The Reddit Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear?
This post has been updated and corrected, mainly with the addition of the last four paragraphs.
Saturday at the rally, I was confused to see people wearing t-shirts and hats with the Reddit logo. It was one of the jokes I just didn’t get. It wasn’t until yesterday that I remembered what I had forgotten from this summer: that the original idea for the rally reportedly came from a post on this social news site, and social media supposedly helped convince the hosts to hold the rally. This Forbes blog post and this Washington Post blog post stated that the idea for the event started on social media and explained how the campaign continued there.
According to the Forbes blogger:
The post, written by Joseph Laughlin of Pittsburgh, PA, went live to Condé Nast’s popular social news sharing site Reddit at approximately five a.m. By the time he got to work later that morning, the post had made it to Reddit’s front page with close to 7,000 ‘up votes.’ Emails were sent to executive staff of The Colbert Report. Facebook pages dedicated to the event were being made. Laughlin’s ‘vision’ went viral in relatively no time at all.
I found the idea that one person could start something through social media that eventually resulted in at least 250,000 people amassing on Washington D.C. very encouraging. It didn’t quite counter Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that social media doesn’t result in social activism, because the man would’ve had a little help—namely weeks of traditional media coverage, the budget of Comedy Central, and two charismatic television comedians. And of course, it was pretty debatable whether the rally counted as social activism, since even Stewart’s non-comedic speech didn’t end with any specific call to action other than to do what we had already done, remain sane—and perhaps to spread the word.
Still, I thought the event had elements of social activism and wasn’t all a big joke. I was there, and the feeling I got was that people are genuinely fed up with political insanity and using comedy to get their point across. And if it was sparked off by social media—even if it needed traditional media to fan the flames in this case—that was very heartening. I wrote that we needed more data to see what social media can do on its own with true activism.
Unfortunately, however, it seems that giving the credit to Reddit was wrong. Thanks to an intrepid commenter, I was put on the trail of Stewart’s statement to the National Press Club. This set of remarks with his fellow host Colbert just after the event didn’t turn up in my Googling because it’s a video, not text.
After a writer from Reddit introduced himself, Colbert explained to the others gathered at the Press Club that Reddit launched a donation push to “encourage us to do a rally.” Reddit users donated $500,000 to donorschoose.org to get Stephen Colbert’s attention about holding a Restoring Truthiness Rally. However, when the writer asks what role the Internet community played in convincing the two to hold that day’s events, Stewart explains that although it was “kind of a nice thing that the Internet did, we’d been planning this and the thought of it for a few months prior.” He says he had put the deposit down on the mall over the summer.
Colbert continues, explaining that the move just proved that they had the fan support. “It was a really nice validation of what we were thinking about,” he says.
So while I’d like to believe that one person on social media sparked a rally that brought hundreds of thousands, it seems that great minds do think alike. Maybe we need to look instead to the $500,000 donation and see that as the something impressive that social media sparked (albeit with an ulterior motive). Eh, Mr. Gladwell?
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