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President goes online to answer Web users' questions

Latest update : 2009-03-26

Web users wanting answers from President Barack Obama can ask their questions online. A new forum 'Open for Questions' - conceived to give US citizens a sense of participation - is already inundated.

AFP - The White House is throwing open its virtual doors and inviting the public to submit questions about the economy online to US President Barack Obama.

Obama will take to the Web himself at 11:30am (1530 GMT) Thursday on the White House website, whitehouse.gov, to answer some of the questions voted most popular by users.

The White House unveiled the new forum, "Open for Questions," on Tuesday and invited visitors to submit questions at whitehouse.gov/openforquestions.

Nearly 24 hours after its launch, it had received almost 28,500 questions from more than 26,750 people.

Registered users were able to vote on the questions they preferred and nearly one million votes had been cast as of Wednesday in an experiment the White House is calling a "community-moderated online town hall."

In a video at whitehouse.gov, Obama said "one of my priorities as president is opening the White House to the American people so folks can understand what we're up to and have a chance to participate themselves.

"We're going to try something a little different," he said. "We're going to take advantage of the Internet to bring all of you to the White House to talk about the economy.

"This is an experiment but it's also an exciting opportunity for me to look at a computer and get a snapshot of what Americans across the country care about," Obama continued.

"We may not always agree on everything but this way I can get a sense of your concerns and give you some straight answers."

The "Open for Questions" forum was also promoted on a Twitter feed used regularly by Obama during the presidential campaign but which had been dormant since January 19, the day before his inauguration.

"Questions about the economy? Ask President Obama," read a message posted on the micro-blogging site along with a link to the White house website.

Among the most popular questions was one from "Bart" in Virginia: "Are you still planning on penalizing the big business execs who take US jobs out of the country?"

"James," who described himself as a full-time student from Bloomington, Indiana, working a full-time job, also submitted a popular question.

"What is the government doing to make higher education more affordable for lower and middle class families?" he asked.

"Matt B." of West Bend, Wisconsin, asked: "What are your plans for the failing, "War on Drugs", that's sucking money from tax payers and putting non-violent people in prison longer than the violent criminals?"

Obama ran an Internet-powered election campaign and "Open for Questions" is his latest embrace of technology in his bid to remain connected with the public now that he's in the White House.

Obama has said he is aware of the need to escape the high-security "bubble" in the White House, and he reads 10 letters every night from the 40,000 that are sent to him daily "just to hear from voices outside of my staff."

"The inability to just go, and you know, sit at a corner coffee shop and have a chat with people, or just listen to what folks are saying at the next table -- that, I think, is something that, as president, you've got to constantly fight against," Obama told the CBS show "60 Minutes" on Sunday.

Obama also fought to have an encrypted BlackBerry email device despite security and privacy concerns, as a way of staying in touch with friends and contacts outside the White House.

Date created : 2009-03-26

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