In 2007, Google and YouTube broke into presidential politics by holding a “debate” in conjunction with CNN. At the time, Google had owned YouTube for less than a year.
Flash forward almost five years. On Monday at 5.30 p.m. Eastern, Google+ (which is also less than a year old), is the stage for a presidential response to last week’s State of the Union address. As in 2007, the questions are generated by us. And as in 2007, which questions get answered is not being left in the hands of the crowd.
In case you’ve been somewhere other than online lately, the “news” is that today, Democratic party challengers will answer questions generated by “you” (Time’s person of the year) — rather than seasoned political reporters and pundits — although question selection has been trusted not to the wisdom of crowds but to CNN.
On Monday, January 30, the President will join a special Google+ Hangout from the West Wing. He’ll be answering several of the most popular questions that have been submitted through YouTube, and some of the people who submitted questions will even be invited to join the President in the Hangout and take part in the live conversation.
The “interview” will also be streamed live on the White House YouTube channel. This makes sense: the White House YouTube channel has 192,190 subscribers and 13.9 million channel views; the White House Google+ page has 56,334 followers.
What I was looking for in 2007 was a break from how politicians play to the camera: “Which candidates would answer questions like they were talking with a real person, instead of regurgitating a pre-set soundbite spin?”
I’ll be watching for something similar on Monday: can President Obama talk to the camera as though he is talking to a real person? In other words, can he talk to us, connect with us, or will he forever be locked into his teleprompter?
But I’ll also be watching to see which questions are selected as well as who is allowed to join the hangout and what that means; in other words, will hangout participants simply be a virtual audience or will they be allowed to, you know, participate? (Not holding my breath.)
The question process is 100% reliant on the Google platform. You have to have a YouTube account (ie, a Google account) in order to post a question or vote on a question. According to the channel, 227,966 people have submitted 133,255 questions and cast 1,630,870 votes.
What questions have gotten the most votes? There isn’t a straightforward answer, as the “sort by popularity” link … doesn’t (Safari and Chrome, Mac). Here are the top vote-getters, based on looking at the first 10 pages of “most popular” results. Note: each of these eight have less than 0.05% of the votes cast; people can vote for more than one question, however.
- 6,279 votes: Why are you personally supporting the extradition UK Citizen Richard O’Dwyer for solely linking to copyright infringing works using an Extradition Treaty designed to combat terrorism and to bring terrorists to Judgement in the USA?
jeepersmedia, Connecticut USA
- 6,256 votes : Mr. President, what’s being done to battle SOPA, PIPA, and the apparently recently exposed ACTA? Some of us are beginning to feel as if we’ll be arrested or fined for every little thing involving any sort of media.
nidira, Cleveland, OH
- 5,060 votes : Mr. Obama: Back in ’04 you said the ‘War on Drugs’ has been ‘a utter failure’ and that we need to rethink & decriminalize marijuana. You did a 180 degree turn on this. What are your plans for this ‘war’ in the future since all it does is bleed money?
sectiontwelve, Boston, MA
- 4,580 votes : Why did you sign the National Defense Authorization Act (a law which opened the door for trial-free, indefinite detention of anyone, including US citizens, so long as the government calls them terrorists) when you said you were going to veto it?
- 4,501 votes: As a retired LAPD deputy police chief with 20 years experience, I saw the failure of our country’s drug policies. Polls say more Americans now support legalizing marijuana than support prohibition. What do you say to this growing voter constituency?
copssaylegalizedrugs, Los Angeles, CA
- 4,178 votes : After CEO Chris Dodd openly admitted on FOX News to the corruption of the MPAA attempting to buy laws like SOPA, PIPA, and others; how can middle class Americans know that our votes will be heard over these profiteers?
- 4,139 votes: With over 850,000 Americans arrested in 2010, on marijuana charges alone, and tens of billions of tax dollars being spent locking up marijuana users, isn’t it time to regulate and tax cannabis?
- 3,021 votes : With over 850,000 Americans arrested in 2010, on marijuana charges alone, and tens of billions of tax dollars being spent locking up marijuana users, isn’t it time to regulate and tax marijuana? Alcohol/Tobacco are 5,000x more dangerous. Wake up!
You and I know he’s not going to address the drug war, even though this is probably the most asked-category of question (3,428 questions for marijuana, 2,431 questions for drug). I can’t imagine him addressing number one or four, although he might respond to the SOPA/PIPA question set (2,469 questions for SOPA).
Other question categories of interest: 1,825 questions for NDAA; 1,735 questions for terrorism; 1,637 questions for education; 1,406 questions for Citizen’s United; 1,171 questions for Social Security; 946 questions for health insurance; and 401 questions for Medicare.
Will you be watching?