A melting pot of hate: Researching the alt-right on Reddit and Voat during US 2020 Presidential Election

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Politics, Languages and Int Studies


This research project aims to understand political movements online, particularly with regards to the alt-right. Focusing on Reddit and Voat in the build-up to the 2020 US Presidential Election, the project will use a novel mixed methods approach to contribute to understanding of political movements online.


During the 2016 US Presidential Election, the alt-right came to increased public and academic attention as particularly effective users of the internet for political purposes. Coined in 2008 by Richard Spencer, the alt-right is a movement that is still largely confined to the internet with a few flashes of real-world violence. There is little agreement over the membership, aims, and beliefs of the movement, both by members, and academically.

On Reddit, the community r/The_Donald became the largest hub of Trump supporters online, and became an important focus of research on language, community organisation, and activism online. It has been identified by academics as an important centre for the alt-right. However, the presence of the alt-right on Reddit goes beyond its bounds to other subreddits, both political and apolitical. Voat is considered to be part of the 'alt-internet', a group of platforms set up in response to perceived censorship by mainstream platforms. Voat is the alternative Reddit, hosting a number of communities banned from Reddit due to the violation of policies and public scrutiny.

Aims and Objectives

Main Question: How does the Far-Right operate and network on online platforms?

Sub-question 1: Does the far-right form networks on these platforms, and if so, how?
Sub-question 2: How do the networks self-identify, and differentiate their identity with respect to others? Do they form a community?
Sub-question 3: How do groups disperse their message and drive involvement?

Due to the diffuse presence of the alt-right and its contested nature key elements of the project need to be defined first, such as the spread of members and the culture. The online ethnography will be particularly useful for building a picture of community norms, symbolism, and language.

The majority of data collection will take place using Reddit's API and Pushshift.io. In addition to answering the research questions above, the length of data collection means that a temporal element can be added, particularly in relation to the evolution of strategies, perhaps as the election gets closer.

Potential applications and benefits

This research project will contribute to an understanding of how to research online social platforms, by using a mixed method approach. This project aims to triangulate by using an online ethnography, interviews, and a both qualitative and quantitative analysis of data collected through the API. This will enable the project to build a full picture of the communities during such an important moment for the movement.

Moreover, this project will contribute to understandings of online political communities during such a flashpoint, particularly in regard to their activist elements. The operation of political communities on non-political platforms will be of particular interest, showing if the political communities infiltrate others as part of the political process. Finally, it aims to contribute to understandings of recruitment on online platforms by analysing user movements during the build-up to the election, and shortly following the result.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2229345 Studentship ES/P000630/1 20/01/2020 19/04/2023 Antonia Vaughan