It wasn’t that long ago that those fortunate enough to pose alongside a president for a photograph could do little more with it than store it safely in an album and refer to it only when regaling guests with the story of that time they met the president. But things changed during the two terms that Barack Obama, the “first president of the social media age,” has presided over the country. Though social networks like Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit certainly existed when he was elected — he used social media platforms to great effect during his first campaign and has been using them to communicate directly with the American people ever since — they have continued to grow in popularity, allowing images and videos to be shared around the world at an unprecedented speed. As a result, college students, pizza shop owners, and even 3-year-old kids have been propelled to momentary fame for their brief encounter with the president. Cosmopolitan.com spoke to some of these people to learn exactly what it was like not only to meet the president, but to have their photo with him go viral.
While on the campaign trail in September 2012, Obama made a stop at Big Apple Pizza and Pasta in Fort Pierce, Florida. When he met owner Scott Van Duzer, then 46, he got an unexpected bear hug.
“I just got a phone call from the Secret Service, and I hung up on them because I thought they were joking, and then finally they called back and said, ‘No, the president wants to meet you.’ We utilize my pizza shop and we help almost 90 families in crisis. He was very touched by the work that we do. All of a sudden, he opens the door and goes, ‘Where’s Scott?’ He grabbed me and then shook my hand like an athlete. He said, ‘Look at the size of those guns, if I had your pizza, I would get as strong as you.’ That is when I gave him the hug. He was such a charismatic, nice man — like you kind of knew him already. Because the picture went viral so fast, I got a call if I wanted to go to the [Oct. 22, 2012] debate and I ended up sitting next to the first lady. [My wife and I] were on our way home, and I got a call again, and they said, ‘The president would like to know if you would like to introduce him at a rally in Del Ray Beach in front of 11,000 people.’ Three times we got together and it was pretty cool — four times actually because he came back to play golf in my area and a lot of people [said], ‘Oh, he used you because you are a Republican.’ I called the White House and I said, ‘Listen, I have been catching a lot of grief that people think you just used me. When you come into Fort Pierce, can I come to the airport and have my kids meet [the president]?’ So my kids got to meet him. We took a picture in front of Air Force One.
“My world was turned upside down [after his initial visit] — we got death threats, bomb threats, disgusting mail. Within 24 hours, we had, like, 2,000 horrible reviews on Yelp. The first 72 hours we were just bombarded, people all over the country calling, making fake orders, wasted so much food. I had people protesting in front of my store. I met with his wife the night of the debate and she said, ‘I am sorry for some of the things that you are going through.’ I said, ‘That must only be a drop in the hat of what you and your husband have to deal with — if people are mad at me because I gave him a hug, how some people must be so mad that he is a black president.’ I told her how they handle themselves through thick and thin — they always take the high road when people go low. She had a little tear in her eye and just gave me a hug and said thank you. It was really bad for about four to five months. I had men calling saying they were raping my little girls when they leave — ‘They better be careful, I am going to rape them with an Obama mask on in the back of my store.’ Who in the heck says something like that? And bomb threats. [But] I [also] had people from all over the world calling — ‘Here is $100, put it on my credit card, send it to someone who needs [it],’ ‘Here is $100, send it to a Boys & Girls Club,’ or, ‘Here is $100, send it to law enforcement.’ That is why we believe good will always outweigh evil. I learned very much who are my friends that stood by me and who were the ones I thought were my friends. I don’t regret anything I have done. That was probably the coolest experience I will ever have.”