New Yorker Kam Brock was institutionalized in a mental hospital for eight days last year in a series of events that is perhaps a high-water mark in this The-Way-We-Live-Now-ness. At the core of Brock's lawsuit against the city: Whether or not the president follows her on Twitter.
Last September, Brock's BMW was impounded by the NYPD because they thought she was high on marijuana, according to the New York Daily News. When she became emotional at the police station, she says she was sedated and taken to Harlem Hospital for more than a week. They thought she might be delusional, in part because she said that President Obama was one of her Twitter followers.
"I told (the doctor) Obama follows me on Twitter to show her the type of person I am," Brock said, according to the Daily News. "I’m a good person, a positive person. Obama follows positive people!" The hospital's objectives prior to her release? "Patient will verbalize the importance of education for employment and will state that Obama is not following her on Twitter."
The story caught on in part because the Twitter account @BarackObama does follow Brock. The account follows 644,000 people on Twitter, in fact -- not all of whom, it's safe to say, have been personally vetted by the President of the United States. Is @Wickedgrrl a positive person? Quite possibly, name notwithstanding. But it suggests that Obama's filtering might have gaps.
But now the kicker -- a kicker that I admit I am personally a bit obsessed with. Barack Obama actually doesn't follow Brock on Twitter.
You see, @BarackObama isn't Barack Obama. It's Organizing For Action, the non-profit formed out of the remains of Obama's 2012 campaign. OFA leases the Twitter account from the president's campaign (which still exists as a legal entity). The organization uses the account clearly so that people will make the same assumption that Brock did, that it's the voice of Barack Obama. And when a Barack Obama supporter sees a tweet from @BarackObama asking them to give money to OFA, they're a lot more likely to do so than if they see a tweet from @OFA, the organization's official (and much-less-followed) account.
In fact, there's no way in which Obama could follow Brock on Twitter for the simple fact that Obama doesn't use Twitter. In his interview with the Huffington Post, Obama admitted that he's not on Twitter and then critiqued the vibe of the social media tool as "everything's a crisis, everything is terrible, everything is doomsday, everything is -- if it doesn't get solved tomorrow, you know, your presidency is going off the rails."
From a psychological standpoint, the distinction is unimportant. What's important is the hospital's overall analysis of Brock's mental state and that Brock's claim about being followed by @BarackObama was easily checkable but left unchecked. (We somehow doubt that the doctors at Harlem Hospital were drawing a fine line on the ownership of the account.)
From a political standpoint, though, it's fascinating. On a medium that's meant to represent a personal voice, does the genesis of that voice matter? Everyone loves former Michigan representative John Dingell's Twitter account, even though it often/usually isn't Dingell writing the tweets. What's the line between a personal account and an account that represents a campaign under the face of a personality? Or, what's more, a popular name that's leased out to an unaffiliated entity? Twitter gives public figures the ability to roll out perfect robotic versions of themselves, with people often being unable to differentiate between the Potemkin politician and the real thing.
But what do I know: @BarackObama doesn't even follow me on Twitter -- and neither does the president.