The inside story of President Obama’s ‘planted’ Reddit AMA question

Obama Reddit AMA question conspiracy

The Internet sleuths at Reddit thought they’d landed on a juicy conspiracy that went all the way to the top of political power in the United States: One of the questions answered by President Obama during his AMA interview was, they say, clearly planted by his campaign.

Reddit user hmlee, who asked Obama about how he plans to ease the job crisis for recent college graduates, had created an account a mere 5 minutes and 39 seconds before asking an eloquent question that one user described as “a PR man’s wet dream.” It was just too good, they concluded. Too perfectly crafted — it must be the work of the Obama 2012 reelection campaign. After all, the president only answered 10 questions out of thousands. Why did he choose this one?

Hmlee, they discovered, was a former Department of Justice intern, and had links to President Obama’s election campaign in 2008. The pieces were, it seemed, all lining up.

Here is hmlee’s question, in full:

I am recent law school graduate. Despite graduating from a top school, I find myself unemployed with a large student loan debt burden. While I’m sure my immediate prospects will improve in time, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the future knowing that my ability to live a productive life — to have a fulfilling career, to buy a house, to someday raise a family — is hampered by my debt and the bleak economic outlook for young people. I know that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Many of us are demoralized. Your 2008 campaign was successful in large part due to the efforts of younger demographics. We worked for you, we campaigned for you, and we turned out in record numbers to vote for you. What can I say to encourage those in similar situations as I am to show up again in November? What hope can you offer us for your second term?

Here is President Obama’s answer, in full:

I understand how tough it is out there for recent grads. You’re right – your long term prospects are great, but that doesn’t help in the short term. Obviously some of the steps we have taken already help young people at the start of their careers. Because of the health care bill, you can stay on your parent’s plan until you’re twenty six. Because of our student loan bill, we are lowering the debt burdens that young people have to carry. But the key for your future, and all our futures, is an economy that is growing and creating solid middle class jobs – and that’s why the choice in this election is so important. The other party has two ideas for growth – more taxs cuts for the wealthy (paid for by raising tax burdens on the middle class and gutting investments like education) and getting rid of regulations we’ve put in place to control the excesses on wall street and help consumers. These ideas have been tried, they didnt work, and will make the economy worse. I want to keep promoting advanced manufacturing that will bring jobs back to America, promote all-American energy sources (including wind and solar), keep investing in education and make college more affordable, rebuild our infrastructure, invest in science, and reduce our deficit in a balanced way with prudent spending cuts and higher taxes on folks making more than $250,000/year. I don’t promise that this will solve all our immediate economic challenges, but my plans will lay the foundation for long term growth for your generation, and for generations to follow. So don’t be discouraged – we didn’t get into this fix overnight, and we won’t get out overnight, but we are making progress and with your help will make more.

Rather than speculate, I reached out the “hmlee,” whose name is actually Hilary Lee, a 26-year-old graduate of Northwestern Law in Chicago, to answer the burning question: Was she really a plant from the Obama campaign?

“Not in any way, shape, or form,” said Lee in an email. She explains that her only connection to Obama was as a campaign worker during the 2008 election. “But I have no affiliation with the campaign now,” she said.

So, what about that DoJ internship?

“I interned at the DoJ in a field office in Chicago for six months during law school,” said Lee. “My last day of work was in December 2011. I’ve never met the President, nor any member of his staff.”

Ok, fine. But what about the fact that she’d just created her account minutes before writing a question that was good enough for President Obama to answer in detail? How did she create such a well-crafted question in a matter of moments?

“I’ve used reddit for years, though mostly in a lurking capacity. On the date of the AMA, I wasn’t on my own laptop computer. Typically my account on reddit remains logged in / the details are stored in my browser — but that only goes for my own laptop,” said Lee. “I heard about the AMA a few minutes prior to it going live and couldn’t get my account to login. I knew that if I didn’t get a question submitted in a hurry, it’d probably get lost in the shuffle. So I decided to just create a new account. I typed up my question in notepad prior to copy/pasting it into reddit. I wanted it to be reasonably grammatically correct because I thought that would increase the likelihood of it getting answered. I am a fast writer though — I’ve written semi-professionally for SB Nation in the past, so I’m used to composing things on the fly.”

Alright then, well… that all sounds perfectly legitimate. So, sorry, anti-Obama redditors, it doesn’t seem as though we have a conspiracy here. Rather, we have a well-spoken, educated redditor who wrote a good question, and got lucky.

Lee said that she was “surprised” that Obama answered her question, and thought he did a “fine” job in doing so, even if he didn’t “get to the meat” of her question.

“I thought his answer was fine. I appreciated the honesty and detail. He didn’t really get to the meat of my question — but I didn’t expect him to,” said Lee. “He’s a politician. Even in a non-election year he’s not going to say anything really controversial, and he certainly wouldn’t do it mere months before this election.

“My hope was that if he chose to answer my question he’d have to think about what I was saying, at least for a few minutes, and that that might get the situation that I and many people my age are in right now more on his mind than it was before the day started.”

Image via Action Sports Photography/Shutterstock

News

Amy Winehouse is coming back as a ‘hologram’ for a 2019 world tour

Amy Winehouse is set for a holographic return to the stage in 2019 in a global tour featuring her greatest hits, though how fans of the late singer feel about the "comeback" is another question entirely.
Movies & TV

Peter Dinklage gets cryptic about two 'Game of Thrones' characters' fates

With the eighth and final season looming, Game of Thrones fever has officially become a pandemic. Our list of all the relevant news and rumors will help make the wait more bearable -- if you don't mind spoilers.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix in October, from 'Mindhunter’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

M. Night Shyamalan's new 'Glass' trailer teases something 'more than human'

M. Night Shyamalan is getting back behind the camera for Glass, his crossover film that connects the stories and characters from his 2000 superhero film Unbreakable with his 2016 thriller Split. Here's what we know about the movie.
Social Media

Instagram says its A.I. can track down bullying in photos

Instagram is turning to artificial intelligence to help it root out bullying on its platform. Following similar efforts to target bullying in comments, the company now has systems capable of detecting bullying in photos, too.
Social Media

Snapchat is using VR to let you step inside its new original shows

Tuning in to your favorite shows not enough? Snap Originals will allow viewers to set into a virtual set. The new exclusive shows debut today with three different shows. Snap Originals are vertical, short, and exclusive to the platform.
Social Media

3D Facebook photos jump out of the newsfeed, no glasses needed

You're not seeing things -- that photo in your Facebook newsfeed is 3D. Launching today, 3D Facebook Photos use the depth maps from dual-lens smartphones to add dimension to an image as you move your phone.
Social Media

Instagram is testing a new way for you to look through your feed

Instagram is constantly tweaking its app to help give its users the best experience possible, so how do you like the sound of tapping — instead of swiping — to look through your feed?
Computing

Was your Facebook account hacked in the latest breach? Here’s how to find out

Facebook now reports that its latest data breach affected only 30 million users, down from an initial estimate of 50 million accounts. You can also find out if hackers had accessed your account by visiting a dedicated portal.
Mobile

Hinge's new feature wants to know who you've gone out on dates with

With its new "We Met" feature, Hinge wants to learn how your dates are going with matches in its app. That way, it can inject the information into its algorithm to provide future recommendations that better suit its users' preferences.
Social Media

Like a pocketable personal stylist, Pinterest overhauls shopping tools

Pinterest shopping just got a bit better with a trio of updates now rolling out to Pinterest. The first replaces Buyable Pins with Product Pins for more features, including knowing whether or not a product is in stock.
Smart Home

Facebook’s new Portal device can collect your data to target your ads

Facebook confirmed that its new Portal smart displays, designed to enable Messenger-enabled video calls, technically have the capability to gather data on users via the camera and mic onboard.
Social Media

YouTube is back after crashing for users around the world

It's rare to see YouTube suffer serious issues, but the site went down around the world for a period of time on October 16. It's back now, and we can confirm it's loading normally on desktop and mobile.
Social Media

Twitter has sorted out those weird notifications it was sending

Twitter started churning out weird notifications of seemingly nonsensical letters and numbers to many of its users on Tuesday morning. The bizarre incident even prompted Twitter boss Jack Dorsey to get involved.