Social Government

White House Strives for New Forms of Engagement with State of the Union

When the President addresses Congress tonight on the State of the Union, the American people have one more way they can tune in to listen live. Last week, the White House announced the launch of an application with streaming video for Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch. The application also features updates from the White House blog, the latest photos from the Administration’s Flickr album and archived video of the ongoing series “Inside the White House.” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs even made a short video saying that his daily press briefings will be streamed live and watchable on the free application, which is available for download in the iTunes Music Store.

Most presidential events and White House briefings are now streamed at whitehouse.gov/live — allowing the public to watch Administration events live and in their entirety. The addition of the streaming video application could drastically expand the potential reach of the Administration’s message and connectivity to the average citizen, making it a powerful political tool.

The State of the Union Address tonight will also be watchable on the White House Facebook application, where users will be able to post comments in real time and engage with others on Facebook.

On its surface, advocates of open and transparent government should applaud these moves — which show how a tech-savvy administration is using innovative technology to open the doors of the White House. However, users should understand where the content is coming from. Both the White House Web site and its applications are streaming content that is being produced by the White House, which ultimately is in control over which events are broadcast and by what methods they are accessible. There is no oversight or C-SPAN-like public access filter. That said, one would suspect that any attempts to manipulate media messages would not go unnoticed, given the increasing size and engagement of the audience.

Also this week, the White House and YouTube announced a partnership, Citizen Tube, where the public is invited to submit questions for the President via video and, next week, the President will respond, via YouTube, to answer them. Users will be able to vote on favorite questions using Google Moderator, according to the site. YouTube will also be live-streaming the State of the Union Address tonight.

Finally, WhiteHouse.gov released a series of short video statements from ever member of the Obama cabinet giving an update on the work of their department- the longest video is 90 seconds. The “Cabinet Reporting to You” videos are a first of its kind.

With these new ways of watching and interacting with the White House and the President, the administration is setting a high standard for engagement in its first State of the Union Address.

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