Remember when President Obama shocked the world and did a Reddit AMA in the closing weeks of the presidential campaign? Well an excerpt from a new book on the campaign by Buzzfeed political reporter Michael Hastings (I still can’t believe Michael Hastings works for Buzzfeed) offers some rather fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into how it all went down, and also contends that the president’s Reddit appearance helped to register a buttload of young voters.
Turns out, it was 27 year-old Teddy Goff, the head of Obama’s digital team, who lobbied hard for him to wade into Reddit, “a hardcore community of pot-smoking freedom junkies who hated drones and loved porn.” As Hastings put it, to do so was “something of a gamble” because Reddit is home to “some f*cked up sh*t…the kind of material that could become fodder for critics looking to attack Obama.”
Goff did not sleep in the days leading up to the event. This was only going to work if Obama was himself and was willing to take oddball questions, willing to be funny. If he went on about middle-class security and jobs, it could turn into a debacle.
“He gets it,” Cutter said. “He’s into it. He wants it to be real.”
Obama sat in front of his laptop, wearing a white collared shirt and a blue tie with white stripes.
“So what is this?” Obama asked.
Goff briefed him for less than a minute: an insanely popular social news site, crowd-sourced, no editorial, voice of the people.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“All right, you know how this works?”
“No. I have no idea.”
Obama, at his computer, entered his greeting into Reddit.
Hey everybody—this is barack.
As you may recall, the AMA caused Reddit’s servers to crash in many places when word got out, but Obama’s connection held true. He wound up staying on the site for an extra 15 minutes because he was having so much fun with it, according to Hastings.
Obama was supposed to hand the computer over to Keenan, and Keenan would type Obama’s dictated responses in a shared Google doc. Then, Goff, on his own computer, would post the answers from the doc into the forum.
Scratch the plan. Obama wanted to keep writing himself.
“I’ll just keep going,” he said.
Goff scanned the message board, selecting questions, putting them in a Google doc for Obama to look at, and choosing which ones to respond to.
Row 18, 19, 20—which one do you want to answer, Mr. President?
“I’ll take ’em all.”
Obama answered questions about small businesses, Internet freedom, the corrupting influence of money in politics, student loans, basketball.
Silent1mezzo: What’s the recipe for the White House’s beer?
Obama: It will be out soon! I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty.
Obama answered eight questions and was heading into his ninth when Goff let him in on a Reddit in-joke. “There’s this thing about Reddit where people say, ‘Not bad,’ ” Goff told Obama. “Just trust me, that’s a thing. . . .”
Obama typed this:
“Speaking of balance, though, I need to get going so I’m back in DC in time for dinner. But I want to thank everybody at reddit for participating—this is an example of how technology and the internet can empower the sorts of conversations that strengthen our democracy over the long run. AND REMEMBER TO VOTE IN NOVEMBER—if you need to know how to register, go to Gottaregister.com. By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience—NOT BAD!”
Obama made the call to use all caps.
I love that my president knows when to go all caps. That’s just special, right there. (Maybe he reads UPROXX?) And the internet loved it as well.
Within 24 hours, 5.2 million people had read the Reddit interview. It was the most-trafficked post in Reddit’s history. Just before signing off, Obama mentioned GottaRegister.com, the campaign’s official voter registration site, and 30,000 people registered to vote from that link. “And he didn’t even hyperlink the fucking thing, so they, like, actually copy-and-pasted it, and opened up a new tab, and put it in,” said a senior official. On Election Day, 82,670 Redditors would connect again with the campaign, giving “upvotes” to a message posted by Obama in the afternoon, with tens of thousands more likely seeing the post. A massive hit—and strategically successful.