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Reddit’s spectacular growth changes the nature of political campaigning

Social news site Red­dit’s page views bur­geoned to 3.4 bil­lion dur­ing August, as lead­ing politi­cians looked to exploit the pow­er of the inter­net to com­mu­ni­cate their key mes­sages.

Page views rose by 8.8 per­cent on July’s total of 3.1 bil­lion and unique vis­i­tors also grew by 8.6 per­cent (from July’s 29.5 bil­lion to 42.9 mil­lion in August), which pos­si­bly accounts for Pres­i­dent Obama’s recent appear­ance on the pop­u­lar social news site.

The Pres­i­dent may have been part­ly respon­si­ble for the surge in traf­fic.  His “Ask Me Any­thing” (AMA) Q&A ses­sion on August 29th sucked in 1.6 mil­lion unique vis­i­tors on the night and a fur­ther 1.2 mil­lion the fol­low­ing Thurs­day.

Reach­ing vot­ers just went Red­dit

While Pres­i­dent Oba­ma is by far the most pres­ti­gious guest to have vol­un­teered for a Red­dit AMA (pre­de­ces­sors include actor Woody Har­rel­son and the redoubtable Lar­ry King), his deci­sion to take part may reflect the grow­ing impor­tance placed by lead­ing politi­cians on har­ness­ing the pow­er of social media.

Any aspir­ing social media man­ag­er, com­mu­ni­ty man­ag­er or con­tent man­ag­er may want to take note of this trend, as the com­mu­nion between tech­nol­o­gy and ide­ol­o­gy is becom­ing increas­ing­ly influ­en­tial in chang­ing the polit­i­cal land­scape.  As the “AllTh­ingsD” jour­nal­ist Eric John­son observes, Pres­i­dent Obama’s tac­tic for reach­ing vot­ers through media like Red­dit would have been incon­ceiv­able a few years back.  Twen­ty years ago the White House didn’t even have a web­site, but four years lat­er just about all seri­ous politi­cians were dab­bling in the arts of build­ing a web pres­ence.  Today, not hav­ing a social media voice is tan­ta­mount to not hav­ing a voice at all for Pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls and senior politi­cians alike.

Social media as defend­ers of inter­net free­dom?

But there’s also evi­dence that Red­dit is using its soar­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty to exer­cise a degree of clout with politi­cians whose instinct is to reg­u­late the net.  This often boils down to code for clamp­ing down on free­dom of expres­sion.  Reddit’s founder, Alex­is Ohan­ian – a pas­sion­ate defend­er of an inter­net free of Gov­ern­ment inter­fer­ence – is bring­ing politi­cians from both main par­ties togeth­er to unite in defense of this prin­ci­ple.  As he put it in an inter­view, “Repub­li­cans want to keep the open inter­net safe from big gov­ern­ment. Democ­rats want to keep it safe from big cor­po­ra­tions.  I say we agree to agree and move ahead.”

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