Dogged new tricks
Obama’s expertise in media manipulation shows importance of new media in politics
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 22:02
Two days after his State of the Union address, President Obama left the confines of the House chamber to a cozy spot sandwiched in between a fireplace and a camera. The president participated in a Q&A session through Google+ Hangouts. It was hailed as the “Fireside Hangout,” homage to FDR’s fireside chats during the 1930s and 40s, where Obama responded to citizens’ questions about the Feb. 12 address, as well as light-hearted questions.
This isn’t the administration’s first attempt at the FDR rehash. Last January, Obama hosted his first Fireside Hangout, and Vice President Joe Biden hung out with his circle just three weeks ago.
Time after time again, Obama has been referred to as the first “digital president” and the first real communicator of the electronic age. He has embraced those titles every step of the way, participating in Reddit AMA campaigns and Twitter town hall meetings. He can be found on every network from Facebook to Ustream, creating content and releasing exclusive footage – not just campaigning but also using it to govern his people.
It’s actually brilliant.
All of this has one thing in common: it’s all interaction, not information. If the medium actually is the message, then the importance of adapting to social media in politics is vital because of what it is able to do: manipulate an audience that doesn’t know any better.
There has been plenty of research that shows Internet technology can make it less likely to lie to one another, making people more honest. But it’s really difficult to believe that tidbit applies to politicians.
Back during the debates of Election 2012, we talked about the use of social media during the campaigning and how it deters from the actual ideas the candidates had to express. Is it the same case here? Does Obama: The Sequel have anything to new to say this term, or do we have nothing more than a campaign of rhetoric, a shiny, stylized presidency that relies on the short attention span of the people?
Well, let’s look at the actual issues. While last Tuesday’s State of the Union address had all the behind-the-scenes digital bells and whistles this administration has been known for, including livetweeting and interactive features, Mr. President still had to stand in a room full of Congressmen and other politicians to deliver the raw issues. A new and notable focus was centered on education reform that would pull the system closer to Germany’s highly successful system, which brings schools and businesses together to create tailored jobs for skilled and qualified workers.
But besides that, it’s more of the same. With no new plans for job creation or restructuring the economy, the president was left to do nothing more than challenge Congress to come up with something better. No tweets, no GIFs – just an outline of his plan or lack thereof.
That is why he needs new media, and that is how it has made him an important and relatable president. Because of social media and digital tactics, voters feel like he is trying to reach out to them personally and actually get in touch with the younger voting public.
Obama – whether you want to admit it or not – has nothing new to say, but day by day, there are new ways being invented to say it. His administration is masterful at this in particular, using a combination of old and the new to interact with his audience, to get its attention and entertain it.
What you don’t notice due to all the flash is that these are necessary tactics. In his Google+ chat, Obama boasted about the transparency of his administration, but as Politico noted, he has a history of shutting down interviews with many White House reporters, choosing to spend his time speaking directly to voters through easy, breezy Q&A sessions.
Martha Joynt Kumar, a political scientist at Towson University, found that in his first term, President Obama held one-third as many brief press availabilities or announcements as President George W. Bush did in his first term. He dances and skirts around large, complex questions with short, vague answers, then proceeds to release footage and content previously off-limits to the press to his masses. His brand as promoted as he ignores the people asking for questions that are closest to him.
And somehow, few people seem to mind, even when once we realize it’s all just a game. That is impressive.