article

11.09.10

Reddit Gets Political

A 26-year-old Los Angeles comedian, depressed that GOP wins could imperil his dream of greater broadband access, decided to take action. Brian Ries on how a social news site spawned a political action committee.

Eddie Geller, a 26-year-old comedian and aspiring actor living in Los Angeles, grew frustrated Sunday evening over a news article detailing how the GOP wins in Congress signaled the impending death of “ net neutrality”—the principle, favored by Democrats, that all Web users should have equal access to broadband content.   

But Geller wasn't ready to accept defeat and make it just another punch line in his stand-up routine. While the Republicans may have an army of deregulation activists and the deep pockets of telecoms, who oppose the idea, this comedian had Reddit—the popular social news website with a fervent community of users that sees itself as "the voice of the Internet."  

“There’s a lot more of us than there are of them, we should at least try our best to put pressure on these people no matter what the letter before their name is,” he explained.   

So before dozing off for the night, Geller logged on and issued a call to arms.

“We should, at least, give something a go,” wrote Geller. “It’s not going to change as we sit on our collective asses.”

“I propose a Reddit Political Action Committee—not committed to a party or one politician, just good policy,” he wrote. “Yes, these politicians are owned by corporations. But what the f-ck else are we going to do?,” Geller asked. “What else will eventually topple them but mass movements of committed people? They'll either eat our democracy alive or we'll stop them. But we should, at least, give something a go. It's not going to change as we sit on our collective asses.”  

And so Reddit, a new-world digital site, delved into old-world politics. It’s fertile terrain for activism. Over its five quiet years of existence, Reddit has cultivated a passionate community built on foundations of respect, equality, and a sense of humor. Anyone can get their content on the homepage. Everybody gets an equal vote. According to Google, its audience is two-thirds male; a majority of users are between the ages of 25 and 44, most of whom attended college.  

And Reddit is testing its reach. The fast-growing Conde Nast-owned website hit 300 million pageviews in September, an increase of 24 percent over two months. Emboldened perhaps after the site’s role in prodding the Comedy Central comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to head to D.C. for their rally last month, users reacted enthusiastically to Geller’s gambit. By the time he woke up Monday morning, he was “delighted and surprised” with the overwhelming response.  

He quickly launched a subreddit and a blog for the newly named RedditPAC— RedditPAC.blogspot.com, and in its first post, published as “a place to begin,” Geller wrote, “May the ideas start flowing.” Shortly thereafter, Redditors—a name users of the site affectionately call themselves— flooded the blog with ideas. Some spoke of managing the varying levels of member commitment (“maybe we could even give goofy codenames”), others, creating a database, Wiki, or framework (“a list of developers and how much time they are willing to volunteer”), while a third spoke of actually forming the PAC from a legal standpoint (“I'm a lawyer, I don't mind doing the formation work / reporting pro bono.”).  

As I write this, the original post has surpassed 450 comments from other Reddit users—some cynics, of course—and over 1,500 “upvotes,” all after a few hours on the homepage of the site.  

Geller says RedditPAC may not be a single-issue cause. He’s heard from a lot of people mentioning campaign finance reform, followed by calls for the tightening of defense spending. They’re all incredibly lofty targets, Geller acknowledges, but “things that seem to go untouched and un-talked about.”  

But is there room at the table? The well-established Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF], a civil liberties organization for the digital citizenship, already works this territory, as  commenters concerned with redundancy point out.

“That's what we have groups like the EFF for. Do we need another?” asked one. “Perhaps there's simply a better way Reddit can work with those organizations to get things done?” asked another.  

Geller saw those concerns, and when asked if he would plan any partnerships, or work in tandem with the 20-year old EFF on net neutrality efforts, he laughed, saying this whole thing was “only hours old.”  

Should they get off the ground, RedditPAC will wind up being a nonconnected PAC—that is one not connected to any corporation, union, trade association, or membership organization, per the FEC's rules.  

To get there, they'll have to raise or spend $1,000 and submit a Statement of Organization within the 10 days that follow, and elect a Treasurer. Then, they'll be off soliciting contributions—which will be limited to $5,000 per year per contributor.  

RedditPAC could wind up working in a limited partnership with an organization such as the EFF, or even Reddit.com parent Conde Nast, in one unlikely scenario, in a partnership or unincorporated association but any dollars coming from partners would be limited.

But for those in the PAC, that shouldn’t really matter. For most, it’s the part of being involved with something special that’ll keep them involved.

“We’re all searching for something we can cling on to,” Geller says of his fellow Redditors, “and I think a lot of people, all at the same time, think this might be that thing.”

“I’m certainly hoping it is.”

Brian Ries is tech and social media editor at The Daily Beast. He lives in Brooklyn.