Supporters and critics of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump alike flocked to Reddit on Wednesday evening for a virtual event that the Republican presidential nominee himself described as "SO huge": his AMA (Ask Me Anything).
As per the usual structure of AMAs, Redditors were invited to ask Mr. Trump, well, anything. But the moderators of the The_Donald subreddit, which hosted the thread, took "extra security measures" to keep the "community free from troublemakers" by deleting questions perceived as probing or antagonistic, eliciting criticism from some non-Trump factions who say the heavily censored AMA is reflective of a greater pattern throughout Trump's campaign.
Journalists for The Daily Beast – who reportedly posted a question asking Trump why he wouldn't release his tax returns and noted that the question was deleted within 15 minutes – described the AMA as "a production so tightly controlled you'd think Trump was running for president of North Korea."
As the night went on, Trump responded to a range of inquiries about NASA, the police, and why on-the-fence voters should support him instead of a third-party candidate.
When asked by one Redditor how he would tackle a biased mass media without stepping on the First Amendment rights of average Americans, he responded, "I have been very concerned about media bias and the total dishonesty of the press. I think new media is a great way to get out the truth."
But purposely absent from the thread was any criticism, however mild, of the Republican candidate: As one moderator for The_Donald subreddit put it, "We built the wall 10 ft taller."
Throughout his campaign, Trump has faced criticism for attempting to silence his critics, from revoking the press credentials of various news organizations to having (sometimes silent) protesters removed from his rallies.
The removal of demonstrators – particularly non-disruptive ones – from his rallies has elicited disapproval from those who say that a candidate who is so opposed to "political correctness" should be more concerned about squashing free speech.
But others argue that, when addressing an audience in a private space, politicians have no obligation to allow dissenting views into the conversation.
Presidential candidates such as Trump "need to have firm control of their message" when they are expressing their ideas to voters, writes Andrew King, an assistant prosecuting attorney from Ohio, for The New York Times. "The size of the protest or the message is of no matter. The candidate decides which ideas to share and how, and who is permitted into the audience."
Given the AMA moderators' warning of "extra security measures" and the history of protesters removed from Trump rallies, it's possible that, like demonstrators who go into the rallies knowing they'll be ejected, some anti-Trump Redditors expected to have their comments deleted in the first place.
"Dissent is part of the American tradition," Michael Leo Owens, an associate political science professor at Emory University, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "When a person goes to a rally with a sign to protest, they don’t expect the candidate to actually stand there and debate them right there on the floor. The idea is to disrupt, displease all in the name of political action and expression. The ejection is what brings the attention, and the ejection equals the triumph."