Is Tweeting Unpresidential? Obama Will Hold Twitter Town Hall But Will Not Tweet

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July 6, 2011 1:45 am
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President Obama will hold his first ever Twitter town hall Wednesday at 2 p.m., but there is little if any chance the tweeting of this presidency will result in the same sort of online mishaps that make the new social medium such a tempting but dangerous place for many pols.

The White House and Twitter, which is co-hosting the Tweet-up, is taking measures to ensure there’s no chance Obama will fall prey to some of the Twitter mishaps that have ensnared the likes of Sarah Palin (who memorably and quite unintentionally coined the new word “refudiate” in one tweet) and former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) who showed just how easily Twitter can get you into trouble by a simple slip of the mouse or misdirected twitpic.In fact, the President won’t be actually tweeting at all so he won’t have to worry about those 140 character limits on his soundbites or knowing the right kind of hipster lingo and hashtags to thrown in. No, Obama will be responding verbally on a White House live video stream to questions sent in by Twitter users. Twitter will be responsible for vetting the questions and filtering inappropriate topics, as well as trying to keep the questions focused on the jobs and the economy.

From the looks of it, Twitter has a very intimidatingly techie way of managing the conversation, according to a blog entry about the event:

“We’ve partnered with Mass Relevance to curate, visualize and integrate conversations for the event.

Algorithms behind Twitter search will identify the Tweets that are most engaged with via Retweets, Favorites and Replies.

A team of seasoned Twitter users with experience discussing the economy will help flag questions from their communities through retweets.”

Algorithms and retweets aside, Obama’s decision to hold a Twitter town hall in and of itself sends a powerful message about the state of communication today, as well as the popularity of the tweeting phenomenon the day after the company reportedly valued itself at $7 billion, and just weeks after Newt Gingrich’s struggling campaign for president launched on Twitter.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the Obama decision to correspond directly with Twitter users is similar to the media strategies of presidents past who turned to the big three networks to speak as directly as possible to the American people.

“We’ve entered a different information age when people get news in different ways than they did in the past…,” Pfeiffer told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. “It is no longer sufficient [to depend on] traditional mainstream media…We’re always on the lookout for ways to have a productive interaction with the public in new and different ways.”

Before inserting eye-rolling emoticon here, consider that Twitter is even disrupting the vaunted White House press corp itself and the way it operates. In recent weeks and months, some social media monkeys on White House pool duty have tweeted out news before filing a report for other reporters, breaking a longtime cardinal rule of pool duty service.

Pfeiffer and White House New Media Director Macon Phillips say thousands of questions have been streaming using the hashtag #AskObama since the White House, through its official Twitter account, @whitehouse, announced the online “Tweet-Up” event last week. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey will moderate the discussion, which will begin at 2 p.m.

Hardly a newcomer to the social media craze, Obama joined billionaire Mark Zuckerberg in April for a similar event using Facebook. The timing of the events, as Obama’s campaign for re-election revs into gear, as well as their content, have raised questions about whether Obama is using White House resources appropriately.

At the April Facebook town hall, Obama took plenty of shots at Republicans.

“The Republican budget put forward is fairly radical, but I would not call it courageous,” Obama said during the Facebook chat. “You can call that bold; I would call it shortsighted.”

Phillips also said 30 Twitter users from around the country are flying in to attend and participate in the White House Twitter town hall. The participants were selected randomly and are paying their for their travel on their own, Phillips assured reporters.

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