web video of Texas Judge William Adams, whose daughter filmed him beating her, uploaded it to YouTube and posted a link on Reddit. The daughter, Hillary, ended up being interviewed on NBC's Today Show.

So perhaps as the campaign season rolls on, something unusual might end up popping up on Reddit that could end up derailing Paul's seemingly unstoppable momentum in the Iowa Caucuses or New Hampshire primaries. But maybe not.

Either way, one thing is certain: While voting for Paul in the real world starts in earnest in January, it's already begun on Reddit. And it probably won't stop anytime soon.

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