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In Latest Foray Online, President Obama Will Take Questions From Twitter [UPDATED]

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, June 30 2011

On July 6, the President of the United States will answer questions about jobs and the economy selected from those submitted via a Twitter hashtag, the White House announced on Twitter.

On a special Twitter-hosted splash page, Twitter promises that President Barack Obama's question-answering session will be streamed live online from 2 p.m. that day. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey will moderate, White House New Media Director Macon Phillips and Twitter's vice president for communications, Sean Garrett, wrote during a public back-and-forth also on Twitter. Garrett writes that the process for surfacing questions will be fairly involved.

Update: Phillips delivered more detail in a conversation with the New York Times. The Times' Jen Preston reports that Twitter will be using a combination of their own search and curation tools and those of the company Mass Relevance, which offers a technology to do rule-based curation and presentation of Twitter posts. (h/t Alex Howard)

This is the latest leg in what seems to be Obama's ongoing tour of the Internet's largest communities. He has appeared on Google's YouTube multiple times to field questions selected from a gaggle submitted via Google Moderator and posed by Citizentube director Steve Grove. In April, he went to Facebook headquarters to answer questions from Facebook users and employees in another event hosted by Mark Zuckerberg, who did more joking around with Obama — such as during a bit where the commander-in-chief joshed Zuckerberg about wearing a jacket to the event — than real moderation.

The White House has been experimenting for some time when it comes to putting officials in front of the camera. As a tie-in with a May presidential speech on the Middle East, the White House hosted a question-and-answer session with Marc Lynch, the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies, NPR's Andy Carvin, and White House foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes. The State Department also recently hosted a Twitter Q-and-A of its own, among other events.

While White House forays into live chat have been met with mixed results, the May event stands out for the speed, substance, and engagement of the conversation it started. That event with Carvin and Rhodes seems to have also stuck in the mind of Phillips, the White House new media director. He referenced it earlier this week in enthusiastic terms while speaking at a Brookings Governance event on social media in politics, when he was asked about how to engage a wider segment of the American public.

"It was really exciting for us to think about how we can blend traditional media and social media to reach people who really care about these issues," Phillips said.

He later added that it wasn't just about integrating new tools — it was about engaging people, understanding their response and having a conversation with them. The question, he said, was how to do that in domestic politics.

The variable that separates the YouTube events, the Middle East Q-and-A, and the Facebook townhall from one another is the one that has yet to be explained: How, exactly, moderation will work. During events with YouTube's Steve Grove, Obama was not asked the most popular questions in each subject — but the question list was there for all to see. (And, when questions about legalizing marijuana flooded into one event — as they often do — Grove asked one, and Obama fielded it with a substantive response.) During the event with Rhodes, the White House foreign policy adviser, moderators Carvin and Lynch had free reign to pick whichever questions came in online — but were asked to pay particular attention to ones coming from the Middle East.

These decisions all had a significant effect on each event's openness and the ease with which people could participate. How they play out at next week's event is likely to have a similar impact.

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