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Chat Rooms for Change

This post is part of the Innovation in Politics and Policy series.

Young people growing up in the Internet age were often told by their parents that there was one corner of the World Wide Web that was off limits: chat rooms. But that was ages ago, before boardrooms had video conferencing, before iPhones had FaceTime (or we had iPhones for that matter) and before leaders of the free world were “hanging out” on Google+. We were practically living in the dark ages.

Today, video and online chat platforms offer a great opportunity to engage the public and connect elected officials with their constituents. Demonstrating the power and potential of digital connectivity, President Obama participated in a Google+ Hangout on Monday to answer questions regarding his State of the Union speech last week. More than 225,000 people submitted questions and cast more than 1.6 million votes, promoting ones they found most important and giving the five Americans who submitted the questions the chance to video chat directly with the President. The chat, featured below, discussed everything from immigration reform to the President’s plans for his and the First Lady’s 20th wedding anniversary.

Monday’s Google+ Hangout was only a small peak into the potential that video can play in public dialogue. From campaign ads that inform voters on candidates’ records to footage captured on mobile phones that give audiences a firsthand look at human rights violations and revolutions, video will continue to be a key component in driving important decisions and reforms. Platforms like YouTube, Livestream and Ustream must continue to develop innovative solutions to make it easier for people to find and create interesting content, broadcast messages and communicate more effectively. If they do so, the chat rooms can become as effective as classrooms in educating the public about important issues of today.

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