During the election, President Barack Obama crashed servers when he appeared in an impromptu "Ask Me Anything" post on Reddit. Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, decided to do the same — "Together, we can make Washington take a break from messing w/ the Internet" his post said in part. But the response wasn't quite as positive as he might have hoped.
Issa's post, seeking discussion of a two-year ban on legislation that would affect the Internet, was submitted to the popular social news site Tuesday evening. Shortly afterwards, it reached the front page and questions started rolling in. By Wednesday morning, the time Issa had set for answering questions, the queries had turned into something of a dogpile.
By far the most popular question the one posed by user The_Milkman: "Hey Darrell, why did you vote for CISPA?" Indeed, Issa's sponsorship of CISPA — the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act that was approved by the House, but has yet to be approved or vetoed by the president — was the topic of many questions and much ire.
Issa's attachment to the controversial piece of legislation — which would expand government agencies' ability to access data from sites like Facebook and Twitter — seemed to poison his attempt to solicit Reddit's help from the start.
Regardless of the unfriendly atmosphere, Issa answered dozens of questions, including some openly hostile ones (his post record can be found here). And like the president, he included a picture of himself answering questions for authenticity's sake. Both the grilling Issa received and his responses could easily be considered more thorough than the president's, who answered questions some commentators characterized as softballs.
But regardless of the tone of the conversation, the goal of procuring constructive input on the proposed legislation (the "Internet American Moratorium Act" or IAMA) seems to have been achieved. A number of comments and suggested changes have been submitted at the site set up for this purpose, and various issues have been raised in the comment threads that may help improve the bill. And the high positive vote count on the AMA itself indicates that the community is at least interested in discussing the topic.
There's a lesson to be learned for politicians and other public figures who are considering this kind of open discussion on a site like Reddit: It's not always going to be a love-in, as it was with the president. You may end up like Issa, with a front-page post and 2,500 comments calling you everything from an opportunistic hypocrite to a crony of big business.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.