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"Streamed and Interactive": White House Adds Facebook Chat to Health Care Forum

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, June 18 2009

The White House new media team engaged in an interesting first-time-ever sort of thing this afternoon.

The White House has been, over the last few months, holding a series of what they're calling "Stakeholder Discussions" around health care reform. This afternoon, the session is with physicians, focused on prevention and wellness, says the White House. The discussions have, in the past, been broadcast live on the White House Live section of their site. But today they've added in another component: a Facebook portion that lets you post updates/observation about the forum. (Details from the White House blog here.) More than that, it shows you a "sampling" of the comments of other folks watching the event, and allows you to respond to their comments in normal Facebook fashion. (There's even a "Friends" tab that supposedly lets you track comments, but it seems buggy; it shows all the updates your friends make, rather than just ones related to the forum.) The result is -- sorry Facebook -- rather Twitter-like, with near real-time discussion, only with a core event to focus attention.

It certainly calls to mind a campaign promise famously made by candidate Barack Obama. When it came to health care reform, as president,

I'm going to have all the negotiations around a big table... We'll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrator. Insurance companies, drug companies -- they’ll get a seat at the table, they just won’t be able to buy every chair. But what we'll do is we'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents and who are making arguments on behalf of drug companies or the insurance companies.

That said, though, there's reporting like this from the New York Times' Kevin Sack that various health care reform packages are being hammered out (behind closed doors, it probably goes without saying) on Capitol Hill. That context makes it seem as if the intention behind these forums, and the openness around them, is to create grassroots momentum and buy-in to push for passage of a plan and its constituent parts -- rather than to "negotiate," in the traditional sense, any aspect of the legislative package itself.

(Apologies for the less than stellar screenshot above. I neglected to grab one while the actual forum was taking place.)