Social media critical to policy implementation

March 12, 2014

President Barack Obama made an appearance yesterday on “Between Two Ferns,” a satirical web series hosted by actor Zach Galifianakis on the website Funny or Die. On the show, Obama promoted the controversial Affordable Care Act. After the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov and millions of cancelled insurance plans, Democrats have scrambled to distance themselves from Obamacare to remain competitive in the 2014 midterm elections. But according to the White House, Obama’s appearance on “Between Two Ferns” generated record referrals to the ACA website.

This conversation comes at an apt time given the March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance. Those left without insurance for over three months will have to pay a fine — either 1 percent of their yearly income or $95 per adult depending on household income. Anyone looking for coverage under the ACA will have to wait until the next open enrollment session in November once the deadline passes. The president’s increasing attempts to reach out to a younger audience are admirable, especially as this window closes on affordable insurance.

The president’s appearance speaks to the hipness that has made him so likable. While many disagree with his politics, it is hard to take issue with his ability to utilize popular culture. He is up to date on popular television shows like “Mad Men” and “Homeland.” He is an annual ESPN contributor. He makes appearances on late night shows like “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “Saturday Night Live.” Obama has inserted himself into popular culture more than any other president in U.S. history.

Television appearances enable Obama to connect with citizens on a more personal level. Advocating for the new health care system on Galifianakis’ show presents Obamacare to a demographic not necessarily reached by conventional measures. While persistent encouragement to sign up for Obamacare may initially be useful to educate citizens about the new health care program available, using a variety of methods to stimulate registration will affect the whole society, not just one group.

Although participating in popular shows is not the most common political move or conventional method of advocacy, the appeal to the general public through social media is a wise action that may prove successful for current and future politicians. A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center concluded that around half of all Americans now cite the Internet as their main source of news — a number which is sure to rise exponentially in the coming years. In light of these figures it is not only necessary, but advantageous, for Obama to use the Internet as an outlet for policy messages.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 12 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at editboard@nyunews.com. 

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