Don't be fooled by the White House's use of Vine. The President is not here to answer your questions.
Earlier this week the White House created a Vine account. Among the posted videos so far are clips of Barack Obama gazing approvingly upon a 3D printed arm and "Vator the Space Elevator" at the White House Science Fair.
The associated White House Twitter account has more than 3.8 million followers and produces a stream of opaque nonsense—one-way information fragments that create the impression of activity, while skipping over the reasoning behind each isolated action. Jill Biden left flowers and a pair of her own running shoes in Copley Square, signed with the phrase "Boston Strong." There is a photo of Obama meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller after an arrest in the Boston Bombings. And a note commemorating the 213th "birthday" of the Library of Congress.
The beauty of both Vine and Twitter is the impossibility of achieving coherence through them. They strip away space for qualifiers, second thoughts, self-criticism, and elaboration.
The new Vine videos seamlessly blend into this hum of social media nothingness. (Note: It was announced today that the White House has also joined Tumblr.) The Obama administration has been praised for its use of the Internet to communicate with the public, using its WhiteHouse.gov site to post weekly video addresses, executive orders, speech transcripts, and fact sheets. The frequency of new information reaffirms the Obama mystique: earnest, pragmatic, and committed to progress and common-sense efficiency above ideology. The stream is free of debate and instead reassures supporters of the White House that they are on the most conscientious and responsible side.
The White House's Vine videos are, likewise, designed to be so safely boring that viewers will never feel like they’ve missed out by not having seen one. Their most important element is not what they communicate—the president patronizing teenagers about how impressive their scientific projects are—but that there is an accessible stream of information from the country's prime authority accessible at any time.
The White House's presence on Twitter is a digital placebo, publicizing the president's participation in the day's trending arguments—not by arguing but by pitching in with empty phrases like "support common-sense steps to reduce gun violence."
The beauty of both Vine and Twitter is the impossibility of achieving coherence through them. They strip away space for qualifiers, second thoughts, self-criticism, and elaboration. They transform human exchange into a long winding coil of autodidactic proclamations published by individuals implicitly defending the worth of their platforms and the rigor of their knowledge. It's the inverse of the Socratic ideal of intelligence in that it is defined by the comfort and familiarity with one's own ignorance.