There is a lot to be said about the internet as a media platform. Through websites such as Facebook, 4chan, Twitter and Reddit, people have been given a platform from which, their informed opinions or rants, genius or stupidity, can be debated or ignored, espoused or attacked. For most people, these sites provide a way to connect with friends or like-minded individuals. Some become internet pariahs or sensations overnight, through posts that go viral within minutes. The power of social media is that a message can reach a large number of people, though this does not mean they will be convinced by whatever view is being presented. This is the great double-edged sword for people whose careers revolve around public opinion.
Much like any other form of government, there is no static definition which can be applied to democracy but at the heart of it all is a central tenet; election through popular vote. With the US presidential elections nearing, and both candidates making their way across the country solidifying their support bases, Obama took to Reddit.
Obama’s decision to host a half-hour Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit, could really have gone either way. Celebrities unfamiliar with the Reddit community have failed miserably in the past after hosting an AMA session. Obama however came across as an informed member of the web community during his session. His newly created Reddit account garnered a large amount of attention, bringing down the Reddit website and forcing them to close the AMA comments section due to the extremely high traffic to the page.
Obama is not an idiot, that much can be said for the man. As President of the United States he is under constant scrutiny and observation, as he should be. During the initial round of the elections, most candidates had created Facebook fan pages, Twitter handles, Youtube channels and the like in an attempt to ‘connect with the kidz on the interwebzz,’ but this is a new precedent for a president. So often when browsing through politicians’ social media accounts there is a sense of disconnect; no that isn’t them, it’s their PR doing the writing. Obama provided the proof it was him, backed and checked by the Reddit moderators and the community.
Obama overcame the sense of disconnect by actually answering questions, and taking a jab at himself in the process. His closing remark was “by the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole Reddit experience – NOT BAD!” His comment is a nod of approval towards the Obama memes generated over the past four years and will not go by unnoticed by frequent web users.
From his AMA we learnt various things about Obama and his policies. The hardest decision he has made since coming to office was the surge of troops into Afghanistan; the White House beer recipe will be released and from his own experience, it is tasty; internet freedom will be protected, although there will always be disagreements on legislation. When asked about any plans to increase funding for the space program, Obama replied;
“Making sure we stay at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority for my administration. The passing of Neil Armstrong this week is a reminder of the inspiration and wonder that our space program has provided in the past; the curiosity probe on mars is a reminder of what remains to be discovered. The key is to make sure that we invest in cutting edge research that can take us to the next level – so even as we continue work with the international space station, we are focused on a potential mission to a asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight.”
In the words of a fellow Redditor, “An asteroid mister President, an asteroid.”
The bigger questions mattered, but it is the casualness of the entire affair that really lends credibility to the president. In a sense, his AMA broke the fourth wall and gave a real sense of connection to the president, who, it just so happens, is human. As Republicans and Democrats tear away at each other vying for (re)election, it is obvious that this is a part of his campaign. The timing was perfect however; it coincided with Mitt Romney’s address at the American Legion National Convention.
Some analysts argue that Romney’s big business background will win him the elections, but the man is so disconnected from the people it is hard to feel like he ‘gets’ you. Obama is a people’s man, a populist that knows how to talk to a thousand people and still make it seem like he is serenading you in a private room at the oval office.
Money makes campaigns, and campaigns generate awareness, but the vote still hinges on the voter. Obama’s attempt at garnering mass social approval through social media such as Reddit is one such way. Well played good Sir, well played.