The 2.0 presidency: Obama to stage YouTube-based exchange

Experts say the president's Feb. 3 venture helps validate the role in social media in governance

As the president of the United States last week addressed Congress about the state of the union, he’s going before the public Feb. 3 to answer their questions about the state of the country via YouTube.

President Barack Obama will use the Web to offer the public a direct and participatory way to communicate with him, the White House wrote Jan. 26 on its blog.

Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and long-time political columnist, said Obama’s event is a carryover from his campaign where he pioneered the use of social media in politics. While a sitting president has never taken citizens’ questions via YouTube, it’s not new to Obama, he said.

“It’s an extension of,” he said. And “it certainly validates social media.”

The online forum is another vehicle to reach out to the public and give them a voice directly to him, experts say.

Daniel Castro, senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said more people are able to join in the political process with online forums such as Monday’s event.

While the event may be a validation, it may not advance social media initiatives too far, said Mark Drapeau, director of innovative social engagement for Microsoft’s U.S. Public Sector and FCW columnist. Many people have been experimenting with new forms of media for a while now.

“The president taking questions via YouTube or other channels may be novel for him, but others in and out of government have been doing this or versions of this for quite some time,” Drapeau said. He said most people won’t be more than mildly impressed by the event.

Furthermore, the event will appeal most to the truly tech-savvy people who have more than experimented with social media. He said the White House event may not grab an overly broad segment of the population.

“Citizens who don’t spend time with new media will most likely not be drawn into such an event at this point,” Drapeau said.

Last year has been a sea change for the government's adoption of new media, Drapeau said. The Obama administration has been spreading out quickly into the realm of Web 2.0. Agencies have used social media Web sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to spread messages about relief efforts in Haiti, as the country recovers from the destructive earthquake. For example, the State Department began sharing information on its official Facebook pages hours after the earthquake struck.

The General Services Administration, a hotbed of such technologies, is leading the Better Buy Project, which takes a collaborative approach to finding innovative ways to streamline government acquisition process. Also, in 2009, GSA signed agreements with a number of Web 2.0 and social media providers so federal agencies can use new-media tools while meeting the government’s legal requirements.

“The real question for the future is not whether such tools will be used, but whether they will be used well to reach organizational goals,” Drapeau said.

These types of events have pitfalls though. Tech-savvy and politically motivated interest groups can use online forums to push their agenda disproportionately louder compared to the size of their membership, Castro said. For example, causes like medical marijuana get more attention than in a more traditional offline forum.

“In a political environment, individuals will always try to game the system to win an advantage,” he said. Technologists are still trying to solve these types of problems so that all voices can be heard.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.


  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Mon, Feb 1, 2010

"... validates social media." How profound. (How does one get a cush job writing stuff like this?)

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 Buddy Ohio

Too bad that his GOVERNMENT employees will not be able to participat since YOUTUBE is blocked, Twitter, Facebook, They all "Websensed" out. at least in the DOT MIL world or supposed to be do to so called "security" threats and lack of bandwidth.

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 RayW

Looks like a disenfranchisement of the poor, the elderly, and a few other groups who do not have access to utube etc. or who have had been burned by infections from that type of site and do not use it. I live in what might be considered a middle class area and about half the people I know use the medias stated, mostly the kids. But the article does point out that this media does give weight to certain small groups over what might be the mainstream interest of the USA. I do know that the only trojan infection I have ever gotten came from one of those sites, so I do not use them. My kids' machine which does allow access to those sites has several warnings up now, and as far as I can tell from the logs, that is the source of infection. A powerful political tool, but easy to abuse if you have the time or the tools.

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 Ken Washington, DC

We are living in an information overload era, and one of the key solutions is to make information appealing, relevant, truthful and necessary. This channel of communication may achieve this end, but this is to be determined.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group