Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Difference Between 'Town Halls' and Town Halls

Twitter's #AskObama question selection process was "like panning for gold in the wrong stream," tweeted Economist political writer Will Wilkinson.

Wilkinson should know. He was one of the "curators" asked to sift through the feed and select questions for President Obama during Wednesday's live event.

According to CNN, the so-called "Twitter Town Hall" was so heavily moderated and filtered that only 0.045% of the 40,000 questions asked were actually posed to the president.

While it's not realistic to expect the president to answer all 40,000 questions, we can hope for a process whereby questions are selected in a more democratic or even random way.

In real town hall meetings, any person who gets to the microphone gets to ask a question of officials. If you've witnessed a local city council meeting, you know that this often makes for odd, populist political theater (with a fair dose of paranoid ranting thrown into the mix).

And yet unfiltered questions often throw officials off script and make for revealing moments that feel much more like the truth. The end result is far more participatory and democratic than any of the recent "Town Halls" run by Facebook and Twitter.

Jack Dorsey, the Twitter co-founder who delivered the questions to Obama, is open to changing up the play on future Twitter Town Halls. After the event he tweeted that the event was a "great first step for future Town Halls," and he asked his nearly 1.7 million followers for advice: "How can we make Twitter @TownHalls better in the future?"

Any ideas?

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