VP Debate: Twitter Users Call Malarkey Early, Often - InformationWeek

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10/12/2012
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VP Debate: Twitter Users Call Malarkey Early, Often

Analysis of 4 million tweets about Thursday's vice presidential debate provides a study in what pushes voters' buttons.

Social Studies: Obama vs. Romney
Social Studies: Obama vs. Romney
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
In the run-up to Thursday night's one and only 2012 vice presidential debate, the consensus was that the debate wouldn't really matter in the long run, but was sure to be entertaining. Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan arguably have less at stake than President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney do when they debate, and Biden and Ryan both seem to have mannerisms and histories that are ripe for ribbing. So, even if people weren't expecting the debate to make any great waves ahead of the November election, they did seem to expect to be entertained during the event. Based on social media data, they were.

A Twitter blog titled "Recapping the VP Debate notes that 4 million tweets relating to the debate were sent, with 3.5 million of those tweets sent during the debate itself.

So, were the tweets comprised mostly of thoughtful comments on the candidates' takes on foreign and domestic policy? Not quite. Just as Big Bird dominated discussion during the first debate between Obama and Romney, many tweets--and Facebook posts and other social media interaction--focused on Biden's smirking and Ryan's liquid consumption. (My own Facebook news feed was filled with GIFs of Biden in clown makeup and comments wondering whether Ryan was participating in some kind of drinking game.)

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The Twitter blog noted that of the 4 million tweets that were sent, 26% were about foreign policy, 21% discussed the economy, and 16% discussed taxes. The moments that inspired the most tweets per minute, according to the blog, were Biden's "Now you're Jack Kennedy?" comment (58,275 tweets per minute) and a Ryan comment on Medicare: "They got caught with their hand in the cookie jar turning Medicare into a piggy bank for Obamacare" (55,540 tweets per minute). Also garnering a large number of tweets per minute was Biden's discussion of the timeline for leaving Afghanistan (54,944), as well as the word "malarkey," which generated 30,000 tweets.

Clearly, there are many people viewing the debates (among many other things) on both their TVs and on computing devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops. These "dual screeners" made up 11% of viewers of the first presidential debate, held on Oct. 3, according to Pew Research released Thursday. Another 3% watched exclusively online.

Pew's research shows that dual-screeners tend to be younger Americans, with 32% of those younger than 40 saying they followed the debate live online. This included 22% who followed the debate both on television and online, as well as 10% who followed exclusively on a computer or mobile device. Eleven percent of people aged 40 to 64 followed the first debate online, while only 2% of viewers aged 65 and older followed the debate live online.

Of the viewers age 40 and under who watched live online, 8% shared reactions online. Five percent of those aged 40 to 64 shared their reactions online, while 0% of those aged 65 and older shared reactions online.

How will you watch the next presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 16? Will the town hall format slated for that debate make viewers more or less likely to react on social media? How can we apply these lessons to our social business initiatives? We welcome your comments below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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