Case Study: Obama, Twitter, and the State of the Union

This post was written by a student in the Stanford’s Winter 2011 Networked Rhetoric class; it was designed to focus in on a particular source or research experience related to his/her project on social media and digital culture .  See a more detailed overview of this assignment.

My research topic deals with the effect social networking sites have had on American politics. In the last 10 years the growing popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter has increased to the point that politicians have begun using them in their campaigning and government strategies. In the same way, citizens have begun to use these sites not just for social connection, but also for political discussion. The focus of my research is to show that the introduction of social networking into the political realm has benefited citizens by strengthening the practice of two fundamental ideas of democracy, communication and participation, while also offering politicians a powerful, yet potentially damaging, tool for governing and campaigning.

Today I’d like to look at a specific, contemporary case study that I have found relevant to my research. I will examine President Barack Obama’s use of the social networking Twitter in relation his State of the Union address. This case study illustrates many of the concepts that I refer to in my research. In particular, it demonstrates how social networking has strengthened the American democratic process by increasing communication and participation.

A quick look at the President’s Twitter profile shows that he has been encouraging and aiding citizens in setting up “watch parties” for the State of the Union address using online sources. He then had his staff Tweet the highlights of his speech as he delivered it. Finally, he provided a link to a collection of public reaction to the address. Tomorrow, he will answer question submitted about the address via YouTube. This series of events is a great example of advancing democracy. There is politician to citizen communication through direct interface on Twitter. Participation in the political process will be increased through the planned watch parties. The parties also serve to foster citizen to citizen communication about political issues, as does the link to reactions to the address. Finally, citizen-politician communication is evident when the President answers questions online submitted by his constituents.

In this short sequence of actions, President Obama used a social networking site to advance democracy in a way not possible before the introduction of social networking technology. He streamlined citizen/politician dialogue, a fundamental principle of democracy. He also helped stimulate citizen/citizen communication about political issues and make a good effort at increasing citizen participation, two driving forces of democracy. In this simple case study, President Obama shows us how social networks are creating a more ideal democracy for the American people.

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This entry was posted in CCR exchange: Stanford-Örebro, Networked Rhetoric: Section 1, Stanford Networked Rhetorics class. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Case Study: Obama, Twitter, and the State of the Union

  1. Pingback: Researching Networked Culture | The Cross-Cultural Rhetoric Blog

  2. rachelheredia says:

    Sounds interesting! It’s cool that you get to use such a new development for your research. Way to take advantage of that!

    I think that there’s a lot more there and you have barely begun to scratch the surface with this post. Does his use of Twitter reveal an aim at a different demographic? How is this different from the focus of previous State of the Union Addresses? Did the demographics shift?

    I’d also be curious to see what hard data you can find. How many people participated? Was it viewed a success?

    I’m also interested in who was behind it. While I’m sure Obama supported it and assist with the new use of social media, I doubt that he personally sat down at a computer and set up a Twitter account. How many people does it take to run social media for the President of the United States?

    This post made me want to learn more!

  3. acgadala says:

    Your topic is really interesting and relevant to many of us today. I feel like there are many sources/people that talk about Obama’s twitter campaign, and you can find a lot of different opinions about it (Even Clay Shirky’s talk on “How Social Media Can Make History” talks about the impacts of social networking on politics). I think its exciting to see the broad impact that different social networking sites, especially because we personally use them so frequently. As you continue your research it will be important to find other key politicians that use social media, and this is such a contemporary issue that I’m sure you’ll find many sources. Overall, good job! Your post gets to the point and the Obama case is 100% relevant to your focus.

  4. Danny L. says:

    If you watched the TED talk for today’s class, the things the speaker said regarding the interaction of media apply here. The SOTU this year was very different from previous years in that responses, critiques, and charts actually interacted with the address. As the address finished up, or a clip of the address was shared, internet users can immediately look at the Republican response or see a visual representation of data supporting a claim. Most viewers in previous years generally would not have had all of these intersecting sources to evaluate a first source. It’s not so much an address anymore, but a discussion, and the participants aren’t limited to the big players. I think it’s a huge change.

  5. alexacrandall says:

    This is a really interesting topic. I would have liked to hear more about how people are reacting to his use of social media and networks in his campaigning. Does it engender a feeling of trust or distrust? How does it change how we view our President as a figure or an equal. I would love to know how Obama feels about these modes too. Or perhaps getting some commentary on the people that work for Obama on these sites would shed some light on how these sites are received and operated. This project has a lot of potential for interesting information.

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