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The old fogies at the White House are taking to tweeting something tough:

If you’re PressSec — White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’ username on Twitter — you join the powerful social media platform and push your message across the Internet, 140 characters at a time.

Blending behind-the-scenes nuggets with a defense of President Barack Obama’s record, White House and administration officials increasingly are communicating through Twitter. The popular social network is operating as a Web-based clearinghouse for public statements on weighty subjects (the federal budget) and the mundane (personal grocery lists). It’s similar to a bulletin board where anyone can post short notes and users cull the pieces they see by choosing to “follow” individuals’ account.

Forget press releases. Gibbs and his deputy, Bill Burton, are now sharing news in Twitter messages. So far 35,000 people have signed up to follow Gibbs and more than 6,000 are tracking Burton. Those two officials have a ways to go to catch actor Ashton Kutcher and his 4.6 million followers. Obama’s aides are fast students of Twitter’s etiquette and uses. The White House announced Obama’s first news conference on Twitter last year. Burton has been known to clarify Gibbs’ comments while Gibbs is still speaking from the White House podium. Officials share with their followers news reports the White House views as positive.

Burton explained — in a tweet, no less — the approach.

“@PressSec is using this new medium in a way that gets information out quickly and effectively tracks what is on the minds of our press corps,” he responded to a tweet from this reporter, PElliottAP. In tandem with their quick bursts of information on Twitter, the online White House routinely turns to its blog, Facebook page or YouTube channel where Obama now posts his weekly address.

“All of these things are basically entirely new to government, but have become a standard part of White House operations, with top White House officials recognizing their value and placing them as top priorities, giving the public equal footing in a world where, for most of history, government has had to engage and communicate with them through the press or interest groups,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

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