Town Hall meetings are a popular way for politicians to hear questions from citizens and respond to issues they raise. These meetings are a great way for policy makers to hear how voters feel about an issue and address their concerns on the spot. Many of these Town Halls are publicly broadcast, allowing viewers with the same questions to hear the responses, even if they were unable to participate.
On July 6, 2011, President Obama opened his audience to a wider pool - all the users on Twitter - and hosted the very first Twitter Town Hall. This has been touted by the media as a wonderful way to include everyone in the discussion. While the event did make an important stride in the direction of an all-inclusive discussion, is using Twitter really a way to include everyone?
President Obama has been known to use varying forms of technology to reach a generation of voters who live their lives online. From YouTube to Facebook to, now, Twitter, Obama's use of the technology we hold near and dear to us has helped him create an image of being a younger president who cares about reaching out to voters aged 18-30. Just as the Twitter Town Hall started, he sent out the first ever Presidential Tweet and made history, setting the stage for future presidents to utilize technology in new and innovative ways.
This is important in our culture, as many people have access to the very technology President Obama is using and prefer these media over a traditional newspaper as a method to get their news. By using Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, politicians are certainly reaching a broader audience, but to say the use of this technology reaches everyone is a dangerous statement.
Access to Technology
These days, it seems like everyone has a Twitter, Facebook, and Google account, but do they really? You might be able to see all of your friends' YouTube videos, post on your family's Facebook walls, and tweet at your favorite celebrities and their mothers, so it might seem like literally everyone has some sort of attachment to social networking. However, there are still many, many people living under the poverty level with no access to technology at all. Having access to social networking means you have access to many other things: a computer or cell phone with the correct software capabilities, access to the internet, and time to spend on the sites.
You also need to have the basic ability to read, write, and type. Last but not least, you need to understand the lingo for the social network you are using. Obama asked people to tweet with the hash tag AskObama. If you don't know what a hash tag is, you're already at a loss. If you lack basic literacy skills or cannot afford a computer, phone, and/or the internet, you can't participate in the Twitter Town Hall. While public access to computers and the internet are widespread, and most social networking sites are free to use, it is still plausible that a Twitter Town Hall has eliminated the voices of thousands of people in the United States.
Just because many people don't have access to the technology being used for these technological town halls doesn't mean we should stop using them as forums for political persuasion. It is important for all politicians to reach out to citizens using several different techniques. Technology is an important tool to use for any campaign, and with today's generation of technological enthusiasts, social networking cannot be ignored. We just need to be sure that this technology isn't the only tool in our political tool belts and continue to find ways to reach more and more people.