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Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley faced a tough crowd Monday morning when he agreed to answer questions on the social media site Reddit.
As part of an effort to promote the signing of a bill that would increase the minimum wage in the state to $10.10, O'Malley conducted a Reddit AMA, which stands for “Ask Me Anything” — a kind of online Q-and-A. Anybody is allowed to post a question, and other readers can then vote on which ones they want to see answered.
When the governor first sat down to field Reddit’s questions, he managed to answer just 19 questions of the more than 600 posed. It prompted unfavorable comparisons to Woody Harrelson, whose AMA promoting the film “Rampart” went viral after the actor refused to answer hostile questions from users. O'Malley later returned after the bill-signing ceremony to answer another 10 questions, but the reception didn't improve.
Reddit users expressed interest in hearing answers to pointed questions about his stance on issues like gun control and taxes. Instead, the governor addressed some lighter questions, such as "How many crab cakes have you devoured as a record?" and "Do you like lacrosse?"
O'Malley did field questions on tougher subjects like the transportation trust fund and the use of gambling revenues to fund education, but users "ate him alive," according to Chris Abraham, a social-media marketer and consultant based in the D.C. area.
"He never addresses anyone's question, never addressed anyone by name. He never did what he could have done — which is address pointedly an issue that someone else brought up — really engaged the conversation," Abraham says.
For instance, when user "garybeary" asked whether the political will exists in Annapolis to expand and increase funding to mental health services statewide, O'Malley replied:
"We've increased mental health services by 68%. In 2013, over 153,000 Marylanders received mental health services."
That kind of non-answer stands out more on the web, Abraham says.
"It seems to me that all he — or an aide — did was take talking points of his success and political bona fides and periodically paste them into threads without, in any way, really engaging the Redditors," Abraham says.
Other local politicians have had better success on Reddit, though on a smaller scale. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) answered questions during his campaign for the D.C. Council last year, as did Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) in his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor in April.
But while O'Malley wasn't as successful with his attempt to engage the Reddit community, it may still turn out to be a feather in his cap as he maneuvers for a possible presidential run in 2016. Abraham says the chat could produce the equivalent of a "Colbert bump"; even though he didn't come across too well, just getting his name out to a nationwide audience is a boon.
"He's going to talk about his willingness to engage on Reddit, detached from whether or not that was a success," Abraham says. "It certainly is a minefield, and he kept very close to the demarcated safe path. He didn't win any points for bravery, because he didn't leave the green zone, but he also didn't lose a limb."
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