As we've learned from Egypt and Tunisia, the newest weapons of revolution are Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. But when do social media sites morph into instruments of tyranny? Well, according to ABC News, it's when the White House starts using them to frame their message.
In an article entitled "State Run Media 2.0?" Devin Dwyer makes the case that the White House's harnessing of a Twitter feed, Facebook page and interactive website constitutes a potentially "dangerous" dynamic of "less accountability of the administration by the independent, mainstream press." Dwyer marshals concerned professors who fret that the White House is "kicking the press out of historic events" and liken social media tools to communist Russia state media with a "friendly face."
What are these "behind the scenes" events that the mainstream press gets wedged out of by White House communication experts? "Obama's recent signing of the historic New START treaty with Russia and his post-State of the Union cabinet meeting, for example, were both closed to reporters in a break with tradition," Dwyer reports. Photo-ops, mostly, but fair enough. "And during a recent question and answer session with the president and visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the White House imposed an unusual limit of just one question each from the U.S. and Canadian press corps," he writes.
Only one question a piece for Canadian Prime minister Stephen Harper? Say it ain't so.
Humor aside, questions of stiff-arming the press should be taken seriously. But ABC's article appears concerned about the White House social media strategy for ulterior motives. Remember, at one time ABC and its staff were among the few who had access to handout pictures from White House photographers--a virtual monopoly on "framing the debate." Now, everyone with a blog and an opinion can download a photo from the official Flickr stream and spin whatever release arrives from the White House anyway they want.
Interestingly, Dwyer notes that the White House website received 1.1 million unique vistors in January compared to 21.7 million for ABC News. As those numbers indicate, it's not as if Americans are bypassing the mainstream media in order to get their news directly from a generic presidential press release.