Home State of the Union 2.0: The Illusion of Democracy?

State of the Union 2.0: The Illusion of Democracy?

Both YouTube and the White House announced today that this year’s State of the Union address will be broadcast on the YouTube channel Citizentube, as well as streamed live and broadcast to your iPhone. In addition to these Internet broadcasts, both announced that the average Joe or Jane Citizen would get a chance to ask the president some questions this time around, by way of a contest on Google Moderator.

Sounds like a great day for Internet democracy, right? We wonder if crowdsourcing is the way to get the hard-hitting, journalistic questions delivered to the president’s doorstep or if it will turn into yet another Internet meme. And even if the right questions get asked, will the format result in just another rehearsed, prepackaged answer?

The whole thing starts on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET, when the State of the Union address broadcast begins, during which YouTube will open up a “Moderator series” for users to submit questions by either video or text, although, as it says, it prefers video. Users will then be given a few additional days to submit questions and vote on which questions they want to see the president answer. YouTube makes sure to note in its blog that all submissions are held to the guidelines under its Terms of Service.

The president will answer the top-voted questions in a live broadcast on a yet-unannounced date. That isn’t to say that the White House press team won’t be closely monitoring those questions over the days leading up to the live broadcast and carefully preparing answers. So while it sounds like a great idea, we would warn against getting too excited that Joe and Jane Citizen are finally going to have their day in the press box.

Internet Voting and the Digg/Reddit/4chan Effect


Google Moderator

, users will be able to vote up and down questions, meaning that some of the most controversial questions may be buried, while the most average and mundane, and therefore most agreeable, may rise to the top. Then again, we can only wonder about the so-called

4chan or Reddit effect

, where a group decides to use its numbers to drastically alter a poll. When social sites like these manage to rally the troops, the effect can be pretty substantial, like when Reddit, Digg and Fark managed to

rickroll Shea Stadium

. There are numerous examples, with some being funnier than others.

The last time the public was given the ability to ask President Obama some questions, NORML stormed the polls and put marijuana legalization at the front and center of the debate. Even then, however, Obama managed to just laugh off the question before moving on.

In the end, we’re glad to see the Internet being used to create dialogue between the president and the public, but it isn’t as if the State of the Union was hard to miss. Every major television network will be carrying the speech. The YouTube blog compares the opportunity for citizens to ask questions to Calvin Coolidge making history with the first publicly broadcast State of the Union. For our money, we’d much rather see the Prop 8 trial in California broadcast live on YouTube, as we were promised before the Supreme Court stepped in and blocked an earlier decision to show the trial.

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