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President Obama drops in on Facebook

Maggie Shiels | 08:50 UK time, Wednesday, 20 April 2011

It could be argued that the tech savvy President Barack Obama is late to the Facebook party. Sure he was the politician who taught the rest of the Western world the power of social media in getting elected to the White House in 2008, but he lags behind the guy he took over from, George W Bush.

President Obama

Later today however Mr Obama will make up for his late start by following in Mr Bush's footsteps and that of pop star Katy Perry, fighter Mike Tyson, talk show host Conan O'Brien, actress Demi Moore and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair when he appears on Facebook's internet TV channel, Facebook Live.

Mr Obama will turn to the world's biggest social network to host a virtual town hall meeting to give his 2012 campaign a boost and also to sell his plans for reducing the deficit to an electorate that incorporates a young demographic that generally speaking relies on its social graph for news and information.

"It is an attempt to reach people who may not get their news through traditional news sources like newspapers or the network news," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said of the decision to use the social network.

"We want to go to where people congregate online, and Facebook is one of the premier places to do that."

The theme of the event is "shared responsibility and shared prosperity" and Mr Obama will repeat his plan unveiled a week ago to reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion starting in fiscal year 2012 by cutting spending - including defence, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security and by raising taxes on the wealthy and restructuring corporate tax law.

House Republicans, meanwhile, passed a 2012 budget last week which would lower taxes and cut more than $6tn in spending - in part by eliminating Medicare entirely and replacing it with vouchers for seniors to use on private insurance.

Hosting the event will be Facebook's co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg who broke bread with the president back in February when he was last in Silicon Valley for a dinner with other tech titans like Apple's Steve Jobs, Google's Eric Schmidt, Oracle's Larry Ellison and Yahoo's Carol Bartz.

Facebook's chief financial officer Sheryl Sandberg will also be firing questions at the president.

While the event marks a milestone for Mr Obama, it also marks one for Facebook and its hastily thrown together internet TV venture.

Facebook Live was created on the hoof about a year ago when the eruption of an Icelandic volcano stranded about 500 European developers who had been planning to attend the company's F8 conference. Engineers lashed together a video channel to let the absent developers see what was going on at the event. The fact that 125,000 people logged on shocked them and inspired them.

Facebook saw the potential of the channel as a two way means of communication, giving users a portal into what goes on at the company by streaming product launches, conducting interviews with engineers and letting users ask questions of the famous and not so famous who appear.

Mr Zuckerberg's sister Randi, who is also head of consumer marketing at the company, has conducted a lot of the interviews for Facebook Live.

"There's so much excitement among Facebook employees that the president has chosen to come here, that the president wanted to use Facebook for his message," Ms Zuckerberg told the San Jose Mercury News.

"It's like a real testament to everything the engineers have built here."

The visit is also a testament to the growing power of Facebook with its nearly 600 million users.

During his State of the Union address in January, President Obama positioned the social networking behemoth centre stage as a successful example of American innovation and cited Facebook in that speech as a company that can help secure the economic future of the nation. Google also got props.

"We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It's how we make a living," Mr Obama said back in January.

Mr Obama's visit will also be referenced in the history books because he will be the first sitting head of state to visit the real life home of the social media powerhouse.

In a video message on the White House site, Mr Obama has opened the invite to one and all urging users to "take a break from either friending or defriending each other" to get involved. This video is posted on YouTube, which is owned by Google, another tech powerhouse and rival of Facebook.

The event kicks off at 13:45 Pacific coast time. Check it out here.

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