It was an interesting concept, and a fascinating look at social media interaction. The White House hosted 140 visitors to hold the first ever Twitter town hall. Jack Dorsey, the creator and co-founder and Executive Chairman of Twitter, asked President Obama from Twitter users around the country. Questions were tweeted to the hash tag #AskObama, and then either retweeted direction by the White House or a collection of curators. Twitter users were also encouraged to re-tweet questions that they supported, and to tweet their reactions to Obama’s answers.
On average Obama used 2,099 characters to answer questions less than 140 characters, but the President also began the town hall with a live tweet that was 96 characters long. The subject of the town hall was about the economy and jobs, but Obama fielded questions about topics as varied as higher education, immigration, and collective bargaining. While the first several questions had been selected from tweets earlier in the day, later questions were selected that were tweeted during the town hall. The event did give the feeling of some live interaction, but there were a few things that could have been improved.
While Dorsey served as the moderator to read the questions from Twitter and move the town hall forward, he did not ask follow up questions or ask Obama to clarify his answers. Perhaps the moderator would have been better suited for a journalist – maybe someone from CNN since they always seem to be reading tweets on the air. Then there was the decision to ask questions tweeted from Speaker of the House John Boehner and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. That seems to defeat the entire purpose of the event. David Meerman Scott, who tweeted the first question, does not have the same access to the President as the Speaker of the House and a New York Times columnist.
Outside of the tweets that were appearing on the screen in the White House, the social messaging system was exploding with tweets asking questions, responding to Obama, and responding to each other. While I had my own question for the President, I spent the town hall sharing my thoughts on the Obama’s answers and interacting with others on Twitter. The conversation in the end may have been the most important part of the event, as we were all able to join in a national dialog about policy. When you have thousands of people participating in the conversation, a limitation of 140 characters does prevent anyone from monopolizng the discussion. What’s the opposite of a filibuster?