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How a tiny image-sharing website turned into Trumplandia

Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

This election season, some of Donald Trump's most vocal supporters turned Reddit into a massive online foothold for the candidate, making the largest subreddit for Trump — r/The_Donald — a corner of the internet where anti-Muslim rhetoric is rampant, Hillary Clinton is "Crooked Hillary" or worse, Trump is "God Emperor," and supporters are self-described "centipedes."

The_Donald launched a revolt against Reddit at large

The centipedes are quick to accuse services and companies of suppressing their political views. And this week, that outlook came to the fore, when they launched a revolt against Reddit at large, claiming that changes to its voting system were meant to stifle the visibility of pro-Trump links. The insurrection has had little effect aside from spamming swastikas, but recently, similar motivations led The_Donald to colonize its own space for sharing memes and messages, elevating a no-name website out of obscurity in the process.

Reddit users are well-versed with the image-sharing site Imgur. Visit Reddit's front page on any given day and Imgur links likely dominate the conversation. Two months ago, The_Donald came to believe that Imgur was "censoring" its content and began looking for an alternative. They found one in Slimg, a site built in response to Imgur's decision last year to remove some egregious, NSFW material from its site. (Imgur has not responded to a request for comment.)

Two months ago, The_Donald banned Imgur

"The site was created directly in response to Imgur removing images that were posted by /r/fatpeoplehate," the creator of Slimg, who goes by the name Technician90, told me in an email, referring to an infamous subreddit created to ridicule people who are overweight. (Technician declined to give his or her real name.) The site was originally known as Slimgur.com but when Imgur "got litigious," it was changed. "The original site was set up using a preloaded image hosting CMS in a couple of hours. I paid for only one month of hosting [and] after setting everything up I made a post." But then The_Donald smiled on Slimg, banning Imgur (users have said the site is run by "cucks," a go-to insult among the alt-right) as users flocked to the smaller site and its laissez faire approach to moderation. "We have a very simple policy: everything is allowed so long as it doesn't violate the law, violate someone's copyright, and doesn't violate someone's reasonable expectation of privacy," Technician said.

In just a few days, traffic dramatically spiked to Slimg, and has kept climbing since. At the beginning of May, the site announced that it had grown 30 times in a month. As of writing, Alexa ranks Slimg as the 812th most visited website in the United States, well below Imgur (16th) but a surprising level for a deeply niche site on a shoestring budget.

Perhaps even more than The_Donald, Slimg has become a pure distillation of the far-right, online Trump id, a stew of Islamophobia, anti-Obama and anti-Clinton cartoons, screenshots of Trump tweets, and pro-gun messaging, frequently delivered in meme form. (Trump stylized as Pepe the Frog, lately an alt-right mascot, is a perennial favorite.) After the Orlando shooting this week, users of The_Donald shared Slimg images that criticized the left's response and the media's coverage of the incident before railing against Reddit. One image appeared several times: the Reddit alien in a thought police uniform.

pepe trump

It's not the first time an extreme online group has followed this pattern: grow on a platform, then abandon it when the platform's managers try to rein it in. Several factions of Reddit made a similar play around the time Slimg launched, moving to a Reddit clone called Voat, a community that Technician credits with getting Slimg off the ground. But browsing Slimg makes it clear that, whatever its initial objectives, it's since turned into an always-on Trump channel. "The overall goal is to make this our full-time job," Technician, who runs the site with a partner who goes by CrispyKat, wrote me. "A couple months ago that seemed like an impossibility, but considering how far we've come in just the last few months, it may not be too far off." Technician has largely embraced the new visitors, writing in a Reddit AMA that "[e]veryone here is incredible and we're glad that you like our service."

"Everyone here is incredible and we're glad that you like our service."

Still, there are signs that a secession strategy may not be effective, as it's difficult to sustain a platform on a single subculture. Voat, for example, has largely fallen out of mainstream consciousness after its brief appearance in the spotlight. (For a comparison, Alexa now ranks it at slightly better than 5,000th in the US.) The opposite scenario is also a risk: small services can collapse under sudden attention. This week, Slimg, apparently hit by increased traffic from The_Donald, crashed. Technician says the problem has been isolated, and the site is back up, with only some lingering functionality problems.

Those problems briefly caused The_Donald to move on, as a message at the top of the subreddit announced a temporary unbanning of Imgur. "They're still cucks, so we'll reban them when things slow down a little bit," the note read (it was recently removed from the front page of the subreddit). But as of today, Imgur links continued to occasionally appear, alongside Slimg.