President Barack Obama participated in his first Twitter town hall Wednesday. The hour-long event broadcast live online from the East Room of the White House. It focused on jobs and the economy, and was hosted by Twitter-founder Jack Dorsey.
The White House sees social media as an opportunity for the president to interact with Americans directly, particularly the younger and more tech-savvy part of the electorate, as his re-election campaign ramps up.
Twitter selected the questions for the president from among the thousands of inquires submitted from people across the country. A handful of journalists were also asked by Twitter to join the event as "curators," a role that entailed trying to generate questions on the economy from Twitter users and helping the company to identify trends in the inquiries.
Twitter users had to keep their questions to the social networking site's 140-character limit. But the president had no such restrictions. He answered in his trademark, lengthy form to questions on college costs, immigration, collective bargaining rights, the debt limit, manufacturing jobs, the housing crisis and other topics as Twitter users sent queries in by the tens of thousands.
"He's the leader of the free world. He decides how short his answers will be," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
When an Irving man working in the mortgage services industry got caught up in some Twitter chatter about Obama’s remarks on the housing industry during the town hall, he had no idea Dorsey would use his comments to ask the president about the housing industry. And the funny thing is, @Shnaps wasn’t even watching as the president almost laughed at his Twitter handle, and answered his question.
“It was quite the surprise, actually,” he said during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon arranged through -- what else? --Twitter.
Who is @Shnaps?
“I’m an anonymous tweeter, as it were. That would kind of defeat the purpose,” said @Shnaps.
So, we’ll just refer to him by his Twitter handle, and forever picture him by his Twitter profile picture, which is of South Park creator Matt Stone from the 1997 movie “Orgasmo.”
“You might have a point of view, but if it doesn’t jive with your corporate overlords, it sucks to be you. Twitter has opened that up more. Even though [people like me] tweet anonymously, [we] have a bit of a following," he explained.
@Shnaps’ question was a follow up to, what he called, Obama’s vague answer he read via Twitter regarding how to help people with mortgages that are under water. When Obama said his team was working with banks and lenders to try and help alter problem mortgages, @Shnaps tweeted, “Is free-market an option? RT @whitehouse: Obama on homeowners underwater: Have made some progress, but+ needed, looking at options #askObama.”
“I was just behind my computer and usually have Twitter on my Iphone. I was chatting back and forth once it got on the housing issue,” said @Shnaps.
“Next thing you know, Jack Dorsey promoted my comment, and the president answered it. I didn’t even hear it.”
“So much for a town hall,” he continued.
What he didn’t hear was Obama saying that, while he thought free market was the ultimate answer, government can try to help struggling mortgage owners in the meantime.
“Housing is a big thing to me, and I’m sure it is to a lot of people these days,” according to @Shnaps.
He said, with Twitter, he has found he can really hone in on some cool, up-to-the-minute commentary.
“What goes on in Washington really affects how we conduct business and how everyone has access to mortgage financing opportunities. The government should have been there a long time ago. Now they’re trying to placate everybody and show they can crack down, but it’s way too late.” @Shnaps opined about the housing issue.