We live in a day and age where the Internet has become so important that the technology is quickly becoming a platform for politicians to stand on. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have pledged to support Internet freedom, developed mobile campaign applications, and utilized as many social media channels as possible, meeting with both success and disappointment.
Yet the biggest event to grace the Internet at 4:30pm on August 29 was President Obama doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on online news aggregator Reddit. Gaining tremendous popularity this year, Reddit has launched itself into the public eye, backing events like the SOPA Internet blackout and Washington, D.C.’s Reason Rally. A place to voice your opinion anonymously, Reddit hosts conversations that range from crude and inane to incredibly constructive and thought-provoking.
So what? The President talked to some people on another social platform. The “what” is the sheer amount of people participating in this online event. At a time when getting people to the voting booths or a rally is a tiring and seemingly hopeless process, the opportunity to reach out to over 1,800,000 people is tremendous, and something that couldn’t even be dreamed of just a few short years ago. Where did the number 1,800,000 come from? That is the amount of people who have visited and read the content that was written as part of this single conversation. That number does not represent users or bots, but people who, at the very least, came to the thread and read the content. From those 1,800,000 people, over 22,000 comments were generated, mostly questions that users wanted answered.
Ten lucky users got their questions addressed, on topics including corruption, Internet freedom, college debt, the space program, and the most difficult decision Obama has had to make. The answers given were typical, middle-ground answers, peppered with humor and campaigning, but that doesn’t diminish the amount of people reached and interacted with. Over the course of about two hours, Obama reached more people than he could have at twenty of his best-attended rallies.
The best part? Reddit was there to listen. This is not a community of people who take things at face value, and it is certainly one composed of countless backgrounds, ideals, and political affiliations. They were there to understand and to challenge, and whether it was to their satisfaction or not, they at least received a response. This is the value of a conversation held in this medium. This is utilizing the tools that are at everyone’s disposal. There is no telling what the implications of this are and for how long this will be a new and impressive campaigning method. For now, this is just another testament to the growing power of the Internet, social media, and the vast network at every person’s fingertips.
Author: Zack Smith