President Obama joined the popular social website Reddit to answer user-submitted questions on Wednesday afternoon. Sounds routine for a re-election campaign? Perhaps, but Reddit is not your regular town hall.
Reddit, which was founded in 2005, brands itself as “the front page of the Internet.” The site relies on user submissions to generate the top headlines from around the web. On Reddit, you’ll find local stories that may not have hit the national news cycle yet. There are also personal stories and a plethora of images. Other users can vote up a submission to the top of a section, and there’s also a space for people to comments.
That’s a really simplified description of what Reddit is, but it’s really one of those places you have to poke around for yourself in order to get it. The site has drawn a lot of criticism in its seven-year history, but still remains a favorite for a generation that has grown up online (myself included).
Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” (IAmA) section has recently drawn attention for hosting forums with well-known figures, from Stephen Colbert to Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings. The “TODAY” Digital Life blog explained the basics of an AMA best:
A Reddit AMA is basically a question-and-answer free-for-all — a staple of the Internet forum. Astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an AMA alum, famously described Reddit as a “raging community of people with boundless curiosity.” From its humble beginnings, in which ordinary joes took questions about their extraordinary experiences, the Reddit AMA has grown into a global stage for scholars, authors and celebrities.
Word that Obama would be participating in an AMA spread on Twitter just shortly after 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday when a post appeared on the site that read, “I am Barack Obama, President of the United States – AMA.”
”Hi, I’m Barack Obama, President of the United States. Ask me anything,” the thread began.
The event was quickly confirmed by Reddit moderators, and Obama’s official Twitter account also confirmed the event was verified. A photo of the President at a computer was proof was posted on Reddit (and on his Twitter) shortly after.
Hundreds and thousands of people jumped onto the site to catch a glimpse of the conversation, which caused Reddit to experience multiple crashes during the scheduled 4:30 p.m. event, and even long after the AMA ended at 5. “More than 11,000 comments piled up by the time Obama bowed out of the conversation, almost an hour after it began,” Digital Life noted.
Obama answered 10 questions over the course of half an hour, ranging from internet freedom (he’s all for it) to the hardest decision of his presidency so far (the decision to surge troops in Afghanistan) to his thoughts on Citizens United (he would like to see it overturned). He also answered a few lighthearted questions, and revealed that Michael Jordan is his favorite basketball player and that the recipe for the White House’s beer would be out “soon.” (You can read all of the President’s answers through his Reddit user profile.)
Wednesday’s presidential AMA drew both praise and criticism from around the web. Many were excited to see Obama using the popular site to reach out to young voters (while simultaneously causing some journalists to allude to recent criticisms about Obama’s avoidance of the press corps). Others slammed him for avoiding the tougher questions about Guantanamo, drone strikes, or PTSD in returning soldiers.
Following Obama’s AMA, Redditors posted an AMA request for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to participate in the online website’s popular feature. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is also engaging in an internet first: the campaign paid to feature the hashtag #BelieveInAmerica as a Promoted Trend on Twitter.
No word if Romney will jump on board, but so far in the world of the Internet, it looks like President Obama has the last word: “By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience - NOT BAD!”