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Tweets of @PressSec Robert Gibbs prompt Twitter questions from WH press

By Garance Franke-Ruta
Briefly: The first #WHBrief following @PressSec's Sat Twitter launch + acquisition of 21,000 tweeps was full of questions about the service.

Some of them longer than the above 140 characters.

In response, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday pronounced himself fascinated by the microblogging social network that allows him to eavesdrop in real time on the press corps and the public's reactions to President Obama's remarks. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton -- @billburton44 -- has already begun using Twitter to fact-check inaccurate reports online and off.

"It seemed, as I've said to some of you, an avenue that our voice would be important in," Gibbs said, explaining why he joined the service as part of a White House revamp of its communications strategy.

"It's been fascinating to watch just over the few days that -- that I've -- since I've joined it," he said. "I have enjoyed watching you all comment on women's figure skating and ski-jumping," he added to laughter.

(The White House press corps is notorious for its maniacal Sunday football tweeting, and on Sunday and Monday took to providing running commentary on the Winter Olympics.)

Gibbs was following only 149 people by Tuesday afternoon but had well over 22,000 followers, or tweeps.

He writes all his tweets himself, he said -- eight so far, since opening his account over the weekend.

"There's a tremendous amount of information that we all get and have to read and go through each day. It -- this is certainly one way to get -- you know, on a rolling basis, to see that -- a lot of that information in front of you," Gibbs said. "It's an -- it's an -- it's an interesting thing to watch."

Keeping his tweets to the 140-character limit has proved a challenge so far, Gibbs said: "I do not know yet if I have tried to type one of those out where the number right next to the box didn't say 'negative something,' and then I'm trying to figure out how to shorten. There's a whole language, obviously, that I -- I -- in typing with numbers and symbols that has evaded me. I'm sure my son could teach me that far more of a -- far better than I could pick it up."

It's not an unusual problem for Twitter newbies. Indeed, so many have found the character limit excessively strict that a third-party interface called twitlonger -- "for when you talk too much for Twitter" -- has sprung up, allowing for extended messages.

Gibbs said cybersecurity concerns about social networking programs -- which led the White House to block sites like Facebook and Twitter early on in the administration -- had been sufficiently resolved that the computer whizzes now allowed him to access the program. "In order for me to get on -- on a site like Twitter, the computer guys had to go do whatever the computer guys do," he said.

One concern has not yet been fully resolved: whether the Presidential Records Act governing correspondence with the White House applies to Twitter. The biography on Gibbs's Twitter page contains the disclosure that "comments & messages received through official WH pages are subject to the PRA and may be archived. Learn more" A similar disclosure is posted on the site of @billburton44, @macon44 and @whitehouse, the first and most formal of the White House accounts.

However, because of the popularity of third-party Twitter interface systems -- such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, UberTwitter and so on -- it is possible for followers to sign up for White House Twitter feeds without ever seeing the disclosures.

Twitter is not mentioned explicitly mentioned on the White House electronic privacy policy page, though it does say clearly that "The Presidential Records Act of 1978 requires the White House to preserve records created or received by the President or his staff. Pursuant to this statute, emails or messages sent to a White House email account, information submitted via, and comments posted or messages received via an official White House page on a third-party web-site (such as an official White House profile on a social network) will be treated as presidential records and may be permanently archived."

The records act "requires that if -- if I go on a site like this and send out a message, that message has to be archived for -- for the future, just like any e-mails that I send or e-mails that I get are also archived for the future," Gibbs said, adding: "Just as anybody wouldn't fear sending e-mail, I don't think anybody should fear going on Web sites and reading what we write or responding to what we write based on the Presidential Records Act. It's simply intended to preserve the paper and electronic records of the administration."

Gibbs said he believed that Twitter messages received from the 149 accounts he is following, even if not directed specifically at him, would also be preserved, along with his own tweets under the act. "I can check with the lawyers on that," he said.

But Gibbs acknowledged he did not know whether any of the feeds from the then-21,000 people who followed him -- and who were not thereby automatically sending him any messages, save one sent when they signed up to follow him -- would be preserved.

By Garance Franke-Ruta  |  February 16, 2010; 5:51 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency , New Media  
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Just another outlet for Gibbs to take silly little shots at Sarah Palin...

Posted by: parkerfl1 | February 16, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

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