Redditor Rep: How Gene Wu uses social media to inform Texans on state government

The Houston Democrat’s updates on the Legislature and various policy issues has gained a following on Reddit.

By Rhonda Fanning and Glorie MartinezFebruary 21, 2023 3:25 pm, ,

For better or worse, there’s no separating politics from social media these days.

In today’s digital world, politicians leverage social networks to reach wider audiences than traditional media and certainly than campaign events would ever allow. You’ll find plenty of political debates on Twitter and carefully curated shots on Instagram.

But for State Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, one platform in particular has served as a medium to not just reach voters, but also educate Texans across party lines about the functions of state government. Wu joined the Standard to talk about his time on Reddit and how he navigates using the platform. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: You’ve chosen to go on Reddit and post videos about what, exactly, and why? 

Gene Wu: Well, I’ve been on Reddit or just kind of lurking in the background for many, many years. And I just decided, after watching people comment on things and just not understanding sort of the basic functions of government, I said to myself, “you know what, I need to help fix this.” And so I started making videos about how the Texas Legislature works and how laws are made and sort of like demystifying the process.

Very interesting. I know I can understand that a lot of politicians would want to sort of take an explicitly political or maybe even campaign message online. Is that sort of your approach or is this something, more broadly speaking, about educating the public?

Well, I think because of the nature of Reddit and each social media platform, it’s different. The nature of Reddit is that people tend to be more incisive, more detail-oriented, sort of like people dig deep into a subject matter and then present evidence. And so it’s not really practical or even good to just go on there and start spewing a partisan agenda. I think if you come in saying, “here’s factual information. I’m trying to make it as unbiased as I can, but, you know, I have my own personal biases.” People respect that and people are willing to listen. Even people on the other side are willing to at least stop in and say like, “what is the actual truth and how do we use this?” 

Quite often, social media is characterized as something of a dumpster fire when it comes to sophisticated conversations, certainly about things that matter like politics. I mean, it often sort of breaks down into partisan spats. Is Reddit immune to that? It sounds like what you’re saying is that people just dig deeper because they have more space and room to do so.

I think, whereas, you know, people might get a lot of positive attention for being a troll on Twitter or sometimes on Facebook, I think on Reddit, because of just the demographics of who’s on there, if you’re a funny troll, maybe you’ll get attention. But a lot of trolls, you know, who don’t have anything that really significant to add, they get voted down and their comments basically disappear off of the message board and they just kind of get relegated into this hold. So it is a system that rewards people who have something interesting, funny or insightful to say. And that’s really good. It’s good for keeping the conversation going.

Well, I understand that some of your videos are about user-requested topics. What are some of the most popular subjects Texas Reddit users want to know about?

Well, I think actually the most frequent question is why haven’t we passed legalized marijuana yet? Or why haven’t we legalized gambling in Texas? And, you know, considering that Reddit has sort of a libertarian bent to it, people want to know, like, “why can’t I just do things when I want to do them?” So, you know, I try to answer it as best I can. I answer that question many times. I might actually have to do a video on it so people can actually see it. But it’s actually a complicated political question in Texas, and it’s actually a really good place to discuss it.

When you started doing this, were you thinking that you’d get the sort of reception that you have? And how much of an issue are the trolls?

I really never cared about the trolls that much. I’m kind of a troll myself. So, you know, if you hit me with something, you better be smart. It better be funny because I’m going to hit you back.

But really, I had no expectations going in. I really was trying to just kind of educate mainly users in Texas. And my main goal was to encourage people to reach out and contact their government and contact representatives and let them know what they want. Because I think one of the biggest things I’ve seen on Reddit and other social media is people feeling frustrated that they are not connected to their government, that their government doesn’t respond to them. And I wanted to show them that, hey, that’s not true. You might not be doing it the right way. And let me show you how to do it. Let me show you that you are effective.

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