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Hal Licino

President Obama Crashes Reddit: Social Media in an Election Year

Sep 04 2012, 04:27 PM by

Electoral democracy in the last few centuries was primarily intended to empower the individual voter so that they could select a legislator from their midst to represent their interests in far away assemblies. At a time when an early Oregon settler would be facing a bumpy ride of over a month to arrive at Washington, D.C.’s Congress, there was no other practical way but to provide a vote for a representative who claimed to best champion your own agenda and then see them again four years later when it came time for re-election. The internet has turned this entire model on its head as it has created a channel whereby any voter can directly and easily be engaged in every aspect of their government, as was most evidently shown by President Obama’s recent “surprise” visit to Reddit, which overloaded its servers and made the site unavailable to millions of users who wanted in.
4 Million Page Views Overwhelmed Reddit’s Servers
Not everyone was shut out by server incapacity, as the President’s half hour session was one of the most highly attended events in the history of the internet. The first page of the Obama Q&A drew nearly four million page views and comments in the range of 25,000. In the half hour the President was only able to address ten questions, but the entire experience was one that the majority of attendees rated as positive.
We Are Still Using 18th Century Voting Concepts
You can get real time status updates from your cousin in Singapore, your colleague in Munich and your friend in Buenos Aires, but when it comes to your political representatives you’re faced with a wholly insufficient binary yes/no at leap year intervals. President Obama’s Reddit experience showed that the political class is slowly but surely realizing that the age of the hanging chad is over and that today’s social media citizens demand more direct and hands-on interaction with their government at every level.
400 Years of Answering Questions 24 Hours a Day
The ratio of federal government leaders as compared to the voters who wish direct involvement is, of course, wholly unmanageable. There are about 210 million eligible voters in the United States and if every one of them wanted to access a single minute of the President’s time to answer just one of their questions it would take exactly four centuries to get through them all. And that’s if the immortal President-For-Eternity would never sleep or do anything else 24 hours a day. With these sorts of numbers the feasibility of running a federal government via electronic town hall is a chimera trumpeted by direct democracy enthusiasts who failed grade school math. However, the potential of social media in a hierarchical structure from empowered local communities on up to the highest levels is not just a realizable dream but is a concept that can be implemented today without waiting for further advances in communications technologies.

Posted in Social Media, Current Events, Tech Editorial

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