UPDATED. President Barack Obama reached out across the Internet to engage directly with Americans and small business owners in a live virtual interview staged by The White House Monday. The virtual session, held at 5:30 EST, was hosted by Google and produced using YouTube in what was billed as a post State of the Union Google+ Hangout.
The president answered a series of questions from a group of preselected individuals who in many cases confronted the president with the frustrations and concerns of a highly-educated, highly-motivated populace struggling to find meaningful work. Google’s Steve Grove moderated the session.
A Fort Worth, Texas, woman, Jennifer Wedel, whose husband, an engineer, had been unable to find suitable work, pressed the president about what he was doing to help skilled workers find jobs. Obama said the nation needs engineers and volunteered to review her husband’s resume. He acknowledged the challenge her family and others face, trying to offer perspective by noting that prior generations of Americans also endured and ultimately overcame difficult times.
The president also fielded questions about why the nation continues to support regimes in Pakistan and elsewhere with aid, when there are so many in need at home. The president responded that less than 1% of federal funds go to support initiatives aimed at helping struggling nations and toward ensuring global security.
Asked about the rationale for using unmanned aerial vehicles in deadly air strikes, the president reiterated his belief that strategic strikes “are less intrusive” than other types of assaults. “We’re on the offense right now, but we have to make use of all our capacities” in dealing with Al Qaeda, he said.
In another exchange, high school students from Freemont, Calif., asked the president if his goal is to increase the quality of education in America, what is his administration doing to make college more affordable?
Obama cited his administration’s efforts to re-channel college funding directly to students, and efforts to encourage colleges and universities to examine whether there are “additional ways to hold down costs,” he said. He added his administration is also looking at ways to give colleges and universities incentives to lower the cost of higher education.
At the same time, he warned, “If Congress doesn’t act, then the interest rates of student loans are going to go up this summer.”
The president’s responses offered little solace to the woman from Ft. Worth, who commented: “A lot of high school kids and college kids have seen their parents laid off, and they worry about being able to go college,” and whether it’s worth it, she said.
Obama acknowledged that “when times are tough, people are more concerned about taking on debt…but that investment (in a college education) is still one of the best investments (most people) can make,” he said.
The interactive session between the president and the participants ran smoothly, but ultimately had the carefully-managed polish and precision of past White House online events where the questioning was highly staged and the president was well prepared with direct and patently upbeat responses. That included a closing segment when participates got to ask what life was like living in the White House. (The president conceded, it wasn’t easy getting out on a date with the First Lady.)
The White House reported that the virtual event had generated more than 133,200 questions from 228,005 people as of midday today and collected 1.6 million votes on a wide range of topics and questions, demonstrating once again how the Obama administration continues to use social media to great effect.
The session was the latest in series of high-profile, virtual town halls the White House has conducted over the past year, making use of various social media platforms including Facebook, April 20; Twitter, July 12; and LinkedIn, Sept. 26. The White House has also been relying heavily on YouTube to get its message out to the public, including a recent series of YouTube programs it has produced to accompany the president’s state of the union message last week.
In this latest outreach, the White House teamed with Google+, which is Google’s answer for letting people share their lives, links and photos with selected circles of friends. The questions for the virtual interview were gathered using Google’s Moderator application, which facilitates the ability to gather and vote on comments for collaboration purposes.
The owner of a question series will be able to see the information entered by a participant (such as display name and location), but will not be able to see the email address that the participant used to access the participant’s Google account. If the participant elects to supply a display name and location, that information will be visible to anyone viewing the question series.
Concerning content, Google Moderator stores and processes the content of owners and participants in order to provide the service. A participant may delete questions and responses submitted by the participant at any time.
Google says it uses this information “internally to deliver the best possible service to you, such as improving the Google Moderator user interface and maintaining a consistent and reliable user experience.” The company also says it adheres to the US Safe Harbor privacy principles and offers users a link to get more information about its Safe Harbor framework at a Department of Commerce website.