Some of the commentary about the impacts of social media, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc can tend to be a breathless and overblown. However, it is true that it is changing the nature and scope for broader public participation in public and political debates. But a lot depends on how much existing power structures and public leaders want to engage with it.
Barack Obama not only used many aspects of the internet and SMS to fund raise and deliver his message. In February, he caused a ripple amongst the mainstream media establishment in the USA during a press conference when he called on a writer from a blog to ask a question. The Huffington Post is certainly a much larger operation than your standard amateur blogger like me, but it is still a blog.
He has continued to engage with social media since taking office, using it not just to reach out to his electorate but also in his messages to the global community.
The important role of Twitter and other internet based communication modes in informing the world about the unrest and brutality in Iran has been widely noted.
Michael Tomaskey, a political writer from The Guardian, writes about President Obama’s latest press conference.
The most remarkable thing (about Obama’s press conference was that the best question – I mean far and away the best question – didn’t come from a journalist.
A journalist conveyed it – Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post. He was called on second. As any political junkie knows, Pitney has been doing a fantastic job over the last several days aggregating hundreds of Tweets from Iran and doing his own original reporting, becoming a real go-to source for people wanting to stay up-to-the-minute on post-election developments.
So Obama called on Pitney and even shot him props for the job he’s been doing. Then Pitney asked not his own question, but a question from an Iranian that he had solicited earlier (through the internet).
The Guardian’s Technology Blog also notes
That wasn’t the only social technology used to spread the message, though: in addition, the White House quickly made a version of Obama’s remarks on Iran – also streamed on Facebook – that had subtitles in Farsi and pushed out the message on Twitter in Farsi too, with a message reading roughly: “President Obama’s remarks in his press conference, with Farsi translation”.
This is not going to turn the media world upside down or deliver world peace overnight. But it is also much more than just an online gimmick or two in an attempt to look hip. It is clearly an effort to engage with more people, in a more direct way – including people from other countries where the information they receive through their official media is far more distorted. That can only be a good thing.
We’re a long way short of this in Australia, where dated and meaningless ‘bloggers versus journalists’ rants still abound, and over-defensive people in the mainstream media still try to portray all bloggers as anti-social oddballs, bile-filled ravers, unethical or unreliable (or all four) – serving little purpose other making one wonder whether they’ve looking in a mirror. And even a well-established and clearly influential online media outlet like Crikey has only been allowed access to the annual Budget lockups in the last couple of years.
While a few people in the government sphere, like Lindsay Tanner, are making genuine efforts to making politics and government more accessible, as a whole there isn’t really the desire to genuinely reach out and engage with people in the way that Obama is clearly trying to do.