In an effort to promote signing up for health care under the Affordable Care Act, BuzzFeed released a lighthearted video called “Things Everybody Does But Doesn’t Talk About, Featuring President Obama” on Feb. 12, three days before the signup deadline. The video compares Obama’s use of free time to a Buzzfeed reporter’s, showing both taking selfies, doodling and examining their reflections — a clear effort to appeal to millennials. Obama has used a similar approach in the past to discuss looming ACA Marketplace deadlines — he appeared on “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis healthcare.gov jumped last year” in March 2014 before the previous sign-up cut off. While this is a refreshing change from previous presidencies, Obama’s informal and youthful approach on select issues may create a generation who falsely feels they are adequately informed by these new media platforms.
Obama deserves praise for his contemporary, inventive approaches to promoting his initiatives. Traffic to healthcare.gov jumped last year after Obama’s video with Galifinakis. But as Obama drums up support using online media and personalities familiar to young people, critical eyes toward policy are lost amid selfie sticks and “The Hangover” jokes. It is easier to star in funny BuzzFeed videos than to clearly address the fact that there is widespread international condemnation of his continued use of drone strikes. These videos are an important advertising tool for Obama, while also allowing him to clarify the ACA with young voters. In contrast, he is far less talkative about policies, like drone strikes, that do not require citizen participation. By using new media to explain how to sign up for health insurance, Obama is validating sites like BuzzFeed as part of the political conversation. He should also use it to clarify other complicated policy issues and increase transparency.
Short interviews and videos do not leave room for nuance, so it is especially important that young voters remain aware of U.S. foreign policy. In a Feb. 13 interview about cybersecurity with Re/code’s Kara Swisher, Obama said, “We just don’t do
industrial espionage the way many other countries do,” which is simply not true. Snowden leaks revealed electronic eavesdropping and email interception of Brazilian oil giant Petrobas, an example of economic espionage that has nothing to do with the NSA’s stated aim of counterterrorism.
Given that 19-25-year-olds have historically made up the largest demographic of the uninsured, Obama’s use of new media to advertise the ACA Marketplace plans is an effective choice, even if he should expand his use of new media to cover other issues. Appealing to millennials is a critical move for any politician, but this generation must be cautious that important issues are not reduced to gifs and soundbites, or entirely lost from
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 17 edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]