President Barack Obama held his first online town hall meeting Thursday with Americans across the country posing questions to him over the Internet. The session focused on people's concerns about jobs, the economy, health care and education.
During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama used the Internet to build an unprecedented grassroots movement of volunteers and to raise record sums of money. Now he is using the World Wide Web to interact one-one-one with the American people from the East Room of the White House.
"When I was running for president, I promised to open up the White House to the American people," said President Obama. "And this event, which is being streamed live over the Internet, marks an important step towards achieving that goal."
More than 92,000 Americans submitted questions to the president online, some of them in video form. Online visitors could also see the questions submitted by others and vote for the ones they liked best. Some 3.5 million votes were cast for favorite questions on a variety of topics, including unemployment, the federal budget, the country's financial stability, home ownership, health care and education.
The first video question came from a woman in the southern state of Georgia:
"When can we expect the jobs that have been outsourced to other countries to come back and be made available to the unemployed workers here in the United States," she asked.
The president told her that not all of these jobs will return, especially low-skilled, low-paying jobs.
But Mr. Obama said his recovery plans aim to create new jobs that cannot be outsourced.
"So we've got to go after the high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future," he said.
Some groups mobilized their members to use the question and answer session creatively to raise their own issues, as President Obama explained.
"I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation," he said. "I don't know what this says about the online audience."
The president then answered that he did not think legalizing marijuana would help the economy. The many votes cast for this question show that the White House might have been successful in reaching out to a younger audience with the virtual town hall meeting - involving people who might not watch a more formal, televised news conference.