Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

The Social Media President: Barack Obama and the Politics of Digital Engagement

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

The Social Media President: Barack Obama and the Politics of Digital Engagement

Article excerpt

The Social Media President: Barack Obama and the Politics of Digital Engagement. By James E. Katz, Michael Barris, and Anshul Jain. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 215 pp.

The Social Media President takes readers on a technological journey into President Barack Obama's administration. While the book treads briefly into Obama's presidential campaign, the authors primarily use case studies to investigate his administration's use of social media outside of the elections. The authors question whether the administration has successfully used social media tools to give the public influence over policy as well as whether those tools have enhanced participatory democracy. Throughout the book, they utilize interviews with key people involved with the social media campaigns. Ultimately, the book arrives at the conclusion that, while Obama might have used the tools to solicit public input, they have given the public little, if any, influence over policy as a whole.

The authors select key social media case studies for their critique. They generally examine cases that are relevant to the presidency or to White House operations. This criterion means that social media that are relevant to the government as a whole are left out of the book. Several of the president's social media programs and targeted uses are critiqued, such as the Citizen's Briefing Book, the Online Town Hall, the Grand Challenges program, and the Supreme Court vacancies. While it is not a primary focus of the book, the authors provide a brief history of social media use in presidential campaigns and in presidential politics in general. They use this discussion to illustrate that, while Obama is considered the social media president, he is not the first president to utilize social media.

The book contends that the president uses three methods to interact with citizens through social media tools. Those three methods frame the overall analysis. The first technique is collecting public opinions or other data from citizens for the government. The president might collect this information by soliciting public sentiment or by merely analyzing the data left behind by people who visit Web sites. The second method is sharing information with citizens. The purpose here might be to educate the public or it could be to enhance the president's agenda in some way, such as asking citizens to support projects. The third method is gathering public opinions in order to provide citizens an opportunity to influence policy. The primary focus of the authors is this third modality, as they argue that it has the potential to transform the democratic process. …

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