Stumping for Likes: Obama's Facebook Town Hall
Facebook today is hosting President Barack Obama at its Palo Alto office for a Q&A session with employees. Having arrived hours early to be metal-detected by the Secret Service, we’ll be liveblogging the chat here unless we pass out from an uncharacteristic lack of Facebook-provided lunch.
Though Obama is out stumping for his reelection campaign, the folks at Facebook will surely ask questions about tech policy and usage of social media. And what we really want to know: has the president visited the fan page for Mark Zuckerberg’s adorable puppy dog yet?
1:43 pm: In addition to strapping young Facebook staffers (who are the ones you’ll see in the camera shots) the White House invited a bevy of Silicon Valley folks–the CEOs of start-ups like Meebo, Yelp and Justin.tv plus regulars like Ron Conway and MC Hammer–as well as local politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Gavin Newsom.
Under-over on what percent of the articles about this event will mention what Mark Zuckerberg is wearing?
(It’s a suit jacket, tie and sneakers.)
1:55 pm: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg takes the stage, says Facebook has worked with the White House on education, jobs, technology and anti-bullying efforts. Obama has 19 million likes on Facebook, she says.
Sheryl makes a funny: “Even though it’s Facebook, no poking the president.”
Zuckerberg comes in, says lots of people use Facebook to share…pauses. “I’m kind of nervous. We have the President of the United States here.”
Obama enters to much applause. He is also wearing a tie.
Oho! Obama went for it: “My name is Barack Obama and I’m the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie.”
They both take their jackets off. (Thrilling live coverage, huh?)
Obama says he’s here because more and more young people are getting and processing their information through different media and connecting with each other. A good democracy has informed citizens, and Facebook allows us to make sure this isn’t just a one-way conversation.
2:04 pm: Zuckerberg says his first question is about debt. What do you think we can specifically cut in order to make this all happen?
Obama gives a very long answer. He says he has to pay for a lot of things (wars, healthcare, recessions), but his plan is to cut about two trillion dollars as a reduction in spending (“government waste”), another $400 billion reduction in Pentagon spending, and make tax reforms: “people like me and frankly, you, Mark, paying a little more tax.” But healthcare still has to be reformed further to keep down costs, he says, and we need to invest in research in energy and technology alternatives.
Next question is about home buying. Obama says he has a lot of sympathy for people. Then a Facebook employee from Detroit asks about jobs. Obama says his recovery act is working, the economy is growing, and his debt and deficit plan can keep that growth even while cutting spending. The only part of the answer that gets applause is a line about fuel efficiency standards.
Next question, taken from the live stream, is about the Dream Act and immigration. Obama winds through the issue–”What’s undeniable is America is a nation of immigrants”–then gets to the part this audience cares about: techies who can’t get permission to live and work in the U.S.. He calls these people “job generators” like Andy Grove of Intel, and says he wants the laws to be changed.
2:36 pm: Zuckerberg is not doing much moderation or conversing with the president. At most he is reading prompts. It might as well be anyone up there.
I spoke too soon. As part of a question about education, Zuckerberg compliments Obama on his work on Race to the Top.
As part of his eduction answer, Obama says government alone can’t fix education. He says he’s inspired and frustrated by how many smart people are in Silicon Valley, but he always hears stories about how they can’t find engineers and computer programmers, which is a failure of education. Lifting up technology and math and science is hopefully one of the most important legacies I can have as president of the United States, Obama says.
More talk of healthcare. Obama plugs incentives to improve healthcare IT, and incentives for performance to reform health reimbursement policies.
Last question is about Obama’s regrets from his term so far. On healthcare, he says “It was so complicated that at some point people started saying, oh this is typical Washington vapor. I’ve asked myself sometimes if there was a way we could have gotten this done more quickly.” He switches to more positive topics: what he feels he must get done while he is president. That is: balance the budget, reform immigration, fix energy.
Nobody is doing better than these oil companies, Obama says. (Well, maybe Facebook is doing a little better, he kids.)
He urges audience to not get frustrated and remember that the U.S. still has a lot going for it.
Well, it turns out that the town hall had very little to do with Facebook, more like using the company as a proxy for young people.
Zuckerberg offers Obama a Facebook hoody as a token of appreciation.
It might have been simpler for Obama just to ask Facebook to give his campaign some pre-IPO shares.
Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.