The president's account — (at)BarackObama — is run by his 2012 campaign. The campaign says the president will personally send the occasional tweet, with those messages marked "-BO" to signify that they're coming directly from the president.
Obama used the town hall as an opportunity to deliver a remarkably critical line about Republicans who are fighting with him over raising the nation's borrowing limit. Obama said GOP lawmakers should not use their votes on that matter as "a gun against the heads of the American people" to retain the tax breaks they want for corporate jet owners and oil companies.
Obama fielded questions on college costs, immigration, collective bargaining rights, the debt limit, manufacturing jobs, the housing crisis and many other topics as Twitter users sent queries in by the tens of thousands.
A handful of journalists from newspapers around the country were asked by Twitter to join the event as "curators," a role that entailed trying to generate questions on the economy from Twitter users and helping the company to identify trends in the inquiries.
The White House used its official Twitter account, (at)WhiteHouse, to boil Obama's answers down to 140 characters or less. Twitter was also retweeting the condensed answers.
For example, when Obama was asked about protecting collective bargaining rights, his answer ran more than 2,600 spoken characters. The White House summarized him in two consecutive Tweets: "Collective bargaining responsible for so many benefits/protections we take for granted on the job ... All of us will have to make adjustments for 21st century, but principle of collective bargaining must be protected".
Tweeters responded en masse with ideas for how to reduce the nation's deficit: cut defense contracting, trim the war on drugs, stop giving money to Pakistan, raise taxes, cut oil subsidies.
As to that first question on mistakes made, Obama allowed that his administration had underestimated the severity of the recession, and so he did not prepare the American people "for how long this was going to take" and the tough choices that lay ahead. Obama also said the problems in the housing market were more stubborn than expected, and he'd had to revamp his assistance programs several times.
The town hall also marked the first White House "Tweetup" — that's an in-person gathering of people who are connected through Twitter. The White House invited about 30 people who follow the administration's official Twitter account to come to Washington to take part in Wednesday's event.
Associated Press writers Nancy Benac, Erica Werner and Philip Elliott contributed to this report.
Ben Feller can be reached at http://twitter.com/BenFellerDC
Julie Pace can be reached at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
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