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Reddit co-founder plans 'Internet 2012' bus tour

Doug Gross, CNN
Reddit's co-founder and others will use an Internet 2012 Bus Tour to raise awareness about Web issues during the campaign.
Reddit's co-founder and others will use an Internet 2012 Bus Tour to raise awareness about Web issues during the campaign.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Internet 2012 Bus Tour seeks to highlight Web-related issues this fall
  • The 1,000-mile trip is organized by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and others
  • Key issues include Web freedom, affordable access and online privacy
  • GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan already targeted once

(CNN) -- The economy has been front and center during this presidential race, followed by issues such as national security, abortion and taxes.

But are the candidates talking enough about the Internet?

Some big-time Web players don't think so and plan to launch a nationwide bus tour to see if they can change that.

Start-up guru Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of social sharing site Reddit, is raising funds for the Internet 2012 Bus Tour.

"From taxes, to health care, to immigration -- Democrats and Republicans can't seem to agree on anything," reads the text on the project's IndieGoGo fund-raising campaign. "But there's one thing no one's really talking about that both sides should be championing: The Open Internet."

Ohanian, who also founded travel site Hipmunk and philanthropic geek-merchandise vendor Breadpig, was active in this year's fight to derail the Stop Online Piracy Act. That bill and related legislation were designed to crack down on illegal sharing of copyrighted material, but critics attacked it as an overreaching assault on Web freedoms.

Ohanian said that the success of Reddit, which was launched in 2005 with just $12,000 in funding, speaks to the importance of a free and open Internet to the economic growth both parties promise to deliver. The site was bought by Conde Nast in 2006 and, last month, had nearly 40 million unique visitors.

"We got to live the American dream by having this great startup success at a company that continues to grow," he said in an interview with CNN. "There is really no other industry right now where you can say that.

"There are companies right now, starting up all over the country, who could be the next Google."

Tour leaders have drafted what they're calling the Internet Declaration of Freedom. It calls for promises to never censor the Web, promote international access to fast, affordable Web services and defend online privacy, among other things.

And they're encouraging both major U.S. political parties to add Internet freedom to their official platforms.

Ohanian said he's heard "on pretty damn good authority" that some sort of Web-freedom language will be proposed for the Republican platform. He hopes that will help spur Democrats, many of whom also opposed SOPA and similar bills, to do the same.

"I would love to hear it brought up during the debates," he said. "I would love it to be the thing that Obama and Romney try to one-up each other on."

The bus (painted half-red and half-blue to give it a bipartisan vibe) will travel from Denver -- site of the first presidential debate October 3 -- to Danville, Kentucky, where the vice-presidential debate will be held eight days later. It will start with a kickoff event on October 1 in Denver.

Along the roughly 1,000-mile journey, they plan to host meet-ups with supporters, promote local Web start-ups, support candidates friendly to their cause and register people to vote.

Reddit is funding most of the cost of getting the tour from town to town, but the fund-raising campaign will cover expenses such as hosting local events, promotional material and documenting the journey.

The campaign is shooting to raise $40,000. Unlike fellow fund-raising site Kickstarter though, IndieGoGo doesn't require that goal to be reached for the tour to receive all the contributions.

It won't be the first time that folks from Reddit (current general manager Erik Martin is joining Ohanian) have sparred with presidential campaign players over Web freedom.

The site targeted Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan last year for his perceived support of the Stop Online Piracy Act. Critics considered Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, to have been too vague in his stance on the legislation and objected to the $288,600 in campaign funds he had received from groups considered to be for it.

Reddit users launched "Operation Pull Ryan," publicizing the congressman's muted stance on the issue and throwing support behind his political opponent. Ryan eventually announced he would oppose the bill, calling the Internet "one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history" and saying "it should stay that way."

"A bunch of random people on the Internet made it an issue," Ohanian said. "A bunch of citizens got him and his team to come out with a statement in opposition. That's impressive."

Reddit also joined Wikipedia and other sites that went black for a day in January to protest that legislation, which was eventually shelved without a vote.

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