Obama takes 'fiscal cliff' battle to Twitter

WASHINGTON Thu Nov 29, 2012 6:55am IST

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks during a meeting with members of his cabinet at the White House in Washington November 28, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks during a meeting with members of his cabinet at the White House in Washington November 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama opened a new front on Wednesday in the battle between Democrats and Republicans over the best way to avoid the year-end "fiscal cliff" - Twitter.

The web-savvy Obama administration launched a social media campaign that asks Twitter users to add the "#my2k" hashtag to messages with examples of what $2,000 means to them.

The amount is roughly what a middle-class family of four would have to pay extra in taxes next year if Congress cannot strike a deal to remove the threat of roughly $600 billion in tax hikes and federal spending cuts.

The fast-paced social networking site known for its zippy 140-character comments is a tried-and-true method of reaching Americans. The latest call for such searchable references is an effort to pressure Congress into finding compromise on long-held partisan views.

Obama announced the new Twitter hashtag campaign at a news conference on Wednesday. He and fellow Democrats, who oppose significant cuts to U.S. "entitlement" programs such as Medicare as a way of balancing the budget, have been trying to break Republican opposition to hiking taxes on anyone, including the wealthy.

Promotions of "#my2k" quickly went out to millions of followers of the White House Twitter account and scores of Democratic backers, including former House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Soon, "my2k" was a top-trending subject.

"#My2K means food for a year, the remainder of my student loan paid off or a full month of child care. $2200 can make or break a family," wrote Twitter user Katrina Burchett.

In the anarchic spirit of social media, Republicans, who also polished their Twitter hashtag skills during the bitter 2012 presidential campaign, pounced quickly.

The conservative Heritage Foundation bought the promotional tweet that pops up at the top of the list if one searches for "#my2k" mentions, where the think tank offered its own take on solutions to the fiscal cliff.

House Speaker John Boehner and scores of fellow Republican lawmakers started sharing examples they hoped would put the blame for the lack of a resolution on the Democrats.

"We in the House took steps this summer to avert #fiscalcliff and stop #my2K tax hikes," wrote Representative Mike Turner. "It's time for @whitehouse and @SenateDems to act."

'BEING AWARE OF WHAT'S GOING ON'

Users on Twitter can sign up to follow one another's messages, making searchable hashtags a helpful way to sort by subject or theme.

Marcus Messner, who studies social media at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Twitter was a perfect environment to reignite Obama's base swiftly and gauge public engagement on the issue.

The Obama administration has used Twitter hashtags as part of lobbying campaigns to keep student loan rates low with #dontdoublemyrate and to extend payroll tax cuts with #40dollars, which was their estimate of how much the cuts saved an average family each year.

White House Social Media Director Macon Phillips later called the $40dollars hashtag "one of the most significant campaigns we ran on Twitter."

"It's about being aware of what's going on and understanding that in the age of social media, you're just a participant," he told an Entrepreneur.com blogger in February. "It's not something that you can control."

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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