“It’s not about going to new venues,” says Macon Phillips, the White House director of digital technology, talking about the president’s use of social media to get his message out – including a Facebook town hall meeting later this afternoon – “it’s about accepting that people will talk about what they think, and making sure that we’re available to offer resources and information to inform the conversations.”
Then-Sen. Obama engaged supporters through social media in 2008, but compared to the interaction the administration now offers, the 2008 behind-the-scenes, only-for-supporters campaign videos emailed out were as one-sided as movie projectors. The White House now regularly allows individuals to ask questions of administration officials, as when National Economic Council deputy director Brian Deese took questions in a Google chat, where users were able to vote for the questions they most wanted him to answer.
Phillips says “engaging Facebook so directly” on the topic of deficit reduction is like “poking the beehive,” in the sense that the White House expects all sorts of tough comments on the president’s Facebook page on the matter. “But Americans have a wide range of viewpoints and broad engagement on this issue is important.”
And they’re not just “the kids.” While 30% of President Obama’s 19,354,828 Facebook “fans” are under the age of 25, almost that many — 29% — are over the age of 45.
The top US cities that are home to his Facebook fans aren’t necessarily what you’d expect, either, including Atlanta (23,000), New York City (22,000), Dallas, (21,000), Seattle (19,000) and Chicago (18,000).
“We should not expect the public to be passive news acceptors who are just told what to think every night,” Phillips says. “They’re much more participatory. Our view of social media is that it’s not about us going to different part of the news universe and standing on soapbox.”
Can campaign money be raised this way as well? Phillips would not comment, given that he works for the administration, not the campaign, but the point is obvious that in today’s media world politicians need to go where people are – and often where they are their billfolds and purses are as well.
Of course, not everyone trying to engage is supportive, earnest or looking to actually engage.
Earlier today, the president’s Facebook town hall event page was opened for questions. Afterwards, for more than half an hour, the page was down, with representatives of the conservative group ForAmerica claiming responsibility, having alerted their nearly 1 million fans on Facebook to post comments.
Greg Mueller, an adviser for the group told The Daily Caller that “ForAmerica has amassed a very active and engaged online conservative army that engaged in a Facebook bracketing operation. The Obama folks have proven they are very good at new media, but there’s a new team in the game. We overloaded it with comments from that grassroots operation, which we believe disrupted the site for close to 40 minutes.”
UPDATE: At AMERICAblog, Kombiz claims that Mueller's claim in the Daily Caller couldn't possibly be less credible. We still haven't heard back from Facebook as to what happened, so it's worth noting that there are many skeptics about ForAmerica's claim. The larger issue I was trying to make is that the accessibily and interaction of social media have a flip side.
-Jake Tapper and Amy Walter