Thursday, May 07, 2009

White House 2.0

In an era when politician's promises tend to be rhetorical and empty with little sign of being actioned, it is good to see immediate action. President Obama stated in his recent Weekly Address, that government must "recognize that we cannot meet the challenges of today with old habits and stale thinking... we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative." His pledge was to "reach beyond the halls of government" and engage the public. The result has been to 'be where the people are'; Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Vimeo, Twitter, YouTube and iTunes. The White House blog post "Technology has profoundly impacted how – and where – we all consume information and communicate with one another. WhiteHouse.gov is an important part of the Administration’s effort to use the Internet to reach the public quickly and effectively". But it is not simply a strategy of reaching out and getting the public to engage with information, as a Politico's review suggests questions posed via social networks are also answered via the White House blog so putting people directly in touch with their government. Is this the future of government? Could any other politician either institute such a strategy, or perhaps gain the level of engagement Obama enjoys; that is the big question? Also, whether it will last is a question though that depends on Obama and the way he encourages the use of these tools and the extent to which there remains an audience.

2 comments:

William Western said...

Hi Darren,

I see Obama's online town hall as a good step forward in trying to engage people with politics - 92, 000 visitors to the site in its first day seems promising! However an article i read in The New Statesman (May 4th) throws up some important points regarding this move.

1) The majority of questions sent through on the first day were obsessed with the decriminalisation of dope - 'the top 4 questions relating to both the economy and the budget were all about marijuana... the issue of dope also dominated in the section about "green jobs and energy" too. They invited the president to "decriminalise the recreational/medical use of marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of jobs and a multibillion industry in the US"'. However, after Obama had addressed some of the questions lower down the list that were sent through, he got round to addressing the marijuana topic and he is reported to of had laughed it off, simply commenting "I don't know what this says about the online audience", which is worrying, as this topic received the highest level of provoke from US citizens. The internet has provided a great portal for two way symmetric communication, but what does this feedback say about democracy?

2)Later the article goes on to mention that 'a small Washington based lobby group, the National organisation for the Reform of marijuana Laws, had urged its members to vote for questions supporting the legislation of cannabis' - this would encompass the idea of what you refer to as the 'bandwagon effect' in your lectures - in this case voters had to simply 'buzz up the questions of the dope-smokers who had arrived just before them'... could it all just turn into an online popularity contest and therefore hinder democracy?

Darren G Lilleker said...

It is the key problem for any organisation when developing an online (especially Web 2.0)strategy, who is going to communicate back. The problem is that if a site has a large amount of visitors but only a few who actually participate you can effectively dominate discussion if you can organise a flash mob to post the same message. A similar thing happened with the No. 10 petitions; both Jeremy Clarkson for PM and Gordon Brown to retire were heavily circulated and this got them more sign-ups than more serious/unrealistic petitions. It is the problem that the active publics always mobilise the aware niche rather than the latent masses.