Saturday, July 16, 2011

#AmericanDemocracy in 140 characters

As a New Yorker, it's fairly common to experience the occasional celebrity sighting on the way to the office or while on a lunch break. Of course, there are those initial 5 minutes when you frantically search for your camera phone and text everyone you know to bear witness to your TMZ moment. But more often than not, as the adrenaline fades, you reflect on how "normal" Heidi, or George or Julia looked. For some reason it seems odd that they would be walking in sneakers hand in hand with their child, or having brunch at your favorite restaurant. And then comes the epiphany that public figures are just like us, with the differentiating factor of their occupation.

On July 6, President Obama delivered that same "ah-ha!" moment to millions of Americans when he joined the Twittersphere and answered questions from concerned citizens in an unscripted session at The White House. Razing the serpentine pavilion of politics, the #AskObama townhall provided the common student (and even someone named Shnaps!) with equal power to reach the President as the Speaker of the House. The success of the event, and perhaps of the President’s re-election campaign, lies in that simple gesture of access.

Obama leads the Twitter town hall with a Tweet of his own.
  The hour long webcast of the informal dialogue, moderated by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and attended by a few dozen Twitter followers of @whitehouse, underscored the President's commitment to harnessing the power of social media. From the early days of his campaign, President Obama marked his place in the social network and has continued to embrace the effort, irrevocably making him “one of us”.

Obama broke ground in early 2010 when he sent his first tweet from the American Red Cross headquarters and made history again with the recent Tweet Up. Obama’s acknowledgement of a changing social landscape and his encouragement of a two-way, symmetrical conversation evoked a positive response from many voters. This transparency brings politics and the President into our everyday lives through a medium that is casual and comfortable for millions of Americans.

While yes, it can be argued that 18 questions selected by a group of 8 Twitter-selected curators is not a true representation of American concerns. But I have ask, when was the last time you were 140 characters away from talking to the President?


  1. Love that your tweet about this blog came up in the first few search results for #AskObama!
    You have an interesting analogy here with Obama as a celebrity. It's intriguing, since it's an image he's been fighting against since the 2008 campaign. But the truth is, he has always been the kind of person people want to be close to, like a celebrity. However, he promised a presidency run from the bottom up and with transparency... and has made efforts to be real and accessible. This Tweetup was a chance to deliver on those promises. Although, it really didn't, it was a good effort in that direction.

  2. I have to say that this post was well-written and thoughtful.

    I agree that Twitter is a casual forum, but it was definitely appropriate for this type of event because it allowed the president to connect with Americans in a personal and intimate way.

    Even though there was nothing really that groundbreaking about his answers, I feel that this event shows the White House's commitment to technology and social media.

  3. I agree, a well-written, thought provoking post. Playing devil's advocate – do we think Obama is able to take advantage of the new forms of media and be seen as an innovator simply because he is in the right place at the right time? What about Woodrow Wilson – the first president to make a radio broadcast or Franklin D. Roosevelt – the first president to speak on television? Could it be that these presidents may not be ground breakers after all, but rather it’s the technology geeks we should be applauding? Just a thought.

  4. Really interesting thought, Nicole. I suppose leaders could choose not to embrace new mass communication technologies and only those that recognize the value and use them are viewed as ground breakers. But your point is valid, the true innovation is in the creation not necessarily the adoption.