The Internet, the White House, and You (and Me)

A new role

My name is Jason Goldman. For the last few years I’ve mostly worked on building tools that give people a voice online. What I’m doing next is different. I’m going to go work at the White House as Chief Digital Officer. When I start on April 6, my job will be to help create more meaningful online engagement between government and American citizens.

There’s news out about this, but that’s not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing it because this place — the Internet — is where I’ve always turned to work things out. So I’m going to tell you how I got here, and what I hope to do. Then I’d love to get your help in figuring out where to go next.

What I believe

I believe civic engagement with our government is our right and duty. And I believe online platforms can help us do this, connecting individuals to their government and in turn making government more accountable.

I believe these things partly because that’s how I was raised, and partly because of my experiences. I grew up in a politically engaged home in St. Louis. My mom was a principal in a public elementary school. I competed in debate throughout high school and college. And I also have experience building two web platforms, Blogger and Twitter, that hundreds of millions of people use to discuss everything and anything. I’ve seen first-hand exactly what happens when the Internet is used to connect people.

The Challenge

A few months ago I started talking with folks at the White House about ways that the Administration could engage directly with people using online platforms. The White House is always looking for ways to listen to the American people, better understand the ways that the government can help, and create dialogue about its policies and initiatives.

I didn’t expect to be offered a job, but when I was asked if I could come to Washington, D.C., and work on strategies to connect the government with citizens via the Internet, I said yes. It’s an honor and an incredible challenge.

Luckily there are models for what’s already worked to build on. We the People, Big Block of Cheese Day, and Reddit AMAs are just a few examples of the innovative things the White House team has done over the years to engage directly with the American people.

I’m looking to expand those conversations and find ways for you — the people, us, we — to help define them. Earlier this month, President Obama delivered a powerful speech in Selma and among the many remarkable moments this one stood out to me:

The single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” “We The People.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Yes We Can.” That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

The Internet/technology/social media is not going to fix all that ails us, but it does create platforms where we can work together in ways that weren’t really possible previously.

One big thing we’ve all learned: Broadcasting isn’t the same as connecting. Broadcasting can create awareness. But connecting people can create engagement and change. Connecting involves an invitation to participate in something. One big reason Twitter was so successful is that it asked a really simple question — “What are you doing?” and invited people to answer in 140 characters or less — and it wasn’t limited in how people answered. The people using the platform defined the connections. Not just in terms of whom to follow, but what it meant to participate at all.

The platforms that have been the most successful are the ones that have created the best and most meaningful opportunities for participation. My job will be to use those online tools to create meaningful opportunities for American citizens to participate in our government.

Help Wanted

It’s a big job. Thankfully I won’t be doing it alone. I’ve been blown away by the talented folks who’ve already been working on this within the White House. The team I’m joining in the Office of Digital Strategy has done groundbreaking work the past six years building platforms like We the People and helping the White House engage with people all over the country each and every day. I’m also inspired by new and old friends from the tech industry who’ve given their time to take up the “glorious task” the President spoke about in Selma.

Right now my thoughts are still taking shape. I will be reading and watching social media closely. Mostly I’ll be listening. After all, that’s a big part of the job.

Here’s what I would love. I would love for you to answer this question: How can we — our government and you and your communities — better connect online to make America better? This isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing about a particular policy. This is thinking through how we want our government to engage with us and how willing we are to participate in that conversation.

Post it wherever you’d like — Twitter, Tumblr, Medium, Facebook. Use the hashtag #socialcivics. I’m excited to hear what you’re thinking and expect I’ll learn a lot. I’m taking this job because I believe there’s more to figure out in terms of how government and people connect online. And I’m looking forward to having that conversation.

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