Alexis Ohanian protesting internet legislation in 2012.


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The once-described “Mayor of the Internet” is putting up billboards in the real world to encourage all to stay home to avoid spreading the pandemic coronavirus. Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of the social news site Reddit, said he’s putting up the billboards in Times Square with the line “Staying home means saving lives.” At the bottom, it includes a hashtag, #FlattenTheCurve.

The idea “just kind of popped in my head,” Ohanian told Forbes in an interview, saying he hoped the message would push people would take the crisis more seriously.


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“It was a deliberate approach to think what is one of the densest populations of people in the U.S. and on a normal day that would be Times Square,” he said. “And then you have this cultural prominence. The sort of meme of it is here is a billboard in Times Square about flattening the curve, just preventative measures to defeat COVID-19.”

The idea of flattening the curve comes from a 2017 Centers for Disease Control paper about slowing the spread of a pandemic so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed. The idea, essentially, is to slow the rate of infections so hospitals can treat more people over more time.

On Twitter, Ohanian posted a tweet with the billboard’s hashtag Saturday. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he’ll put up billboards in other cities.

Ohanian is just the latest big name in tech to take action on the virus. Google parent Alphabet said on Friday it was working with the White House to help create information and tracking website for the virus. Apple, Facebook and Twitter are cracking down on misinformation spreading about the disease. Amazon and eBay, meanwhile, cracked down on arbitrage sellers price gouging desperate customers looking for hand sanitizer, toilet paper and disinfectant wipes.

Ohanian, who’s also known for his venture capital firm Initialized Capital and for being married to tennis pro Serena Williams, declined to say how much he spent on the billboards. But he did say he hopes the hashtag added to them will be popular on social media.

Before using, “Staying home means saying lives,” Ohanian considered other more snarky billboard messages, “Why are you even looking at this?” or “Why are you even in Times Square right now?”

Ohanian said he’s following his own advice, closing his firm’s offices last week and asking everyone to work from home for as much as eight weeks. Most of his portfolio companies are working remote as well, Forbes said. 

“I can still do 99% of my job even here from Florida with my fam,” he said.

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