Over the past year, the social media site Reddit has taken on an increasingly important role in the political sphere. In January and February, users banded together to protest the Internet censorship bills SOPA and PIPA. After a well-orchestrated “blackout” across Reddit and other sites like Wikipedia, ultimately managed to kill the two bills.
As a response to the online community’s massive power to influence legislation on digital issues, Reddit’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian and general manager Erik Martin embarked on the “Internet 2012” bus tour.
The two spent the past week giving speeches on Internet freedom and digital rights across the country, culminating in Thursday night’s final stop outside of the Vice Presidential debate.
Journalists from Buzzfeed tagged along on the week-long venture and profiled Ohanian’s charismatic speeches on creating open spaces where people can express themselves online. In response to his convincing rhetoric, Buzzfeed wrote that Ohanian may as well be running for President of the Internet.
Ohanian hasn’t actually announced his candidacy for the fictional office of President of the Internet, but in many ways it’s a perfectly apt title for the 29-year-old Reddit founder’s goal of creating a safer, freer Internet.
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"I've always tried to make 'making the world suck less' a goal of mine," Ohanian told Buzzfeed. "and so in that way I've sort of been aware of political things, and, you know, as a voter I've been engaged, but I've certainly never campaigned for anything, or really felt like an activist. What flipped the switch for me was when Reddit started really, really mobilizing around [SOPA], and I started seeing the posts on /r/sopa every day... that really impressed me, and really motivated me."
Ohanian sees himself as a force for positive change, helping empower Internet users and keep them safe from unnecessary censorship. And this bus tour isn’t the first time Ohanian has made such a stand. In response to the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation, Ohanian helped draft the Declaration of Internet Freedom,
“We believe that a free and open Internet can bring about a better world. To keep the Internet free and open, we call on communities, industries and countries to recognize these principles. We believe that they will help to bring about more creativity, more innovation and more open societies,” the Declaration’s preamble reads.
So what’s in the future for Ohanian? As charismatic as he may be – and as much as the Buzzfeed writers might push him – he seems reluctant about actually entering the political sphere.
However, even if Ohanian himself doesn’t extend his cause into the political sphere, there are plenty of forces in the tech-world willing to step up to the political plate. The San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation, for example, works to harness the power of Silicon Valley’s tech elite to affect political change in San Francisco.
As groups like this continue to emerge and Net Neutrality and Internet freedom take on larger roles in the mainstream political world, eventually it might be necessary to elect a real President of the Internet.