#YouTubeAsksObama Q&A Touches on Tech in Government

President Obama took to video sharing platform YouTube in a three-part, live-streamed interview Friday afternoon that peaked at around 40,000 real-time viewers.

President Obama took to video sharing platform YouTube in a three-part, live-streamed interview with popular platform personalities in Washington, D.C., Friday afternoon. 

The session, hashtagged “YouTubeAsksObama,” was the most recent iteration of the president’s online community outreach efforts and centered on topics ranging from the technology and civil rights to his choice of Star Wars characters and preferred choice of dog pants.

Obama is well regarded as the “tech president,” having pushed for national tech-centric policy and partnerships within the larger industry, and his administration has worked to integrate modern communication tools into the fabric of the White House’s information sharing program. 

The roughly hour-long program reached a peak of around 40,000 real-time viewers, according to the platform’s view counter, and Twitter users posted hundreds of tweet — some questions, some reaction — throughout the course of the broadcast. 


#YouTubeAsksObama How will joe Biden spearhead the fight against cancer, and what tools will we use to find a cure? — Alex Bradley-Popovic (@AlexBradleyPopo) January 15, 2016


Seriously, how cool is it that there's something like #YouTubeAsksObama �� — Raya (@itsrayaaa) January 15, 2016
Though many questions were submitted by viewers via the social media site, the set of three interviews seemed to stay only to questions gathered in advance by the so-called YouTube “creator” hosts, which included Adande Thorne (aka sWooZie), Destin Sandlin of the channel Smarter Every Day and Ingrid Nilsen, a popular lifestyle vlogger.

Each of the YouTube stars have subscribers in the neighborhood of 3 million people, and their respective video views have gathered several hundred million.

Thorne spoke with Obama first and tackled the issues of racial profiling and police accountability, minimum wage, the state of politics, gun control and terrorism before turning to more pop culture-centric questions.

Obama responded to the larger question of terrorism in the U.S. by saying that, while the threat is most severe in other countries like Iraq and Syria, the use of social media and online tools has allowed for recruiting on the part of radical groups like the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, IS). He said authorities needed to be “savvy and nimble” to counter the threat moving forward.

“Our top priority has to be to make sure we protect the homeland. You’ve seen in San Bernardino and other situations, because they have such an online presence, they have the capacity potentially to inspire people who already are troubled … That poses a danger,” he said. “I’ve been pushing the government generally to say we have to get up to speed. The old ways of communicating are not the ways that young people are receiving information.”

“We have to be as savvy and as nimble as an organization like ISIL is,” he added.

The 44th president spoke with Sandlin about the country’s plan for the Space Program and the need for more funding and partnerships before exploration of deep space was possible. Sandlin and Obama also touched on the need for a more efficient smart grid and a more up-to-date air traffic control system. 

“I’ll give you an example of where we should be investing, and that is a smart grid,” Obama said. “The way we link up energy is hugely inefficient in this country. We’ve made huge investments to create a broadband network; my goal is 98 percent of households linked up to high-speed Internet, but the basic electricity grid that we have wastes huge amounts of energy, and we could do that in a fairly short amount of time.”

He tied in the nation’s aging air traffic systems saying airplane fuel waste was another example of the inefficiencies posed by out of date technology.

During his conversation with Nilsen, Obama again addressed terrorism, health care, national LGTBQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) rights and the state of cancer research. 

“The key for us now is to put a lot more money into research, a lot more money into science,” he said. “If we do, I think we’re going to see some really big breakthroughs soon and obviously that would have a revolutionary impact on the lives of people every day.”

Since Obama first took office in 2008, his administration has embraced technology and social media as means of making the White House more accessible and transparent. White House press briefings have also been conducted in a similar “live stream” format without the external comment/question component.

A #YouTubeAsksObama interview was also conducted in January 2015

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.