Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) was one of the first Members to utilize the platform by doing an IAmA in March 2011.
Polis — an Internet entrepreneur who describes himself as a “gamer” and a “nerd” — says Reddit is a great way for social-media-savvy Members to reach out to and interact with their constituents.
“I think for Members of Congress who are new-media-savvy, it can be an excellent way to increase name recognition and garner support with younger voters and the tech community,” Polis said. “But for Members that are not as new-media-savvy, I wouldn’t advise it. It’s not something you can outsource. You have to do it yourself … and you have to know the language.”
Bradley Shear, a lawyer who specializes in social media law, said the IAmA online town halls have their drawbacks — the most notable being that you can never be sure whether those participating are your constituents. But he said getting questions and comments from the public at large is a good way for politicians to gauge the popularity of their ideas and hear viewpoints they might not get at a traditional town hall.
“Politicians may use the site to send out trial balloons,” Shear said. “They can send out a message on Reddit and see what people think. They can do it anonymously or do it under their own name. … It can give them a chance to put their toe in the water to see how the wind blows without getting too much blowback.”