The first 2012 presidential debate was the most tweeted political event in history. During the debate, Twitter tracked 10.3 million tweets between the hours of 9 and 10:30pm EST. That’s a new record up from the previous high during the Democratic National Convention last month, during which Twitter reported that there were 9.5 million tweets; the Republican convention the month prior netted some 4 million tweets.
The domestic policy debate focused mostly on the economy, health care, and the deficit and the Twittersphere reacted expressively to each of these topics. The hashtag for the event was simple and used universally: #debates. One thing is clear: If you are going to follow all aspects of Election 2012, you better get yourself a Twitter account. This social network is where all the action is.
Three major moments from last week’s debate were heavily tweeted: when largely-silent moderator Jim Lehrer quips “Let’s not” when Governor Romney requested a topic, when President Obama barked “I had 5 seconds” when Lehrer tried to cut him off reminding him of the time limit, and when the discussion moved to Medicare turning into a voucher program. However, the single most tweeted topic from the debate was the 'killing off' of Big Bird; Romney's remarks about cutting funding to PBS netted a quarter million tweets.
Election coverage is served on Twitter complete with fact-checking, humor, and policy analysis; journalists, bloggers and laypeople use the network to share important information, correct half-truths and simply share their opinion. Whether promoted by the campaigns or writers who come up with creative hashtags when a candidate makes news or “gaffes,” Twitter is the place to be when a story breaks. Campaigns effectively use the network to get traction with their messaging, Obama uses his “Truth Team” to tackle Romney falsehoods, and Romney spokespeople like Andrea Saul use their accounts to fact check the other side.
Twitter was prepared for the uptick in traffic and curated debate-related tweets, knowing that millions of Americans would be tuned in. In Twitter’s government focused page, and blog, tweets from both sides of the aisle were highlighted. The campaigns also took advantage of the large social media audience and used not only promoted tweets but also promoted trending topics in the days before and during the debate and have done so throughout the campaign. For example, Team Romney used the promoted topic #cantaffordfourmore to attack the president prior to the showdown in Denver.
And, of course, Twitter is chock full of journalists and political junkies tweeting non-stop about every detail of the election from what the First Couple did for their anniversary to Mitt Romney’s big foreign policy speech on Monday. In advance of last week’s debate, the popular left-leaning website Salon listed "Twitter’s Top 50 Political must reads "(including me!); Professors Melissa Harris–Perry, Marc Lamont Hill, Anthea Butler, Blair Kelley, Michael Eric Dyson, and political analyst Karen Finney. One way to curate a great list of politics-related follows is to pick a high profile political person you like and check out who they follow. Chances are some of these folks will also offer entertaining and on-point analysis of the election.
Obama and Romney's camps aren't the only ones using Twitter to get out their message; local candidates are also logging on to get their message out. Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign in Massachusetts also relied heavily on the social network during her recent debate against Senator Scott Brown. It’s becoming more and more clear as we go through this election cycle that social media is an effective method for campaigns interact with potential voters immediately, to fact check and to react instantly to breaking news.