This year, Obama is taking the post-SOTU media circus to YouTube, where dubious celebrities like GloZell (of cinnamon fame) and Hank Green (John’s brother) will pepper him with questions about the state of the country these days. It’s yet another gain for those curious people known as “YouTube stars.” It’s also just the latest stop in the president’s tireless campaign to appear as young and hot and Internet-savvy as he was in the “Obama Girl” video, pre-2008.
He’s done Reddit AMAs; he’s appeared on Web comedies; he’s smiled for a slew of behind-the-scenes photos and GIFs, all tastefully filtered and posted to Instagram. The Obama White House is on literally every mainstream social network except Myspace; there are people employed at said White House who are paid to turn Obama’s policies into “shareable” memes. (Memo to White House meme people: Fewer infographics, more advice animals, plz.)
It’s not particularly difficult to see why Obama tries so hard to maintain this cool-dad persona; it did, after all, win him two elections. But it’s safe to say Obama’s antics have gotten, well, a bit more aggressive since his first campaign. Below, we’ve compiled a brief history of his zaniest Internet efforts to date.
Nov. 4, 2008: After months of “pulling out all the Web 2.0 stops” — lol, “Web 2.0 stops” — Barack Obama wins the U.S. presidency. He comes to Washington with accounts not only on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, but the dearly departed Myspace, Digg and something called AsianAve.
Jan. 20, 2009: Obama (or, more likely, Obama’s team of well-paid coders) completely revamp the stodgy Whitehouse.gov, now complete with scrolling social media feeds and a White House ~blog.~ “Millions of Americans have powered President Obama’s journey to the White House … taking advantage of the internet to play a role in shaping our country’s future,” wrote Macon Phillips, the White House’s director of new media, in its inaugural post. “WhiteHouse.gov is just the beginning of the new administration’s efforts to expand and deepen this online engagement.”
May 1, 2011: Not content with his personal accounts, apparently, Obama also drags the White House into the 21st century; by early May, it has official accounts on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter, in addition to earlier accounts on Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube and iTunes. Some critics are displeased, perhaps because they sense a certain lack of gravitas will follow.
June 20, 2011: Obama sends his first tweet. The subject is appropriately nonpartisan.
July 6 2011: Equipped with his newfangled tweeting skills, Obama hosts his first “Twitter town hall” — the first to let people submit questions via Twitter. As Time’s Nick Carbone points out at the time, this isn’t exactly breaking news; still, the White House manages to persuade Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey to help run it.
Oct. 24, 2011: Obama’s reelection campaign launches an official Tumblr, which will eventually become famous (or infamous?) for its lighthearted GIF-ing, its sly Internet in-jokes, and its charming photos of the first couple, usually captioned something like “these two.”
Jan. 24, 2012: The White House streams its first “enhanced” State of the Union on YouTube, which includes fun sidebar figures like the number of U.S. soldiers who served in Iraq and the percentage of U.S. scientists who are immigrants. They also field questions on “Google’s social media network,” a thing already lost to time and memory. Alas, the White House has not yet learned to turn the comments off on its videos, and they quickly fill with racist diatribes and Illuminati theories.
November 17, 2012: In a photograph destined for Internet greatness, Obama poses with U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney — both of them making Maroney’s signature “not impressed” face. The White House puts it on Facebook. “Cool president,” one follower posts.
Feb. 21, 2013: Kid President (YouTube’s smallest, most adorable star) films a three-minute video with Real President (a.k.a., Obama). If there were any justice in the world, Obama would let this kid interview him after the State of the Union, too.
Aug. 13, 2013: The White House account makes a “Mean Girls” joke on Twitter. Had they waited just six weeks, of course, they could have made a Mean Girls Joke on Mean Girls Day.
Dec. 27, 2013: The official White House Web site publishes what we assume are the White House’s official favorite list of GIFs. Among them: a series of Michelle Obama #TBTs and the latest presidential pup, Sunny.
March 11, 2014: Obama appears on Zach Galifianakis’s Web comedy “Between Two Ferns” to make jokes and encourage Youngs to sign up for health insurance. The six-minute segment was nominated for an Emmy, perhaps because of zingers like this one: Asked if he’d run for a third term, Obama said, “it’d be sorta like doing a third ‘Hangover’ movie. That didn’t really work out very well, did it?”
March 17, 2014: In a veritable Frankenstein of an Internet PSA, the White House combines GIFs, March Madness and the ever-popular listicle into a last-minute push for more Affordable Care Act sign-ups. The page, which lives on Whitehouse.gov, lists reasons people should get covered (#getcovered) next to illustrative GIFs; the GIF for “accidents happen” is a clip of a woman twerking.
May 1, 2014: Apropos of pretty much nothing, Obama’s Facebook account posts a picture of the president with pop star Justin Timberlake. Caption; “It’s gonna be May.”
June 10, 2014: Now a two-year veteran of Tumblr, Obama hosts the company’s founder, David Karp, for a Q&A on student debt (… among other things). Unfazed by the infamous 2008 New Yorker cover, Obama even indulges in a fistbump with the young CEO.
July 8, 2014: Obama shakes hands with a man in a horse mask, and the images predictably go viral. Why was a masked man allowed to touch the president of the free world? Frankly, no one knows.
Jan. 8, 2015: Despite the pestering of many an on-deadline reporter, Obama chooses to release news of his free community college plan directly to Facebook. It promptly became the White House’s most-viewed video.
Jan. 13, 2015: Obama previews his plans to expand broadband access to the viral feels factory Upworthy. Upworthy is, as per its custom, very exclamatory (!) about the whole thing.
Jan. 20, 2015: Obama again eschews the mainstream media to chat with a woman wearing green lipstick and a 19-year-old whose main claim to fame is shopping a lot and filming said purchases for the Internet.
In other words, this should be pretty … not bad! *Rage face.*