Defense

Number of questions for Obama town hall on Google+ approaching a record

Google+ is still trailing Facebook and Twitter as a social networking site, but when it comes to government-citizen engagement the new online forum may have an edge.

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, four days before a post-State of the Union town hall event planned for Monday on the social networking site, supporters and critics had posted about 100,000 questions for President Obama. That number far outshines the roughly 60,000 questions logged the day before a Twitter town hall in July 2011.

Then again, that participation level may be because Google+ is gathering questions through its sister site YouTube, a far more popular networking site than Twitter.

About 70 percent of U.S. adults online use YouTube or other video sharing sites such as Vimeo, according to a July 2011 report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Nearly 30 percent use one of those sites most days, the study noted, but it didn't break out data specifically on YouTube users.

By contrast, only 13 percent of Americans online use Twitter, according to a separate Pew report. About 90 percent of social network users and 59 percent of all Americans online were using Facebook as of August, according to Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The White House plans to conduct the town hall using Google+'s hangout feature, with some selected participants asking their questions live and other questions submitted via video or text. The town hall will be streamed on YouTube.

Users posted 140,000 questions for Obama in advance of a 2011 YouTube town hall, which also was scheduled in connection with a State of the Union address.

Google+ users vetting proposed questions for the upcoming town hall had cast more than 1.2 million up or down votes by Wednesday afternoon.

Three of the most popular questions addressed the House's Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate's Protect Intellectual Property Act. Those bills are aimed at ramping up online copyright protections and have been strongly opposed by most Internet companies and online activists. Lawmakers shelved both bills Friday after a daylong protest online by Wikipedia, Google and other Internet heavyweights.

Rounding out the top five were questions on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act's approval of indefinite detention for some accused terrorists and the war on drugs, a popular mainstay of the White House's forays into social media.

YouTube officials will select questions for the Google+ town hall among the submissions that were most popular with voters on the site, a spokeswoman told Nextgov. They'll try to have a rough balance of text, video and live questions, she said, and to represent all five major categories -- jobs and economy, foreign policy, education, government reform, and financial reform.

A note on the YouTube site says White House staff won't participate in selecting interview questions and the president won't see the chosen questions before the event.

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// October 30
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