It’s almost redundant to mention that social media is now de rigueur for anything of import in the world today, from sports (Olympics, Super Bowl), to entertainment (Oscars, Emmy’s) and certainly, irrevocably, for politics.
As thousands gathered in person in Tampa, Florida for the Republican National Convention, overshadowed by news of Isaac in the twitterverse and blogs, President Obama made a surprise appearance on social news site Reddit, answering questions from members on their Ask Me Anything (AMA) platform.
The White House announced the President’s social media appearance around 4:15 Wednesday afternoon. Site overload issues interfered with access and performance after Obama tweeted, “Hey, everyone: I’ll be taking your questions online today,” with a link to the Reddit thread just before the session started. Reddit, which claims about 40 million users, almost broke: two million people tried to access it during the next 45 minutes, with more than 200,000 visits at one point — and that number may be low because of the strain on the site. This beat the prior record of 130,000. [more]
Other metrics: more than 1.8 million readers subscribed to the thread, which received more than 12,900 comments and questions. The questions, submitted and vetted in advance ranged from the mundane, “Who’s your favorite basketball player?” (“Jordan – I’m a Bulls guy”) to “Is Internet freedom an issue you’d push to add to the Democratic Party’s 2012 platform?”
The President’s answer, verbatim: “We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody — from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business. And although their will be occasional disagreements on the details of various legislative proposals, I won’t stray from that principle — and it will be reflected in the platform.”
Asked about his most difficult decision as President, Obama responded (in part): “The decision to surge our forces in Afghanistan. Any time you send our brave men and women into battle, you know that not everyone will come home safely, and that necessarily weighs heavily on you.”
“The Reddit AMA is a terrible format for extracting information from a politician,” wrote The Atlantic, taking a contrarian stance on the whole affair:
Reddit is not a mic accidentally left on during a private moment. The kind of intimacy and honesty that Redditors crave does not scale up to national politics, where no one ever lets down his or her guard. Instead of using the stiffness and formality of the MSM to drive his message home, Obama simply used the looseness and casual banter of Reddit to drive his message home. Here more than in almost anything else: Tech is not the answer to the problems of modern politics.
The President apparently disagrees and signed off with, “I want to thank everybody at reddit for participating – this is an example of how technology and the internet can empower the sorts of conversations that strengthen our democracy over the long run.”
Reddit General Manager Erik Martin spoke to the unique advantages of his site over other social networks: “Your question can be seen by the president based on the votes of those in the community regardless of how many followers you have or if your question is picked by some sort of moderation team,” adding, “We’d love to do the same thing with [Mitt] Romney.”
The Atlantic continued: “We’ll know Reddit has really arrived as a political community when he uses a visit to announce a policy change they’ve been promoting, perhaps around marijuana policy or civil liberties broadly construed. Until then, it’s all kissing babies and shaking hands, only with more LOLs.”
Undeniably, kissing babies and shaking hands is now virtually as important as pressing the flesh in days of yore.