WASHINGTON -- In yet another nod to the influence of social media, President Obama announced Tuesday that he will host a townhall meeting via Facebook on April 20. The nation's budget outlook will be the primary focus of the meeting.
The announcement, made on the Facebook page of the White House, provides another strong indication of how widely used the medium has become in national politics.
“President Obama will connect with Americans across the country to discuss the tough choices we must all make in order to put our economy on a more responsible fiscal path, while still investing in areas like innovation that will help our economy grow and make America more competitive,” the post reads.
The actual event will take place at Facebook’s headquarters, featuring CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. But it will be live-streamed for all users and questions will be submitted right on the page itself.
While this is an official White House event, it may offer some clues to how Obama's 2012 campaign might be organized. The townhall announcement was made just one day after the president announced his reelection bid. His new media team clearly finds the Facebook forum a comfortable one to traverse. But the extent to which they can rely on social media sites over more traditional campaign outreach tools is not an insignificant question.
On Monday, Politico’s Byron Tau wrote an article describing the “brave new Web world,” confronting Obama -- a world in which email and blogs “have been declared passé.” The piece sparked heavy debate among party operatives, many of whom were critical of the notion that email and blogs were relics of antiquity.
“I’m not saying Facebook isn’t important,” said one top Democratic online operative. “It is very important. And it is great the White House is engaging people on Facebook. I think what people were objecting to is the thesis of the article, which is that email and blogs are dead and social media has to be the focus in 2012 because times are so different."
He also noted that older Web tools will remain important for donations: "Most of the money raised is going to come from email. So to say that email is passé is, I think, terribly misguided,” he said.