Three Topics Obama, Zuckerberg Will Avoid At Facebook Town Hall

It’s unlikely President Obama is nervously studying his talking points en route to Facebook, where he’ll be holding an online town hall meeting later today. After all, this is no presidential debate–don’t expect tough questions and scrutiny from hosts Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.


When Air Force One touches down in San Francisco this afternoon, it’s unlikely President Obama will be nervously studying talking points and policy 3x5s en route to Facebook, where he’ll be holding an online town hall meeting later today. After all, this is no presidential debate–don’t expect tough questions and scrutiny from Facebook hosts Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, who are to moderate the discussion.

But that’s not to say media outlets, voters, and Facebook users wouldn’t love to ask Obama and Zuck a wide range of questions about their relationship and the growing bond between the White House and the world’s largest social network. Instead, however, the President is expected to speak on a decidedly safe topic for his first major stop after announcing his reelection last week: his budget plan.

Here are three topics Obama and Facebook are most assuredly looking to avoid:

Robert Gibbs. The former press secretary made waves all around the Internet after it surfaced Facebook had been courting Gibbs to join its senior communications team. While rumors have since developed that talks have fallen through, the larger story here is the White House’s blossoming relationship with Facebook. Beside the fact that Gibbs is one of Obama’s closest friends, the ramped up relations are bolstered by increased lobbying efforts and growing ties to Washington officials (Sandberg herself sits on the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and formerly worked in the Treasury department during the Clinton Administration). In competing stories about today’s town hall, the Wall Street Journal said Facebook was “seeking friends in [the] Beltway,” while Politco wondered whether Obama and Facebook were “getting too friendly?”


Privacy. Certainly Facebook’s privacy concerns represent one of the biggest hot-button issues in the tech policy. In the past year, Senators Chuck Schumer, Al Franken, and Michael Bennet have ramped up their efforts to protect personal user data, even going so far as penning a personal letter to Zuckerberg warning him of the issue. Sens. John McCain and John Kerry followed suit last month with their own privacy bill, and the issue will likely come up during the course of the election. Of course, that’s the last thing Facebook would ever discuss at length on its own stage, and likely the last thing Obama would ever discuss at length in Silicon Valley, where a long list of major tech companies and venture capitalists helped build the Obama brand into a money making machine in 2008.

. Jokes aside, it’s no shocker that legalizing marijuana would be a popular topic for an online Q&A held on April 20 (i.e. 4/20)–Politico notes that that a “plurality of the comments” so far appear to be about this topic. However, expect Facebook to weed any controversial questions, even those ones more popular among the young voters you could imagine would tune into a streaming town hall. So early in his reelection, Obama is not looking to stoke any flames–don’t expect him to discuss Donald Trump, Afghanistan, or Guantanamo Bay.

Facebook isn’t the forum for such issues, and if past appearances are any indicator, we can expect only softballs from Zuck and Sandberg about Obama’s budget talk. When former President George W. Bush visited Facebook, for example, Zuckerberg appropriately gave his guest a warm welcome.

Obama can expect the same hospitality, and–we hope–will give Zuck back some good ribbings, just as Bush did.

[Image: Flickr user Matt Ortega]

President’s Facebook town hall will be stream live here at at 4:45 p.m. ET.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.