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Obama and Zuck on jobs, education, health and fashion

Maggie Shiels | 10:01 UK time, Thursday, 21 April 2011

For over an hour it was just two guys in white shirts and ties shooting the breeze about the economy, education, immigration, jobs, health care and even fashion.

Sure, they weren't any ordinary guys and they weren't alone.

This was President Barack Obama and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, who had abandoned his trademark hoodie to host the first ever visit by a sitting head of state at the bricks and mortar headquarters of the world's biggest social network.

US President Barack Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a town hall event at Facebook headquarters, Silicon Valley

 

Mr Obama came to Facebook for an online town hall meeting to sell his deficit reduction plan and himself for another stint in the White House in 2012.

It seemed nothing was off the agenda as he happily answered questions asked by Mr Zuckerberg, live audience members and Facebook users who had logged in to take part virtually.

"A lot of people all over the world use Facebook to share a lot of things - things about their day, their families, their kids and of course their views on politics," said Mr Zuckerberg.

"It has never been as easy in the history of the world for people to have their voice heard and exercise their freedom of speech. Just post something, comment, like. But it's good to complement that online dialogue with some face time as well."

Mr Obama was in complete agreement, recognising the opportunity as one to reach out to some of the 600 million users who make up a younger demographic of the population and generally rely on their social group to keep them informed.

Throughout, Mr Obama played to the crowd by tackling issues dear to their heart. Silicon Valley has for a long time been pushing for changes in immigration law, at a time when the technology industry is fighting for talented engineers and computer scientists.

The president asked: "If we've got smart people who want to come here and start businesses and are PhDs in math and science and computer science, why don't we want them to stay? Why would we want to send them someplace else?"

US President Barack Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a town hall event at Facebook headquarters, Silicon Valley

 

To huge applause he added: "We want more Andy Grove's here (founder of the world's biggest chip maker Intel and an immigrant from Hungary). We don't want them starting an Intel in China or France. We want them starting them here."

On education, the president scored big time with this audience:

"We have got to lift our game up when it comes to teaching math and science," he said. "That hopefully is one of the most important legacies I can have as president of the United States."

Mr Obama also said he wanted to get people as excited as they once were about going to the Moon:

"I always hear stories about how we can't find engineers, and that's why we're emphasising math and science. We want to start making science cool," said Mr Obama.

"I want people to feel about the next big energy breakthrough and the next big internet breakthrough the same way they felt about the moonwalk."

Reducing the country's reliance on oil was another touchstone.

"It is so important for us to invest in new approaches to energy. We have got to have a long-term plan. It means investing in things like solar and wind."

And let's not forget the deficit which was the president's raison d'etre for coming to Facebook.

"We have an unsustainable situation," he said. "We face a critical time where we are going make some decisions - how do we bring down the debt in the short term, and how do we bring down the debt in the long term?"

Mr Obama repeated his call for the end of tax cuts for the wealthy and noted that millionaires like himself and Mr Zuckerberg will have to pay more. "I'm cool with that," the 26-year-old Zuckerberg interjected. Though according to Facebook's latest valuation, Mr Zuckerberg is no longer a millionaire. His company is now worth $60bn.

Mr Obama's final pitch came to the young people who came out in force to help elect him to the White House in 2008. While he recognised that many who played such a pivotal role back then might well feel frustrated at the pace of change and the lack of progress, the President appealed to them to get involved once again for 2012 - whether it be for him or the other guy:

"I know that some of you who might have been involved in the campaign or been energised back in 2008, you're frustrated that, gosh, it didn't get done fast enough and it seems like everybody's bickering all the time," said Mr Obama.

"Just remember that we've been through tougher times before. If you don't give us a shove, if you don't give the system a push, it's just not going to change. And you're going to be the ones who end up suffering the consequences," he added.

US President Barack Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a town hall event at Facebook headquarters, Silicon Valley

 

The town hall, which pulled in over 2,800 online comments, was seen as a landmark event for Facebook and it's internet TV channel.

"I could never have dreamed when I first started working here that six years later Facebook would be the platform that the president of the country would choose to speak to everyone in America," said Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook's head of consumer marketing.

"It's a pinnacle for us in the United States but I think there is still so much that can be covered by Facebook Live around the world. Facebook is a really global platform and President Obama's view is the view of one political party and we want to make sure we hit a representative sample because Facebook users come from all over the world, all political beliefs."

The audience was made up of about 500 Facebook employees who won a ticket in a company lottery. Other guests included well-known Silicon Valley figures like Ron Conway, dubbed the godfather of angel investing, Yelp chief executive Jeremy Stoppelman, Dan Rosenswieg of Chegg, and Meebo's Seth Steinberg. MC Hammer, musician and entrepreneur added a little bit of glamour to the occasion.

Before the event kicked off, there was a lot of buzz about what Mr Zuckerberg would be wearing. Famed for his dressed down look, he did don a jacket, shirt and tie when he joined other tech titans in February to dine with Mr Obama.

This time around, he dusted off the same outfit - something the President made fun about:

"My name is Barack Obama and I am the guy who got Mark Zuckerberg to wear a jacket and tie," he quipped.

In reply, Mr Zuckerberg presented the president with his very own Facebook hoodie: "in case you want to dress like me".

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