Not the Winklevoss twins, Google or even Paul Ceglia, just the President of the United States.
“I’m kind of nervous,” Facebook’s 26-year-old co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckeberg said to an audience that included rapper MC Hammer, Calif. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “We have the president of the United States here.”
An introduction to which the President of the United States replied, “My name is Barack Obama and I’m the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie.”
And so began “Obama 3.0,” the president’s effort to win reelection in 2012 via social media.
Obama was at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., on Wednesday for an hour-long town hall meeting streamed live on Facebook and featuring questions from the live audience – 500 Facebook employees and 200 other guests – as well as questions submitted online.
Since Obama first ran for the presidency in 2008, he and his team, now the White House, have made great use of Facebook as part of its messaging strategy, and gave the site a premier role in Obama’s official 2012 re-election campaign launch.
Thus, even before the town hall began, the White House took pains to avoid having the event construed as an endorsement or quid-pro-quid promotion of the social networking site and its 500 million users.
“We get our message out in a variety of ways and the President appears in a variety of private enterprises to have events,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One. “This is not about endorsing a specific company; it’s about accepting an invitation for a forum to speak to the American people. This is an excellent opportunity to do that.”
And Obama made sure to use the Facebook “opportunity” to relate his answers to the Internet-savvy voters who helped get him elected in 2008, including the more than 40,000 alone who virtually RSVP’d to the town hall.
Obama pleaded that they “don’t get frustrated and cynical about our democracy,” and said, “If you don’t give the system a push, it’s just not going to change. And you’re going to be the ones who suffer the consequences.”
“If you put the same energy and imagination that you put into Facebook into the political process, I guarantee you there’s nothing we can’t solve,” Mr. Obama said.
The president also spoke about the need for America to make science cool, produce more scientists and keep skilled foreign workers in the U.S.
“I want people to feel the same way about the next big Internet breakthrough … that they felt about the moon launch,” Obama said.
Other topics broached by Zuckerberg, as the event’s moderator, and audience members included the immigration, jobs, health care and the economy, allowing the president to go on the offensive against the GOP budget plan, which he called “shortsighted.”
While the White House took issue earlier Wednesday with the suggestion that the Obama team had only campaign-centric visions for the town hall as a chance to connect with people using technology and the world’s biggest social network, Carney, the White House press secretary, later noted the site, with some ‘half a billion users’ reached ‘more people than you can possibly imagine.’
And Zuckerberg himself informed the Commander-in-Chief that 19 million network users have electronically “liked” Obama’s White House Facebook site.
And how did the young man who created the site that gave the President 19 million ‘fans’ end the town hall?
By giving Obama a Facebook hoodie, telling the president “in case you want to dress like me.”