President Obama announced on Twitter yesterday that he’d be partaking in a surprise question-and-answer session on Reddit.com. The President followed through with his promise, and took to the forum a few minutes earlier than his promised 4:30 EDT start time. Because of the understandably great demand for viewing the President’s forum, many users were met a message that the site was down due to a heavy load. Not to worry, a few refreshes and users were able to gain access to the site and the President’s answers to select questions.
The issues with bandwidth and access are part of a new set of concerns as more politicians and public figures begin to consider popular websites and social media an important way to reach their constituents. Obama is not new to the concept, having held Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn Town Hall events in the past. But when you include Reddit in the mix, it appears one of these things is not like the others. Reddit, a trove of cat photos, block letter memes, and other mildly NSFW content, is also a destination for millions of Gen Yers and an opportunity for the President to interact with many of his potential voters.
The questions, in true Reddit form, varied wildly. One example was a recent law graduate who had questions about his future and what Obama was doing to improve his prospects:
The President’s seemingly spur-of-the-moment AMA is an example of how close the Internet allows us to get to our politicians. The event runs parallel to FDR’s fireside chats as a way of reaching into our homes and our lives in a way that hasn’t been done before. Although the event is interactive, the President took his pick of thousands of questions and comments to respond to and ended the event with 10 responses. His freedom to be selective speaks to a weakness of the presidential AMA concept and the forum in general. For example, he chose to respond to a question about the forthcoming White House beer:
That said, the President took the event far more seriously than most of the Reddit users who asked questions or provided color commentary to the his responses.
The event and its setting also appeared to be a nod, not just to the Internet and a faithful generation, but to entrepreneurs and tech startups everywhere. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, tweeted during the event: “Fun-fact: POTUS doing @reddit AMA from C-Ville, VA — where 7 yrs ago Steve & I founded the company that would build @reddit.” Another indication of the focus on entrepreneurship was the president’s selection of and response to PartyInYourMouth’s question about small business policy:
Despite a few technical concerns, the unexpected event provided unique access to the president and provided him to speak to a major part of his constituency on their level. Of course, as amazing — and it was amazing — as this event was, hopefully a future AMA with the president includes more than six minutes of interaction and a bevy of softball questions.
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