White House to hold Twitter town hall

The White House will host the first ever “Twitter town hall” Wednesday, July 6, on the economy and the president’s plan to create jobs. President Obama will participate in the live webcast at 2 p.m. Eastern time, where he will answer questions submitted via Twitter.

People who would like to participate or submit a question should use the hashtag #askObama on their Twitter accounts. So far thousands and thousands of questions have been submitted this way, White House officials said.

According to White House social media expert Macon Phillips, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey will host the forum and only questions collected via the Internet will be answered. Twitter, not the White House, will use filters to moderate the event and to find common themes and hot topics and to eliminate spam or advertising.

The Twitter town hall will bring “new voices into conversation with the president,” Phillips told reporters on a conference call July 5. Right now, the @WhiteHouse Twitter account  has more than 2.2 million followers.

“The focus is to bring in a lot of new perspectives and questions from around the country,” Phillips said.

The White House says it believes the Twitter event will allow the administration to both carry on a conversation on pressing issues but also gain a new understanding of public opinion. “We’ve entered a different information age where people get news and information in a different way than they did in the past,” said White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. “If you’re going to communicate with the broad public, it is no longer sufficient to do it through traditional mainstream media.”

The 2008 Obama campaign was known for pioneering uses of social media to build Obama’s political base, raise funds, and communicate with voters.

Since 2009, the White House has hosted Facebook forums and YouTube events. Pfeiffer compared these events to innovative use of traditional media like radio, TV networks, and print media by past presidents.

“We’re always on the lookout for ways to have a productive interaction with the public in new and exciting ways,” Pfeiffer said.

Recently released survey data from the Pew Research Center showed that about eight in 10 Americans use the Internet, and about six in 10 of them use a social network like Facebook or Twitter. The survey also found that people are more politically engaged and develop more social relationships and closer imitate ties with friends and families.

Twitter is unique among social networks because it is based on the same technology as the text function on many cell phones. Survey data indicates that a large number of Twitter users are people of color and younger than the general population.

But because Twitter allows only 140 characters per message, won’t the conversation be limited?

“As someone who is often on Twitter and trying to squeeze complicated ideas into 140 characters, I am fully sympathetic to that challenge,” Pfeiffer said.

“It is important to understand that a growing percentage of people are getting their information entirely through mobile devices and smart phones,” he added.

Users will be able to communicate in increments or share links to web pages if they have longer messages they need to share.

Photo: http://www.whitehouse.gov/



Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.