Sean P. Thoennes, School of Psychology
Each new phase in the short history of electric and electronic media technology continues to impact the way U. S. Presidents communicate to a nationwide audience. Following the Great Recession during the campaign of 2012, President Obama sat down at a computer to take questions from anyone with access to the Internet and the reddit social networking site (SNS). This study focuses on threads emanating from that conversation and uses inductive reasoning for its unique perspective, as the precedents for wired and wireless political messaging in the past do not have at their center the President of the United States (POTUS) in a globally accessible, uncensored, and unmediated live chat with anonymous participants. Historical context, group theory, discourse psychology, and Web Sciences inform this single case study research design. Despite political messaging comparisons and because of the uncensored interaction, President Obama’s conversation represents a gap in the knowledge for group formation around communications. Triangulating archival quantitative measures of reddit, social media and Internet trends, qualitative text analytics of the reddit discussion, and historical context, forms an inductively reasoned argument to expand group process theory. A sample of question/answer threads contrasts inter-group cases to compare for replication in addition to comparisons with prior U.S. Presidents’ uses of new media technologies. An analysis of President Obama’s text distinguishes computer-mediated communication (CMC), traditional political messaging, and human-computer interface (HCI). The findings support optimal distinctiveness theory (ODT) as a valid model for online groups on sites such as reddit, and an ongoing tradition for political persuasion using new media technologies such as HCI. The historical bases for political messaging and group processes using new technologies also offer future implications when considering evolutionary dynamics and memetics theory as foundational to the concept that the human species not only continues to evolve, but gains greater control over its evolution through advancements in new media technologies.