I don’t Tweet. And I don’t plan to open a Twitter account anytime soon. The phrase “when hell freezes over” comes to mind.
Nevertheless, when President Barack Obama hosted a Twitter Town Hall this past week, I’ll admit I was a little curious. The phrase “curiosity killed the cat” comes to mind.
Apart from the “he said, she said” press coverage of budget negotiations in Washington and the media firestorm over Casey Anthony’s acquittal, Obama’s Twitter Town Hall topped the news agenda for a couple of days. The phrase “starved for entertainment” comes to mind.
Press coverage of the event invariably evoked the history of presidential communication, from FDR’s fireside chats on radio to JFK’s televised press conferences. The phrase “the medium is the message” comes to mind.
Twitter co-founder and Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey moderated the town hall meeting in the East Room of the White House. The phrase “branding opportunity” comes to mind.
Tweets posted to #AskObama were limited to 140 characters, but Obama didn’t Tweet in response. The phrase “not playing by the rules” comes to mind.
In addition to taking Tweets from the likes of you and not me, Obama answered Tweets from so-called elite Twitterers, including New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and House Speaker John Boehner. The phrase “outside of a small circle of friends” comes to mind.
Questions for the president were vetted by Mass Relevance, a Twitter filtering service, and eight curators who screened tens of thousands of Tweets. The phrase “the fox guarding the hen house” comes to mind.
The event garnered new followers to the White House Twitter account, making it that much easier, and cheaper, to drum up support for Obama’s re-election campaign. The phrase “said the spider to the fly” comes to mind.
Macon Phillips, White House director of digital strategy, told reporters that the Twitter Town Hall was an attempt to have a “productive conversation with the public.” The phrase “who’s kidding whom” comes to mind.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010) and the forthcoming Media Interventions (Peter Lang). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia.