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High-tech Obama makes 'Twitters' gaffe

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010; 1:42 PM

Barack Obama is the BlackBerry President. He's the first modern, high-tech, always connected American leader.

Or is he?

During a news conference with Russian president Dmitri Medvedev on Thursday, Obama made one of those technology-related gaffes that make those under about 22 years old shake their heads.

Speaking of Medvedev, Obama said: "And during his visit to Silicon Valley this week, he visited the headquarters of Twitters, where he opened his own account. I have one as well, so we may be able to finally throw away those 'red phones' that have been sitting around for so long."

Twitters? No doubt he meant Twitter.

It's almost as bad as the time George W. Bush said: "One of the things I've used on the Google is to pull up maps." He was mocked mercilessly, and "the Google," became a new synonym for "old guy who doesn't use computers very much."

Or there was the time that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was trying to explain the threat of congestion on the Internet from massive video files being sent by movie distribution companies.

"The Internet is not a big truck. It's a series of tubes."

Late-night comedians were given enough material for months from that one, mocking the then 83-year-old Stevens for making everyone think of the somewhat quaint notion of sending information through pneumatic tubes.

Now, to be fair, Obama's remark isn't quite as wince-inducing as that. And he did get a very quick chance to make it right. At another event a few minutes later with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Obama repeated his joke line.

"President Medvedev opened his own Twitter account. I have one as well," he said, losing the extra "s" on the end. "And I said during our press conference today that we may be able to finally get rid of those old 'red phones.' "

In fact, there is a "Barack Obama" Twitter account, with 4,362,557 followers. Not bad for the leader of the free world. (He apparently ranks fifth, behind Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres, Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears. Sen. John McCain has 1,724,537 followers and ranks at No. 67.)

Medvedev is just getting started. His first tweet on June 23 was: "Hello everyone! I'm on Twitter, and this is my first tweet." He has 24,659 followers.

But does the U.S. president really tweet himself? Or is Obama's Twitter account really just another White House public relations gimmick with missives written and posted by a team of communications staffers.

The White House did not respond to questions about the president's tweeting habits, so one is left to deduce them from the tweets themselves.

Obama's latest tweet says: "Called the #USA men's soccer team today to congratulate them on yesterday's extraordinary win and to wish them good luck this Saturday."

One before that said: "I congratulate the House on passage of the DISCLOSE Act--a critical step toward controlling the influence of special interests."

A quick scroll through his most recent posts don't find many that sound as if he typed them out himself. Maybe he's too busy with his other presidential duties.

One recent tweet even said: "Pres. Obama will meet with BP tomorrow to tell them to set aside necessary funds to compensate businesses and people who have been harmed." Doesn't seem like he wrote that one.

But maybe he can learn from Medvedev, who seems to understand the whole idea of Twitter. (Or maybe his press office does.) His third tweet embraced the "post whatever comes to your mind" ethos that the younger generation loves.

"The view from my hotel window," Medvedev tweeted, and he posted the following picture: http://twitpic.com/1zareg.

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