You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Something Old, Something New: Obama Meets in the Middle of MTV and Twitter (Updated)

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, October 14 2010

In little more than three hours from now, President Obama starts that MTV "youth town hall" event, being done in conjunction with BET and CMT. (We've rather stretched the definition of "town hall," haven't we? Isn't the implication that there's some geographic tie between the people populating the hall? You know, like a common town? Anyway...) So, are you itching to ask Obama a question this afternoon? Want to keep it short? Then the White House has something for you:

The President will be taking questions from the live audience and Twitter.  To ask your question, just use the hashtag #ask plus the topic of your question.  For example, if your question is about jobs use #askjobs, if it’s about energy use #askenergy.  You can also comment the event using the hashtag #comment. Be sure to tune in tomorrow at 4 PM EDT to see if your question gets asked.

Speaking of stretching definitions, #comment is a rather generic hashtag, but I guess the short time-frame and the fact that he's the President of the United States helps nail down the matter.

On the broader event, MTV makes a decent case for the fact that these presidential, ehem, town halls have made news in the past, perhaps most memorably with Bill Clinton's frank discussion of his underwear preferences (for the record, boxers) and whether, if given the chance again, he'd inhale ("Sure, if I could...I tried before"). And MTV is doing all right in the ratings game, helped along by such reality program hits as "Jersey Shore" and "Teen Mom." But Obama, as we all well know, lives in a far more fragmented media world than President Clinton did. Is MTV anywhere close to being the arbiter of cool that it once was? Does it have nearly the same role in defining popular culture? Probably not, which gives Obama's MTV visit less bang for his buck than Clinton enjoyed. Still, if he can get some of it picked up on Twitter...

Update: It turns out that MTV is running a leaderboard (tweeterboard? nah) for the questions that are coming in through Twitter for this afternoon's Obama town hall, which kicks off in about an hour and a quarter. MTV is reporting that just fewer than 100,000 tweets have come in for the town hall since Saturday.

The MTV tweet tracker is well designed, no surprise because San Francisco design studio Stamen is behind it. But part of that luxe UI means that only a certain number of hashtags are baked into the design, despite the fact that both MTV and the White House left the possible question topics open-ended. In other words, hashtags like #askLGBT, #askimmigration, #askreligion -- and, in a nod to the reality of these sorts of things, #askdrugs -- have their own icons and gorgeous backgrounds, but other popular tags aren't showing up in the navigation. But it seems as if sub-topics are being folded into their broader hashtags (#askSudan's under #askforeignpolicy, for example), so you just have to dig a bit.

You can also tweet your questions for Obama right from the leaderboard interface, should you be logged into Twitter.