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With Every Tweet and Flickr Photo, White House Shows Us Their Human Side

In case you missed it yesterday, the White House released a new album of Flickr photos of the last year in health reform that has been burning up the internet.  My Twitter feed today has been filled with people ooh-ing and aah-ing over the photos.

White House photographer Pete Souza captures a glimpse of behind-closed-doors moments at the White House from this past week and the past year as the White House worked to pass the health care bill — and they are, well, heartwarming. We see Hillary Clinton hugging President Obama; White House staffers cheering, applauding, and hugging as they watched Congress vote on the bill late Sunday night; Obama fist-bumping a young doctor who grins ear-to-ear; Nancy Pelosi holding her grandson and grinning next to Obama a day before the historic House vote.

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Flickr is not a new tool; people have been using it to share their important moments with friends and family for years. But the Obama White House is the first White House to use Flickr to share their photos and are publicly documenting private moments that, until now, had remained hidden from the American people.

On another note, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also recently got on Twitter and though he started off slow, he has adjusted to the medium pretty quickly. This morning he cracked jokes with the rest of the Twitterverse, telling his followers that this video of a misguided White House staffer who bears a resemblance to Gibbs was most definitely not him. And then, perhaps most notably, after the historic bill-signing ceremony today, Gibbs responded to Vice President Biden’s earlier f-bomb in his excitement over the health care bill with a tweet remarking “Yes, Mr. Vice President, you’re right…”

It’s the little things – the jokes, wisecracks, the candid photos of fist-bumps and hugs and families and friends—that demonstrate a level of authenticity from this White House and show us, above all, their human side.  They connect with everyday citizens on a human, peer-to-peer level. They don’t  want to be put on a pedestal; they want to remind us that people are just people – and they are too.  Of course, the photos posted on their Flickr account are part of a carefully crafted public relations strategy designed to make us love them – but come on, you can’t tell me you didn’t smile even a little when you saw this totally adorable, sincere moment of joy (between two formal rivals, no less!)

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This White House’s use of new media has been hailed as revolutionary many times already by tech policy experts and critics, but it’s almost startling to really see the everyday effects of it. It’s not just that government should get into social media because it’s the cool new thing – it’s because now, citizens get to see candid moments of humanity and humor from our government officials, rather than just the rehearsed speeches, press conferences, and talking points designed for public consumption.  It’s because once we see our elected officials not as corrupt politicians but as human beings whose lives are not so different from our own, we start to feel that our political system might not be so bad and might be worth participating in.

Consider, for a moment, if the Bush White House had had a Flickr feed.  Or if Dana Perino, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice,  even Dick Cheney had been on Twitter while they were still in office.  Imagine if we had seen photos of their moments of excitement and pride, or photos of them with their families.  Yes, it goes without saying that they were a different administration that had different policies and priorities, and this is not a defense of any of the previous administration’s actions. But, it poses an interesting thought: had they been able to show us even a little bit of their human side through  new media, it might have made it a little bit harder for people to demonize Rumsfeld, Rove and company if they constantly reminded everyone that they, too, were just people – humans, who make mistakes like everyone else.

For the first time in history, new media tools allow us to pull back the metaphorical curtain and catch a glimpse of what is going on inside the White House – and it seems like people are liking what they are seeing, which is exactly new media matters. So, Robert Gibbs, tweet away! And Pete Souza, keep those Flickr photos coming! We’re loving every minute of it.

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