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Forget the Atari -- White House now on Facebook and Twitter

By Jimmy Orr / May 2, 2009

Forget the Atari -- White House now on Facebook and Twitter The White House on Friday announced newly established presences on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace.

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Remember a few months ago when President Obama's staff grumbled about how terrible the technology was at the White House?

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Recent posts

"It's like going from an X-Box to an Atari," moaned one spokesman when comparing the campaign's capabilities to their new digs.

Well, they've busted through some of that bureaucracy and legitimate security concerns and announced yesterday the christening of White House 2.0.

Social

That means they've established a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. Early on they were able to slay the purveyors of "no" and got their YouTube site operational.

They've made an impressive debut on Twitter. Only tweeting 13 times thus far but amassing 61,000+ followers (slightly more than us). We're assuming that's a record tweet/followers ratio.

Although Sarah Palin has a pretty good ratio going as well. She debuted her Twitter feed this week and has 14,000+ followers with seven tweets thus far.

Press releases

And it's the standard fare so far for the White House. Basically they're linking to press releases, like this:

“My Fellow Americans”: The President attends a naturalization ceremony for active duty service members in the Ea.. http://tinyurl.com/ctz3z7
about 12 hours ago from twitterfeed

Facebook

The new Facebook page is a more expanded version of their Tweets. Just government announcements. But they are allowing people to comment.

We couldn't find any negative comments while doing a quick perusal of the feedback. That doesn't mean there aren't some. We just couldn't find any yet.

But, the Obama White House undoubtedly knows that in order for people to visit their Facebook page or MySpace site, they'll have keep it open to positive and negative comments.

Otherwise, it will be viewed as a talking points machine for supporters and interest in the sites will diminish.

Tools

And this is really the bigger point. These are just tools. It will be revealing to see is how they're used.

Will they really encourage interactivity with citizens or will these be giant spin machines?

Bush

As the director of the White House web site during President George W. Bush's first term, I know there will be tremendous pressure by some to use these tools to simply amplify the president's message. And that's it.

But there's a reason for that. What happens when someone in the administration strays from the official line?

Look at Joe Biden's comments on the flu Thursday.

Stoneage

No, there was no YouTube back then. Or Twitter. Or Facebook. But we had the web site and there was always friction between just presenting the "good news" -- what the president was doing and saying -- and allowing real discourse between visitors to WhiteHouse.gov.

We did both. We allowed, and often displayed, negative and critical comments on the White House website (at least during the first term).

We encouraged guests who appeared on "Ask the White House" (our online interactive chat) to select the more challenging questions rather than supportive softballs. And the media gave us props for that.

More traffic
They'll get more followers and more traffic if they open it up too. Government announcements won't be enough.

Further, the live online forum that the president participated in last month was a good first step, but it was only a step. The event was highly staged.

There would have been a lot more authenticity to it without the equivalent of a studio audience or the carefully hand-picked questions. And the use of a White House moderator -- over the top. There's no need for it.

Connect

If he really wants to connect with the citizens, put a presidential webcam in the Oval Office. Every couple weeks, turn it on and have the president answer real questions from the public.

Easy to do? No.

But President Obama can talk on his feet. The press conference on Wednesday night was ultra-smooth.

Here's hoping that the forces who ran Obama's online campaign are equally as victorious in the White House.

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Hey, we're only about 61,000 visitors short of the White House count. So follow us on Twitter!

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