Obama makes history in 140 characters

US President Barack Obama replied to a barrage of questions about the economy from Twitter users on Wednesday and personally fired off his first “tweet” from the White House.

“I am going to make history here as the first president to live tweet,” Obama said as he kicked off an event billed as a “Twitter Town Hall” from the East Room of the presidential mansion.

Obama, who pioneered the use of social media during his 2008 election campaign, sent a message to his official @whitehouse account from a laptop emblazoned with the presidential seal.

“In order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep – bo,” Obama wrote, signing the tweet with his initials.

Taking his time
Obama took a fair bit of time to compose and send the message, prompting Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, the moderator for the town hall meeting, to joke: “It’s only 140 characters.”
Dorsey then read out questions for the president submitted by Twitter users across the country using the hashtag #AskObama.

The event was held in front of an audience of 140 guests, including over 30 followers of the @whitehouse Twitter account, and streamed live from the White House at askobama.twitter.com.

Instead of tweeting his answers, Obama answered verbally as White House aides summarized his replies in 140 characters or less on the Twitter feeds @townhall and @whitehouse, which has more than 2.24 million followers.

The Twitter town hall was billed an opportunity to question the president about jobs and the economy and nearly all of the selected queries were on the subject.

Shortly after the conclusion of the one-hour event, Twitter said there had been more than 110 000 tweets with the #AskObama hashtag.

Critics at large
Obama’s Republican foes swarmed Twitter hours before the event to blast his handling of the economy using the #AskObama hashtag, making their criticisms visible to participants in the discussion.

#AskObama: if more gov’t is good #4jobs, why are so many Americans still unemployed?” challenged Republican Darrell Issa, chairperson of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

A question from Republican House Speaker John Boehner was among those selected by Twitter and directed to the president.

“After embarking on a record spending binge that’s left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs?” Boehner said on his @JohnBoehner Twitter account.

Obama used social media for organizing and fund-raising during his 2008 election campaign and is developing new techniques to reach voters without a media filter as he gears up his 2012 re-election drive.

Social media savvy
He has previously answered questions submitted via YouTube and in April held a town hall-style event at the California headquarters of social networking giant Facebook.

“The purpose of doing this event is to try to find new opportunities to connect with Americans around the country,” White House director of digital strategy Macon Phillips said.

“We’ve entered a different information age, where people get news and information in a different way than they did in the past,” added White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

“If you’re going to communicate with the broad public, it is no longer sufficient to simply do it through traditional mainstream media,” he said.

“You have to go beyond that because people are getting their information in different ways and from different sources,” Pfeiffer said. “We’re always on the lookout for ways to have a productive interaction with the public in new and exciting ways. – AFP

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Chris Lefkow
Chris Lefkow is an AFP correspondent based in Washington.

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