What happens when a man who may or may not have ever used a computer wades into a corner of the internet that trades almost entirely in memes? Lucky for us, we're about to find out: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is going to do an Ask Me Anything in the r/the_donald subreddit, which is made up of an odd mix of Trump supporters, GamerGate and 4chan exiles, and extreme right-wingers.
Predicting what's going to happen when perhaps the most unhinged mainstream presidential candidate sits behind a keyboard and preaches to his most fervent fans is probably a fool's errand, but given what we know about Trump and about the r/the_donald subreddit, we can at least make a few guesses.
You can't ask Trump "anything"
Reddit's AMAs are famous for allowing normal people to ask in-depth and personal questions to celebrities. Reddit's voting system makes it so that particularly tough questions can't really be ignored without making the celebrity look like he or she is trying to hide something. That's not going to happen tonight.
Because r/the_donald is perhaps Reddit's most intense echo chamber, any questions that challenge Trump or paint him as anything less than the "God Emperor" that the community has decided to anoint him will be downvoted into oblivion; people who decide to challenge Trump will surely be banned by the community's moderators, who have a "no dissenters" rule.
"Yes, we will ban troublemakers. Yes, we will remove trolling comments. Yes, we mean it when we say we'll throw anyone over our walls who fails to behave themselves," a moderator wrote on a post announcing the AMA Wednesday.
Already, someone who has asked about Trump's tax returns has been banned by the community's moderators.
"If the pervasive mode of discourse marginalizes by allowing only the harshest, most degrading people and viewpoints to participate, then you don't really have free speech," Whitney Phillips, author of a book about 4chan trolls, told me for a piece I wrote about the history of r/the_donald. "That's what's so funny about it. These kinds of spaces are really the least free on the internet."
Still, things will get weird
Trump gave one of the more confounding press conferences of his candidacy earlier Wednesday (and that's saying a lot)—he implored the Russian government to hack Hillary Clinton in a bid to find emails that were deleted from her personal email server, asked reporters if they knew what the "n-word" was, and repeatedly misidentified John Hinckley, the man who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Trump has a tendency to say shocking things no matter what the circumstances, and he'll be entering an internet community that calls each other "centipedes," is obsessed with "shitposting," and calls all of its enemies "cucks." While no tough questions are going to make it past the mods, simple misinterpretation of memes could very well lead this AMA to go off the rails very quickly.
How much of the_donald does The Donald actually understand?
Watching Trump and his team (to the extent that he has one, and pays attention to them) interact with the subreddit is essentially the only reason to tune into the AMA. Go to r/the_donald right now—do you have any idea what the fuck is going on there? Do you know what "The Trump Cube" is? Do you know what a "cuck" is? Do you know what a "centipede" is? Do you know why SJWs are constantly getting triggered? Do you have any idea why a person called into CSPAN yesterday to talk about "tendies?" Do you know why the_donald likes rare Pepes? Do you think Donald Trump, who recently advocated "closing parts of the internet," does?
Reddit Civil War
While r/the_donald has done a very good job of taking over, gaming, and spreading its influence all over Reddit, others on the site have begun to fight back. r/EnoughTrumpSpam is a subreddit dedicated to cataloguing the horrifying remarks and policies of both the candidate himself and the r/the_donald subreddit. Members of EnoughTrumpSpam are going to invade the Donald Trump AMA and downvote everything, expose his policies, and generally do their best to turn the whole thing into a mess (we don't know yet if the_donald will take any specific anti-brigading measures. Already, the subreddit has created several pieces of counterprogramming, including a parody AMA that's quickly moving up Reddit's list of top posts.
The AMA is scheduled to start at 7 PM eastern on Wednesday as a way for Trump to draw attention during day three of the DNC. I'm still surprised Trump is actually doing the AMA—his team has previously said it doesn't monitor the_donald—and I wouldn't be shocked to see him cancel or reschedule at the last minute. But if it does indeed happen, we'll be discussing it live on Twitter—feel free to ask us anything.