How the White House Has Become the Ultimate ‘Social Network’ | HowStuffWorks NOW
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How the White House Has Become the Ultimate ‘Social Network’ | HowStuffWorks NOW

Hi I’m Jason Hoch, Chief Content Officer at
HowStuffWorks. Can you really write a letter, email, or call the President? We’re here at
the White House and we’re going to find out. Communicating with the White House has changed
a lot since Thomas Jefferson moved in in 1801. The White House of today has to keep up with
the expanding technologies that drive communication in the digital age and look to the future
to prepare for the next wave that constituents will reach out to the President and the US
government. So how exactly has the White House transformed into a modern day social network?
Top talent from Silicon Valley has been brought on board to ensure that the administration
stays current and active across multiple platforms. For example, the White House now has it’s
first Chief Digital Officer, Jason Goldman. If you don’t know his name, you do know his
work. He was a driving force behind the development of Medium, Blogger, and Twitter. – You know,
so I worked in startups for fourteen years before coming here, this is my first job in
government. But I think the thing that’s really surprising is that it’s more similar than
it is different. You’ve got really creative people who are trying to tackle really large
problems and those are the type of problems that we get to work on every day here at the
White House. -The current US Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, came to her job from
Google, working on projects like Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Crisis Response, and Google’s
tech diversity initiatives. – I got an email from a colleague asking me to come talk to
them, and it had never occurred to me. Which is interesting, this idea of tours of duty
for the tech and digital people, we need to have that and it hadn’t occurred to me. So
I said, what, go to Washington? And so as I heard more about the problems, the challenges,
the opportunities, and what we could accomplish, it’s of course incredibly intriguing. And
so, now being on the inside of that, this is some of the most meaningful work you can
do. The federal government has such a great impact and the scale, on the lives of the
American people and people in the world, that if we can work together with the extraordinary
collages here, the economists, and policy team mates, communicators, lawyers, others,
and bring the tech skills to that, we can really do amazing things together. – Social
media has made it easier than ever to connect with friends, family and businesses, and the
White House has added social media to it’s repertoire to ensure that people can reach
the President and government in the same ways that they reach out to anyone else. If there’s
a social network, the White House is likely already there. – Franklin Roosevelt, president
Roosevelt, got the fireside chat and the ability to go into radio, straight into your living
room and be speaking with you once a week and so President Obama gets a twitter handle.
– One of the initiatives created to give the average citizen a voice in government in a
responsive, real-time way, is the ‘We the People Petition Platform.’ – One of the most
remarkable things we did was launch the We the People Petitions Platform, which is a
way for people to directly engage with the government and talk about issues that really
matter to them to get their fellow citizens to sign a petition. You know it’s interesting,
the right to petition is enshrined in the constitution, but the means to do it isn’t
specified. And i feel it’s one of the great tools that the internet can provide is the
ability to actually rally people to a cause. – This and other digital initiatives are all
about making the government more accessible. But for all the advances in technology and
the responsiveness of social media, some citizens prefer old-school communication, and those
avenues have to be maintained as well. The White House has had a phone since 1877 but
it’s safe to say that then President Rutherford B. Hayes could never have envisioned just
how ubiquitous phone communication would become in a relatively short amount of time. The
modern day version of the classic switchboard is not what you might imagine. Today’s White
House switchboard is housed in a relatively small office, but the responsibility of the
staffers there is huge. They’re on call 24/7/365 so that connections can be made any hour of
the day or night. And they have to be able to deal with sensitive and private information.
But even good old fashioned letter writing is still a common way that people share their
thoughts with the White House. That means there’s a team on hand to handle the thousands
of letters that are sent to the President every day. Not only are all those notes and
letters read and sorted, but as is the practice of this administration, 10 of them, both good
and bad, are selected and sent directly to President Obama. The President reads those
10 and often responds personally. – The 10 letters a day is something the President asked
for the first day he took office. So much of what we see about the President’s interaction
with the mail, is based on what he writes on them and how he writes back, rather than
hearing him talk about it. Based on the length at which he writes back, he really engages
with folks who disagree with him but in a thoughtful way. He writes on notecards that
are 4×6 cards and they are usually one-sided if it’s a supporter and two-sided if there’s
a little bit of a critique in there. Part of the way that we make folks know that they’re
heard by the government, is we do try to lift up some stories and that’s something that
the office of digital strategy gives us a whole bunch of new ways to do. There’s one
that is among my favorites, but not my favorite, from a guy named Curtis who wrote in 2013
and his husband had had a heart condition, had contracted the flu which lead to pneumonia
and ultimately had a heart attack and he had not been able to get health insurance because
of his preexisting condition. So Curtis was writing to the President to say that he was
grateful to know that other people, although it had been too late for his husband, would
be able to get coverage, even if they had a preexisting condition. What makes it my
favorite is it has this one line in it that says, “This is just one story Mr. President,
but it’s our story.” And this is like what we’re going for. – As you can see, the modern
White House is it’s own sophisticated social network, blending traditional communication
with the latest technology to create a comprehensive suite of connection points, so that people
just like you can have your voice heard in government. As new ways to share ideas develop
and take root, the White House of tomorrow will have to grow right along side the tech
industry to keep up with an ever-evolving socially vocal world. So that was pretty amazing.
We took a look inside the White House, the switchboard, and really where the White House
is going with digital and social communications. Thanks for joining us and as always, join
us every day at

8 thoughts on “How the White House Has Become the Ultimate ‘Social Network’ | HowStuffWorks NOW

  1. Thank you How Stuff Works and Obama Administration I now know that through social networking my voice will finally be heard!!! Ha whatever. Now I will be deleting the How Stuff Works App and unsubscribing this propagating corporate media channel.

  2. Correction: Megan Smith is US Chief Technology Officer, appointed by President Obama in September 2014. The voiceover indicated the correct title, but the on-screen graphics labelled her title as White House Chief Technology Officer.

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