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Big Bird endangered? The real-time tweets and Facebook reaction to debate

The Obama vs. Romney presidential debate was the most tweeted event in U.S. political history. Hot Facebook and Twitter topics: Big Bird, Jim Lehrer, and Mitt Romney's victory.

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President Barack Obama walks past Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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Big Bird is endangered. Jim Lehrer lost control. And Mitt Romney crushed President Barack Obama.

Those were the judgments rendered across Twitter and Facebook Wednesday during the first debate of the 2012 presidential contest. While millions turned on their televisions to watch the 90-minute showdown, a smaller but highly engaged subset took to social networks to discuss and score the debate as it unspooled in real time.

Until recently, debate watchers would have waited through the entire broadcast to hear analysis and reaction from a small cadre of television pundits. Social media has democratized the commentary, giving voice to a far wider range of participants who can shape the narrative long before the candidates reach their closing statements.

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"People still use old media to watch the debates, but they use social networks and other new media to have influence, voice opinions and be involved," said Scott Talan, an assistant professor of communication at American University who studies social media and politics. "Old media is not dead; it's growing. But now we have more people involved and engaged because of digital means."

The political conversation plays out across a range of social platforms, especially on the industry giant Facebook and on Twitter, the social networking hub where opinions are shared through 140-character comments known as tweets. Reflecting the changing times, many television analysts now monitor Twitter and Facebook feeds and use information gleaned from those platforms to inform their punditry.

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