Last Thursday in unprecidented hacker news (not to be confused with Hacker News) Barack Obama, Mr. President himself, signed on social site/geeky fave Reddit for an “Ask Me Anything Session” in which he answered ten questions submitted by users. While to most of the citizens of the US this probably meant little (Reddit is notoriously niche-y and not particularly visually appealing to those unfamiliar with the structure), it was, in many ways, a big virtual step for both the Internet and American politics. We have officially entered an age in which the two can no longer exist ignorant of one another.
Aside from Al Gore inventing the internet, most politicians continue to shy away from bringing the web and its implications into the foreground of the political circus. This may be due, in part, to either fear or ignorance: after all, most statesmen are at least in the generation of my parents, and if anyone’s ever seen a text from my mom, we all know how much fun that can be.
But in an age when even Grandma’s on Facebook and, more gravely, revolutions can be fought on and sparked by the web, we can no longer afford to dismiss the internet as merely a teenager’s toy or nerd’s paradise. More and more heavily accessible and addictive web and mobile applications are turning towards social features. With nary a law to protect the rights of the virtual citizen, there’s no standard and no way to prevent our data from being abused, or at the very least, used in exceedingly creepy ways.
Last year the internet was set aflame over debates on the SOPA/PIPA Acts, and it was a scary moment of realization for those who grew up with the freedom and creativity of the free web. Yes, pirating is bad, but without a good understanding of our online rights, how can we know how much new laws will undermine expression?
The Internet remains one of the last hints of wilderness in the West. Left alone, like all true wild and beautiful places, sooner or later boots will tramp down, trees will be felled, and fences put up. We need to urge politicians to STUDY and SUPPORT the creativity and rights of the online world, but they are only so many figureheads. Without an awareness of the significance of our individual online presences, no positive change can occur.
Obama’s venture into the Reddit community was a small symbolic step in the right direction, but now we need real concrete policies to follow . As the 2014 elections come up, it’s a good time to consider not only one’s rights as a U.S. citizen, but a virtual one too.
Fun fact: I had the great opportunity of hearing founder Alexis Ohanian speak to hackNY over the summer. Really charismatic and smart guy, and an impressive activist.
Less fun fact: I actually don’t go on Reddit myself, living up to its demographics of 72% male. But that’s another story for another day.