To Use Social Media, White House Needs to Be Sociable

Computer users beware, the White House press office has discovered Twitter – only four years after it was created.

That’s high tech government for you. In just a few short days, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has joined the Twitter world and the Obama administration announced a job stimulus plan of one – hiring a Social Networks Manager. Of course, it’s not exactly a White House job, it belongs to the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America, but that’s just a formality. This job is essentially Obama’s online teleprompter.

Exciting times.

Back in 2008, the new president was riding high. The “Obama technology gurus,” as The Washington Post called them, had transformed an election using social media. Slightly more than one year later, the administration is behind the tech 8-ball because those same tools are being used against them.

Now, it’s up to Gibbs to play catch-up to the GOP in the trendiest of online technology Twitter. “Learning about ‘the twitter’ - easing into this with first tweet - any tips?” he wrote in his first Tweet.

Actual users of Twitter might mock him calling it “the twitter,” but what’s more important is Twitter puts ordinary users on the same level as reporters like ABC’s Jake Tapper or CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Ordinary people will be able to put Gibbs, now @PressSec, on the spot online simply by messaging him where all can see.

It’s a much-needed check and balance. Gibbs has already assumed the title “Mocker-in-Chief” in the press room. While President Obama calls for “bipartisanship” and even shows up in the press room to call for it, his snarky spokesman makes fun of former GOP V.P. candidate Sarah Palin by writing his grocery list on his hand.

It’s a pathetically mixed message that real reporters can only confront him about so often. On Twitter, he will discover that isn’t the case. He can expect his every move to be criticized by thousands of Tweets. Every time he mis-ties his tie (OK, that’s every day) or every phony press room answer will generate a digital assault. Given the Obama administration’s natural intolerance of criticism, interactive media will be a challenge.

Watching how he and the new Dem social swami navigate that reality will be fun.

And it’s not like the White House has a shabby social media presence. According to Fox News, Obama has “7.5 million-plus Facebook fans, 3.3 million Twitter followers and nearly 2 million MySpace friends.” Gibbs went from nothing to about 24,000 followers on Twitter in a few days.
But the left’s online presence is often adversarial or even malevolent. Let’s see the White House hire someone like that and every misstep will be captured forever digitally. And, given the Gibbs attitude, a Daily Kos type or worse might be the kind of person who gets the job.

But that part will take time. The Dems vow to be so inclusive in their search, it might take years. The ad posting vowed not to discriminate on any of the following: “sex, race, age, color, creed, national origin, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnic identity, physical disability or any other legally protected basis.” Gender “expression?”

It looks like the new Dem mouthpiece is going to have quite a lot to talk about.

Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum. He can also be contacted on FaceBook and Twitter as dangainor.

Fox Forum is ALSO now on Twitter. Follow us @fxnopinion.