On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama did something that helped him reach and communicate with millions of people directly. The President spent around half-an-hour on the popular link-sharing website Reddit, answering questions from the general public and became the first ever sitting president to participate in a forum, commonly referred to as an AMA or "ask me anything."
Reddit AMAs, also known as IAmA, allow Reddit users to ask questions to anyone from a common man to a famous public figure directly. There's opportunity for people to get intimate and for those who answer to get honest.
Obama's move on Reddit couldn't have been timed better, especially at a time when Mitt Romney and the Republicans are busy attacking him with their vitriolic speeches for the race to the White House. The news of Obama's presence on Reddit quickly spread over the Internet, making headlines, and taking it to the list of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter, next to #GOP2012 and "Republican National Convention."
During his half-an-hour session that made the site unavailable temporarily due to heavy traffic, Obama responded to only ten questions. And over 10,000 questions were left unanswered.
Obama was asked questions that included areas like protection of Internet freedom, money in politics, funds for space exploration, unemployment for recent grads and manyothers.
On asked the about the most difficult decision that he had to take during his term, Obama responded:
"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 decision did help us blunt the Taliban's momentum, and is allowing us to transition to afghan lead - so we will have recovered that surge at the end of this month, and will end the war at the end of 2014. But knowing of the heroes that have fallen is something you never forget."
Moving on to another popular question about Internet freedom, Obama said:
"Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too. 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 there 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."
And no, Obama's AMA Reddit show was not that serious either. Responding to a question about his favorite basketball player, the president said, "Jordan - I'm a Bulls guy."
Wondering why Reddit after all?
According to Examiner.com, unlike other platforms like Twitter, Reddit doesn't limit the length of posts. Founded in 2005, the site started gaining traction over the last few years as users were allowed to create their own groups called "subreddits" and "Reddit meetups." There could be a historical reason as well.
According to Adrianne Jeffries of The Verge, before Wednesday's Obama AMA thread, the second-most popular post in Reddit's history that dates back to 2008 was also related to the U.S. President. It was the announcement of the news that Obama had been elected as the first black President of the United States. Obama was well aware of that.
Jeffries said that keeping the AMA a surprise also did the trick. "Reddit and the Obama campaign ensured that interest groups didn't have time to queue up questions and lobby to get them voted to the top."
As Jeffries rightly pointed out, Obama's Reddit AMA was indeed a publicity stunt, but it was carried out in a creative way. When put next to Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Obama on Reddit seems to be "leaps ahead of the Republicans when it comes to campaigning on the Internet."
5 Interesting Questions
Among the thousands of questions asked, The Washington Post sorted out five whose answers would have been the most fascinating ones from the president.
- Has PSY performed at the White House yet? (This question has been deleted)
- What are you (your) thoughts on Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Freddy Mercury and Neil Patrick Harris? (This question has been deleted)
- What colour is your toothbrush?
- Hi Mr President, it's my girlfriends birthday today and she would want nothing more than for you to wish her a happy birthday, so if you could, could you wish Melissa a happy birthday! Thank you. <3
- What's the recipe for the White House's beer? (Obama responded: "It will be out soon! I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty.")
Following the AMA, Obama's campaign created a web page to collect Redditor email addresses.
"IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES," read the overlaid text, "DOES AN AMA."