President Obama has been called the “first social-media president.” It’s both a true and a misleading characterization. On the one hand, the Obama White House was indeed the first presidency to make use of services like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. But on the other hand, these services either didn’t exist or weren’t used by a broad public before Barack Obama took office in 2009. The White House brags that Obama was the first to tweet from @POTUS on Twitter, to go live on Facebook, to use a filter on Snapchat. But in truth, any president in office during the last eight years probably would have become the first social-media president.
That doesn’t mean that any president would have been good at it, however. John F. Kennedy is widely considered the first television president, but he wasn’t the first one to appear on TV. Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to appear on television, and Truman was the first, in 1947, to make a televised presidential address. But it was Kennedy who mastered the medium, starting with his famous televised debate with Richard Nixon in 1960, and continuing with the televised news conferences and interviews that characterized his presidency.
Like JFK was good at TV, Obama is good at social media. Before his presidency, Obama was already inseparable from his BlackBerry, and as a self-described “nerd” and “geek,” his interest in science and technology helped spur his administration to pursue and manage public communication and engagement with today’s digital services and tools.
But what if Obama was too good at social media? Maybe America didn’t need a social-media president, but a president whose technological savvy could apply to legislation and governance as much as public communication.