Although he was not the first politician to do so, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, seemed to have set a trend when he made a 30 minute Reddit appearance to answer questions - that he could pick from. Third parties like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein also took to the website, and now Congressman Darrell Issa is the latest to try his hand at Reddit, posting a link to proposed web legislation on Tuesday.
Issa first tried to promote the Internet American Moratorium Act of 2012 on a crowdsourcing platform called Project Madison, CNN reports. The legislation seeks to keep the web safe from attempts to impose laws, rules, or regulations - for two years.
Issa had previously criticised the Stop Online Piracy Act, the much-maligned legislation which would held websites responsible for a broad definition of 'pirated content', handing the policing of the web over to the content industry and its powerful lobbying assets. However, as one of the thread's most upvoted comments pointed out, Issa also voted in favour of CISPA, another largely criticised piece of legislation that made it easier to molest the open nature of the internet.
Online critiques to Issa's post have been a mixed bag, but most people are pointing out some obvious flaws in his idea. A blanket ban, critics say, is a bad idea. The internet is a very large place, Gizmodo pointed out, and it is intrinsically linked with the day to day lives of the Western world. While Issa may have good intentions the move also stinks of a failed public relations project.
An appropriately named user, BallsOfAnger, asked: "Mr. Issa, you have yet to give a clear answer as to why you voted YES TO PASS CISPA.
"You have also not given an answer as to why you censored requests on your facebook page attempting to get you to answer to this betrayal of our trust."To clarify, he "adressed" his CISPA vote here a few months ago. I am requesting he gives a clear answer.
"He wrote an in depth comment as to why CISPA didn't have the same creation/effect as SOPA/PIPA. Nobody is saying it is the same as SOPA/PIPA, except that it violates our freedoms just as much (if not more)."
Although Reddit is owned by Conde Nast, which is itself owned by multibillion dollar media corporation Advance Publications, there is a sense of community on the website which invites a sense of commonality when a celebrity who otherwise would be unaccessible to the average person takes to the website.
Reddit is one of the most visited websites in the Western world, and surpassed the enormous 1 billion page view barrier in 2011. Its front page default 'sub-Reddit' r/IAMA has 2,305,817 subscribers at the time of writing and 1,041 registered users browsing it as well, let alone lurkers who may not have an account, outside of American peak time. If done correctly, that is a lot of good publicity.
But it is also risky - especially if you assume your audience is forgetful or stupid.
Considering Issa is trying to ride the bandwagon of internet freedom into popular politics, he doesn't seem to 'get it'. For those in the public eye, posting on Reddit is an alternative to corny, staged Kodak moments - like kissing a baby. However, there are not just individual pairs of eyes to worry about, perhaps reading an interview in a glossy magazine, but often millions. And those millions are prepared to voluntarily offer their active scrutiny, not content with being a passive observer or consumer, not for profit or personal gain, but for clarity. It is precisely bills like CISPA that threaten to quash this collective power.
For politicians who want to avoid answering difficult questions, opening yourself up to crowdsourced intelligence can and does leave people exposed. Obscuring an answer or glossing over the tricky stuff does not work, and, although in this format, the poster can choose which question to respond to, steering or controlling the conversation is ill advised. A phenomenon called the Streisand Effect asserts that, the more someone tries to suppress or ignore a single issue online, the more it is focused on. Generally, it is true.
Just ask Woody Harrellson, who inadvertently became a meme when he refused to talk about anything other than his upcoming film.
Issa, in this case, has thoroughly Ramparted himself.