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“I know he’s a politician and he’s not going to answer anything that’s overly argumentative or controversial,” redditor Hilary Lee told the Daily Dot.
On Wednesday, Hilary Lee was using a laptop at her friend’s Chicago apartment when she received a Google Chat message about President Barack Obama’s upcoming Reddit AMA.
Excited at the possibility of asking the commander-in-chief a question, Lee, 26, visited Reddit to log in and get her question ready. But there was a problem.
“Because I wasn’t on my own computer, I couldn’t get to my normal account to log in,” Lee told the Daily Dot in a phone interview. “So I was like, ‘Oh my God. It’s the president. He’s going to be asked a million questions, so if I don’t get a question in as soon as possible it’s possible that it will never get answered.’ So I just created a new account.”
When the AMA finally opened, Obama was flooded with hundreds of comments and questions every minute. Armed with her new Reddit handle, hmlee, Lee decided to keep her question noncontroversial in order to give it a better chance of being answered. She asked why young unemployed people like herself should vote for Obama this fall when the economic future of the country is so bleak. And it worked.
“I honestly wasn’t too impressed with his answer. I was only impressed that it was honest and that it was relatively lengthy. But it’s not like it actually got to the heart of my question, and that’s fine,” Lee said. “My goal in putting that question out there was, if he does take it, he has to sit there and think about it. And it gets it on his mind a little bit more than it was that day.”
Her question also got other redditors thinking. Who was this person, and how was she able to write such a long, softball question in such a short period of time?
As they started looking into Lee’s username, they discovered that she is a former Department of Justice intern who has blogged about her support of Obama, which only raised their suspicions that her question was planted by the Obama team to make the president look good.
Lee says it wasn’t a conspiracy.
“I haven’t had a connection with the federal government for quite some time,” said Lee, who confirmed that she interned at the DOJ for a few months last fall. “I can understand why people thought it was a softball question. I know he’s a politician and he’s not going to answer anything that’s overly argumentative or controversial. I didn’t want to insult him or anything. I knew that wouldn’t have gotten an answer. … He was not going to answer controversial questions in an election year.”
Many of Reddit’s suspicions were fleshed out in a popular post on the site’s r/libertarian subreddit, where users went on a digital witch hunt, tracked down Lee’s LinkedIn profile, and shared their conspiracy theories.
“Karl Rove did it because he knows that Romney will be the worst president ever and he still has some affection for his country,” indy_ttt jokingly commented.
Lee has been following the theories all day. And if she could go back, she would have done things differently.
“Now knowing how much craziness it caused, I probably would have just skipped the entire thing,” said Lee, who just graduated from law school at Northwestern University. “It’s been kind of amusing to me.”
Photo via Hilary Lee
Fernando Alfonso III served as an early Reddit and 4chan reporter and the Daily Dot’s first art director until 2016. He’s gone on to report at Lexington’s Herald-Leader and at the Houston Chronicle.