President Obama in Egypt told Muslims he wants to engage them and their countries. More than 5,000 miles away, U.S. administration officials sent notes to supporters — and critics — via Twitter, Facebook and text messages to reinforce the point.
Obama's speech Thursday was an illustration of the administration's aggressive strategy to work the Web to enhance the White House's message. A flurry of messages flooded the Internet, as the White House's Twitter feed and Facebook page posted highlights while Obama was still speaking and the State Department sent free text messages about the speech.
"Our goal is to ensure that the greatest number of people with an interest to see this — not just through newspapers and television — but can see this through Web sites. ... The Internet team here is working with a host of others to get this information to as many platforms as humanly possible so that people will get a chance all over the world to see what the president has to say," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Obama, quoting from the Quran for emphasis, called for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims" during a visit to Cairo. He challenged Muslims to confront violent extremism across the globe during a speech that was the centerpiece of his four-nation journey to the Middle East and Europe.
The tech-savvy White House sought to reinforce Obama's message in every way possible.
The U.S. embassy in Ottawa linked to a fact sheet about the United States' outreach to Muslims on its Twitter feed. The U.S. embassy in London posted a transcript of officials' pre-speech spin on the microblogging site as well. And the embassy in Bangkok, in Thai, posted a preview of administration talking points.
And to countries with predominantly Muslim populations, the government offered free text messages about the speech in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and English. Participants could send text messages back to the State Department with reaction.
(The text messaging service was not available in the United States. Law forbids taxpayer dollars to be used domestically for propaganda.)
Recognizing the audience for the president's speech outside the United States, Obama's advisers sought out a way to spread his message. The White House's blog on Wednesday posted a video about U.S. ties to Muslim communities and followed up on Thursday on Facebook, where 20 million Muslims are online.
"Obama: The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth," the White House posted on its official Facebook page.
Another post: "Obama: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security."
By midmorning, more than 1,500 had offered comments on Web site. Most of the reaction was positive, largely because the United States' fiercest critics were unlikely to visit the White House's or State Department's Web sites.
Obama, who harnessed the Internet's potential to raise millions for his political campaign and win the presidency, understands the potential of the Web. His top advisers have pushed the White House to use the Web to promote U.S. interests and speak directly to Muslims.
For instance, Obama recorded an online message to Iranians in March for the festival Nowruz. The White House video included Farsi subtitles.