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Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian buys Times Square billboard about coronavirus

He wants people to avoid spreading the coronavirus too quickly, and he's using the hashtag #FlattenTheCurve to do it, says a report.

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One of the signs Ohanian put up in Times Square.

Alexis Ohanian
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Once described as the "Mayor of the Internet," Alexis Ohanian has reportedly bought a billboard in the real world to encourage people to stay home to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Ohanian, co-founder of social news site Reddit, told Forbes he's put up the billboard Saturday for a one-day run in New York's Times Square. It features the line "Staying home means saving lives" and includes a hashtag at the bottom: #FlattenTheCurve.

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

Alexis Ohanian

Alexis Ohanian wants people to know that staying home saves lives.

Noam Galai/Getty Images

"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 said feedback so far has been positive, and he's considering whether to put up more billboards in other cities.

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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 an information and tracking website for the virus. Apple, Facebook and Twitter are tamping down on misinformation about the disease. Amazon and eBay, meanwhile, cracked down on arbitrage sellers they said were 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 billboard. But he did say he hopes the added hashtag 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. He closed his firm's offices last week, asking everyone to work from home for as much as eight weeks. Most of his portfolio companies are working remotely as well, Forbes said. 

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