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An FCC Commissioner's Reddit AMA Went About as Terribly as You'd Expect

Mignon Clyburn gets buried under a downvote avalanche

FCC critics seemed even more enraged after a Q&A session on Reddit. Flickr Creative Commons photo: Cyol Ternyan

Passionate support of net neutrality and vocal skepticism of government regulators are two of the few opinions shared by a majority of Redditors, as an FCC commissioner learned first-hand in a Friday AMA.

Reddit's AMA ("Ask Me Anything") sessions have become frequent stops on the PR train for everything from new movies and music to startups and sports. Most of the public figures subjecting themselves to the questioning get responses ranging from fawning worship to fuming hatred. 

The reaction FCC commissioner Mignong Clyburn received, however, was all fuming and no fawning.

"This AMA looks to me like a political stunt to say something along the lines of, 'Yeah, I went on that interweb thing and talked to the American people! We had discussions about everything from Net Neutrality to Eminem!'," Noted the top-voted comment. "However, I haven't seen one solid, thought out answer to any of the big questions here. The majority of your replies, Ms. Clyburn, seem to me to be rushed, half-assed, and quite vague."

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn  

Clyburn answered 29 questions over two hours, though she took no polarizing or strongly phrased stances on the issues of net neutrality or corporate influence on the regulation process. Most questioners and observers felt her answers fell far short of insightful.

Take, for example, this direct question from one participant: "Why do I only have one option for high speed internet and television at my house?"

Clyburn's unsatisfying answer, which was downvoted deep into the negative, was: "Our goal is to create incentives for more competitive options, particularly as technologies transition. For example, some electric utilities have started to offer broadband service. Wireless and satellite companies are offering alternatives, and their services continue to improve. We hope that over time, sound policies will lead to more choices."

In other words, instead of answering a question about how America ended up with a system of monopolistic utilities, she answered an unasked question about what the FCC is doing to find ways for these monopolies to compete with each other.

Several participants had a hard time even finding Clyburn's answers because they had been so heavily downvoted by users, which can reduce the visibility of responses. All 29 of her comments were downvoted into the negative, though the AMA itself was upvoted to the front page (which might classify as some sort of modern Pyrrhic victory). 

The saddest moment was certainly this exchange:

User ILLnoize: "How come you aren't answering very many questions? Do you have a bad internet connection? Is Comcast your ISP?"

Clyburn: "We had a few technical glitches, but I look forward to doing this again."

User EvanFFTF (who appears to be activist Evan Greer of Fight for the Future): "Yeah, it's really frustrating when the Internet doesn't work properly, isn't it?"

In fairness to Clyburn, she has shown consistent support for net neutrality and has occasionally been critical of cable-lobbyist-turned-FCC-chairman Tom Wheeler. Before Wheeler's arrival, Clyburn's time as the FCC's interim chair was described by The Verge as a "brief, ridiculously productive reign."  

So it's understandable that she might have expected a more receptive crowd on Reddit. But through a combination of her own noncommital answers and Reddit's extreme dubiousness of government regulators, Clyburn's attempt at a public discourse devolved quickly into a chorus of jeers. 

On that note, you probably shouldn't expect to see FCC chairman Wheeler typing the phrase "ask me anything!" anytime soon.

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